On a finger of land at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara stands the Topkapi Palace, that maze of buildings that was the focal point of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. In these opulent surroundings the sultans and their court lived and governed.
A magnificent wooded garden fills the outer, or first, court. In the second court, on the right, shaded by cypress and plane trees, stand the palace kitchens, which now serve as galleries exhibiting the imperial collections of crystal, silver, and Chinese porcelain.
To the left is the Harem, the secluded quarters of the wives, concubines, and children of the sultan, charming visitors with echoes of centuries of intrigue.
Today the third court holds the Hall of Audience, the Library of Ahmet III, an exhibition of imperial costumes worn by the sultans and their families, the famous jewels of the treasury and a priceless collection of miniatures from medieval manuscripts.
In the center of this innermost sanctuary, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle enshrines the relics of the Prophet Muhammed brought to Istanbul when the Ottomans assumed the caliphate of Islam. (Open every day except Tuesday).
The façade of the Dolmabahce Palace, built in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdulmecit I, stretches for 600 meters along the European shore of the Bosphorus.
The vast reception salon, with its 56 columns and four-and-a-half ton crystal chandelier with 750 lights, never fails to astonish visitors. At one time, birds from all over the world were kept in the Bird Pavilion for the delight of the palace’s privileged residents.
Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, died in the palace on November 10,1938. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
In the 19th century, Sultan Abdulaziz built the Beylerbeyi Palace, a fantasy in white marble set amid magnolia-filled gardens, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus. Used as the Sultan’s summer residence, it was offered to the most distinguished foreign dignitaries for their visits. Empress Eugenie of France was among its residents. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
In addition to the State Pavilions at the Yildiz Palace complex, the compound includes a series of pavilions and a mosque. Abdulhamit II completed it at the end of the 19th century.
The Sale, the largest and most exquisite of the buildings, reveals the luxury in which the sultans lived and entertained. Set in a huge park of flowers, shrubs and trees gathered from every part of the world, the palace grounds offer one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Bosphorus. Because of restoration work, only the Sale and park are open to the public. (Open every day except Tuesday)
The Goksu Palace, also known as Kucuksu, takes its name from the streams, which empty into the Bosphorus near the tiny palace. Built by Abdulmecit I in the middle of the 19th century, it was used as a summer residence. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
Aynali Kavak Summer Pavilion
Originally built in the 18th century and later restored by various sultans, the Aynali Kavak Summer Pavilion assumed its name, Mirrored Poplar, when its famed mirrors, a gift from the Venetians, were installed in 1718. This palace on the Golden Horn is one of the most beautiful examples of traditional Turkish architecture. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
The 19th-century Ihlamur Pavilion is named for the linden trees that grow in its gardens. Now in the heart of metropolitan Istanbul, when it was originally constructed, the pavilion lay in the rolling countryside that surrounded the city. The Merasim Pavilion was used for official ceremonies while the Maiyet Pavilion sheltered the sultan’s entourage and, on occasions, his harem on the their excursions out of the palace confines. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
The Maslak Pavilions on a shady green hill were conceived by Sultan Abdulaziz as hunting lodges. These are particularly noteworthy as superb examples of the late 19th century Ottoman decorative style. The Malta Pavilion is presently used as an inexpensive restaurant while both the Maslak Pavilion and Limonlu Gate are open as cafes. (Open every day).
Florya Ataturk Sea Pavilion
The Florya Ataturk Sea Pavilion served as a summer residence for Turkish presidents, beginning with Ataturk. Built in1935 in a T-shaped design on land jutting out over the Sea of Marmara, this building serves as a showcase for some of the loveliest examples of early 20th century furnishings. (Open weekdays except Monday and Thursday)