Upon conquering Constantinople, Mehmed II (1451-1481) ordered a palace to be built where a monastery had stood on the site of the 4th century Forum Tauri of Emperor Theodosius I. Upon completion of this palace in Beyazit, work began on a new palace at Seraglio Point. The New Imperial Palace (Saray-i Cedid-i Amire), known today as the Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), is situated atop a hill at the tip of the historic peninsula -the site of the ancient acropolis- where the waters of Marmara, Bosphorus and the Golden Horn come together.
The hill at Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu) was terraced in three levels incorporating the Byzantine retaining walls and the first two courts were erected on the plateau by 833 A.H. (1473). The first (now the second) court, housed the governments and the judiciary while the second (now the third) court was reserved for the royal residence and the palace school. A land wall or fortress, two and a half kilometers in length, was built around this core forming an expansive outer garden where kiosks were built with views of the city and waters. The gardens between the outer wall and the gate were enclosed to form a forecourt to the administrative division. As kiosks were added in hanging gardens north of the sultan's residence, the succession of four courts emerged along the southwest-northeast axis as we experience it today. The Harem, the living quarters of the palace women that extends along the western walls of the second and third courts, was expanded through the centuries as the Sultans added their own apartment to the complex.
Abdülmecid I abandoned the palace in 1853 for the newly constructed Dolmabahçe Palace in Besiktas. While the palace in Beyazit has not survived past the 19th century, the Topkapi Palace was restored in the 1950s by the Topkapi Palace Museum administration and is open to visitors.
The Palace Structures:
The first court is entered through the Imperial Gate (Bab-i Hümayun) on the fortress, across from the Church of Hagia Sophia. The gate remained open at all times when the court was not in use for a hunting party and was guarded by soldiers who resided in barracks inside the gate. Beside the Church of Hagia Irene (used as an armory) and the Royal Mint (Dar'ül-Zarb-i Enderuni or Darphane-i Amire), both of which remained intact, the first court had barracks of employees in outer palace services (birun), the Hospital of the Pages and Janissaries, stables, warehouses, workshops, a woodyard and a market where produce from palace gardens were on sale for all. Used also by those who desired to hand petitions to the Divan, the first court was the site of most royal ceremonies.
Entrance to the Second Court is through the Middle Gate, or the Gate of Salutation or Bab-ül-Salaam that was built by Mehmed II. The gate was refurbished by Murad III in the late 16th century and no longer has its original gilded doors or portico. The court, enclosed on all four sides by halls with porticoes, has had little altered since the 16th century. To the left, the Stable Court (Has Ahir Meydani) and the Barracks of the Halberdiers with Tresses (Zülüflü Baltacilar Kogusu) - who, among other things, supplied burning wood for the Harem - are located next to the Carriage Gate (Araba Kapisi) of the Harem flanked by the Divan Hall and the Outer Treasury (Dis Hazine). The Imperial Kitchens (Mutfaklar) occupy the right side of the courtyard. The courtyard was once arranged as a miniature wood where gazelles, peacocks and ostriches were allowed to roam free.
The third court houses the palace school for pages (enderun), the sultan's headquarters and his treasury. It is entered through the Gate of Felicity (Bab'üs Saadet) that is guarded by the White Eunuchs. Their barracks and the dormitories of the new students used to flank the gate prior to a fire in 1856; they have since been rebuilt as offices. The Sultan met the members of the Divan every day in the Chamber of Petitions (Arz Odasi), a large hall with a portico located immediately behind the gate. To the left are the Aviary Gate of the Harem and the exclusive kitchen of the Sultan next to the Mosque of the Aghas, which had separate sections for the pages and the harem women. Preceding the Royal Pavilion of Mehmed II (Has Oda) on the corner is the Dormitory of the 39 Senior Pages (Has Odalilar Kogusu) who performed personal services for the Sultan. The Royal Pavilion was used for the safeguarding of the Holy Mantle and other relics of the prophet brought from Cairo by Selim I (1512-1520) after sultans moved their apartments from here into the harem following the second half of the 16th century. Across the courtyard from the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle is the Inner Treasury (Iç Hazine) or the Kiosk of Mehmed II. Royal treasures were stored here and in an adjoining room that previously belonged to the Pages' Hamam that Ahmed I (1603-1617) had replaced by a dormitory for the expeditionary force, known as Campaign Hall (Seferli Kogusu). The three-story Library of Ahmed III occupies the center of the courtyard where the Pool Pavilion (Havuzlu Kösk) once stood. Dormitories of senior students in charge of the treasury and the cellars, The Hall of the Treasury (Hazine-i Hümayun Hademeleri Kogusu) and the Department of the Pantry and Stores (Kilerli Kogusu), separate the third court from the fourth. The halls of the third court are united by a portico that runs around the courtyard.
Small passages between the Hall of the Treasury and the Department of the Pantry lead into the Fourth Court, a loose collection of kiosks built on three levels. To the right is the Terrace of Ibrahim I, that looks onto the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle (Hirka-i Serif Dairesi) of the Third Court opens onto this terrace with an L-shaped colonnade that follows its walls and of which we find the Circumcision Kiosk (Sünnet Köskü) of Selim I and the Revan Kiosk (Revan Köskü) of Murad IV (1623-1640). The colonnade ends at the rear entrance of the Harem to the southwest. Baghdad Kiosk, built in 1639 to celebrate the capture of Baghdad, rises at the other end of the terrace. Descending to the upper-level of gardens, the Sofa or Terrace Kiosk (Sofa Köskü) and the Tower of the Chief Physician (Hekimbasi Kulesi) are built on the retaining wall between the two levels. The newest structure here is the Mecidiye Kiosk (Mecidiye Köskü) that was built by Abdülmecid I at the eastern edge of the forth court where two older kiosks had stood. Nearby are the small Sofa or Terrace Mosque (Sofa Camii) and the Room of the Wardrobe (Esvap Odasi). A gate adjacent to the Mecidiye Kiosk leads down into the outer gardens and to Seraglio Point.