The Topkapı Palace (Turkish Topkapı Sarayı) was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a place for state occasions and royal entertainment. It is now a major tourist attraction and contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed's SAW cloak and sword. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments within the Historic Areas of Istanbul, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Unlike the European palaces, Topkapi is not a single monumental structure but a more organic complex consisting of various kiosks, gardens and areas spread over the tip of the historical peninsula at the entry of the Golden Horn. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. Topkapı was the first Ottoman palace to be built (1466-1478) in the newly conquered capital of the Empire by Fatih Sultan Mehmet II. It was originally called the New Palace (Yeni Sarayı) to distinguish it from the previous residence. It received the name "Topkapı" (Cannon Gate) in the 19th century, after a (now lost) gate and shore pavilion. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and the 1665 fire.
The Harem, the private living quarters of the sultan and his family, is located towards the Golden Horn. This was a forbidden section of the palace, consisting of several structures and quarters, where sultans, queen mothers, sultan's consorts, the first wife, favourites, princes, concubines and Black Eunuchs guarding the Harem lived.
Different rooms built by sultans living there from the 16th century to mid-19th century reflect the development of Turkish court architecture and decoration. Every functional and hierarchical group in the Harem had their own rooms around a courtyard. Those rooms were the apartments of black eunuchs, concubines, queen mother, consorts, princes and the sultan.
After the 17th century the Topkapı Palace gradually lost its importance as the sultans preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdül Mecid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style palace in the city. Some functions, such as the imperial treasury, the library, and the mint, remained in the Topkapı Palace.
Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapı Palace was made into a museum of the imperial era in 1924. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important ones are open to the public today. The palace includes many fine examples of Ottoman architecture. It contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armour, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewellery.
The museum is open daily except on Tuesdays from 9 am to 7 pm in summer (April to October) and 9 am to 5 pm in winter (November to March). The entrance costs 25 TL per person. The Harem is open from 9 am to 5 pm in summer and 9 am to 4 pm in winter and the entrance costs 15 TL per person.