One of the highlights of visiting Istanbul is taking a tour of Topkapi Palace that sits high on a hill on a peninsula overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. The history of the palace is fascinating, and it is well worth having a guided tour so that you can learn as much as possible during your visit. Because it is so popular, it is also a good idea to purchase your tickets ahead of time, but you will likely still wait in long lines to get into the palace as you have to go through security before getting to the ticket booths. Standing outside of the main gate, you get a sense of how daunting it must have been to visitors back in the days of the sultans that ruled the Ottoman Empire.
Once you pass through the main gate, you pass through the first of four courtyards. Each courtyard leads to the next courtyard where only the most privileged can get to the fourth and final courtyard. The first courtyard was where the imperial parades would have taken place and would have been the site of pomp and circumstance. The courtyards feature gardens and fountains and are quite beautiful and provide a sense of calm, which was the desired effect.
The third courtyard is the location where the sultan would hold private audiences, but only to the most distinguished dignitaries. It is also the location of the library where the boys would be taught all that was necessary to become future leaders. It was also the location of the harem and the sultan’s concubines. The fourth courtyard was the private residences of the sultan their immediate family members. The entire palace is built in the Moorish architecture. It is quite stunning and at times overwhelming.
You can spend hours walking the grounds of the palace and seeing all of the various buildings. There are also depictions of what life was like for the powerful sultans back in height of the Ottoman Empire. There are plenty of sites to see when visiting Istanbul, but the Topkapi Palace is certainly one of most important to put on your itinerary along with the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.