In Istanbul, one of the foremost historical cities of the world, stands a complex of palaces on the slopes of Sarayburnu. This complex, known as Topkapi, overlooking both the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus was built soon after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 and for over four centuries was the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire.
In the 19th century when the Sultan in power moved to the Bosphorus Dolmabahce Palace, Topkapi Palace lost its claim to being the centre of Ottoman power.
On April 3, 1924, a European-style museum was established in Topkapi Palace by the order of Ataturk. After the restoration of various buildings within the complex of palaces, the richness of style used in the construction of the buildings and the precious works of art displayed there turned it into one of the leading museums of the world, and the palace was opened to the public.
In the course of the long history of the Ottoman Empire, cultural influences from diverse societies enriched the variety of the masterpieces exhibited in the museum. The works of art created by Turkish architects, masterpieces of carving, engraving, and the works of jewellers, woodcarvers and calligraphers acumulated through the years are all displayed in this museum. During the last years of the Empire, these magnificent works of art could only be seen at the Imperial Treasury by special permission.
At present the rich collections in the Palace are organized in different sections. Thousands of examples of Turkish, Chinese, Japanese and European china kitchen-ware are displayed in order of time. The most refined examples of greenish silver cups and red glazed bowls belong to the Chinese Ming period. Japanese porcelains in general belong to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Turkish tiles are displayed all over the palace in a truly Turkish ambience. There are over a hundred tile samples that can be seen.
European porcelains on display are of the 18th and 19th centuries and thereafter put into the Imperial Treasury. Today, the caftans belonging to Sultans Mehmet II, Osman II, and Abdulaziz together with silk palace prayer rugs, and clothing belonging to princes can also be seen there.
One of the sections which attracts great attention is the Treasury. The jewellery and precious stones displayed in four halls are invaluable. Most items are gold decorated with diamonds, rubies, pearls, emeralds and other precious stones.
Among the six thousand works of art displayed in the museum there are crests, swords, shields, quivers belonging to Sultans, jade bowls, writing sets, sceptres, canes, jewelled daggers, oil lamps and hookahs or hubble-bubbles. The 46 kg. sterling silver candlesticks, bedecked with thousands of diamonds, taken by moslem pilgrims on their pilgrimage to Mecca every year are of special interest. The throne of Nadir Shah ornamented with thousands of emeralds, rubies, and pearls, the world renowned priceless Kasikci diamond of 86 carats, and the dagger bedecked with emeralds which was also the subject of a film are only a few of the treasures which come to mind when talking about the riches of Topkapi Palace. According to historian Tayyarzade Ata Bey some of the works of art in the Treasury section are scriptures that Yavuz Sultan Selim I brought from Iran and stamped with his name.
All the portraits of Ottoman Sultans since Osman I are exhibited in the Sultans Portraits section. Some of these portraits were painted by miniaturist artists and painters of the period and some of them are described in historical documents. Besides Sultan's portraits, Ottoman clocks from the 17th-19th centuries are exhibited in the same section.
The Hasoda (Hirka-i Saadet Room), where treasured religious artifacts - considered holy by many people- are displayed is one of the most important sections of the museum. In this section, the holy belongings of Muhammed and four caliphs are exhibited; such as their weapons and Korans. In another room inside the Hasado, Muhammed's Mantle is preserved in a golden display case. Also, a letter, seal and a hair of his beard, and the swords of the Prophet are exhibited in another room.
The Agalar Mosque is full of manuscripts and miniatures belonging to different periods, and the scripts of Ottoman calligraphers. All these manuscripts are available for scientific research.
Today, the inner treasury and the council chamber hold the weapons section of the museum. In this section a rich collection of weapons which once belonged to Arabs, Iranians, Mamelukes and Turks between the 7th-10th centuries are exhibited.
The horse-drawn state coaches are exhibited in the Hasagir section of the palace. Today, there are very few remaining examples of these coaches, most of which were used at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries.