Topkapi Palace was the primary residence to Ottoman Sultans and their courts in Istanbul until the middle of the 19th century. Constructed between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed II, the conquerer of Constantinople, the palace was also considered the administrative and educational center of the state. In the early 1850's, the palace was deemed inadequate for the requirements upheld for certain state ceremonies and protocols, so the sultans moved to the newly constructed Dolmabahçe Palace directly across the Bosphorus. Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapi Palace was transformed into a museum with only the most important rooms (including the Sultan's Harem) and relics available to be viewed by the public today.
On our tour of Istanbul, we were able to visit the Topkapi Palace, its relic museums, and my personal favorite, the Harem. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ways of Ottoman sultans, the Harem is the private living apartments of the sultan. This particular Harem contains over 400 rooms that also served as living quarters for the sultan's mother, his concubines and wives, and the rest of his family including his children and their servants. What's most fascinating to me is that the apartments of the sultan's mother (also known as the "Queen Mother") are the largest and the most important sections of the Harem. The sultan may be king of the empire, but the Queen Mother also had significant influence on the affairs of the state. She also was the one who chose the sultan's wife. Throughout the Harem, there were numerous opulent rooms covered with brightly colored tiles, lavish fabrics, and gold-plated ceilings. Around every corner was a new room with a totally different array of colors and patterns, all of which were commanding and fitting of a sultan's living quarters. At the museum, you could view some of the outfits and traditional jewelry worn by the sultan and his servants, as well as weapons of every kind.
After wandering around the palace and the Harem, we made our way over to the cafe for a quick Döner Kebap lunch with a Bosphorus view. FYI, I've had better döners in Germany. D and I had majorly high expectations for the döners in Turkey (where they originated, of course)...but we left thoroughly disappointed. Leave it to the Germans to perfect a Turkish meal. Other than our lackluster lunch, we enjoyed diving headfirst into the Ottoman empire and exploring our first Harem. If you ever find yourself in Istanbul, make sure to carve out a few hours of sight-seeing time for Topkapi Place. But, go ahead and skip the döner.