In my previous two posts, I introduced Topkapi Palace and then went into detail about the Second Courtyard and Harem. In this post, I will discuss the third courtyard. Unfortunately, I did not get as many great photos of this section as I would like. As such, I'll be using a least a few (like the above) from Internet sources. They are linked either in the photos or in my sources at the end.
Gate of Felicity. The Gate of Felicity leads to the third courtyard, or the innermost courtyard of Topkapi Palace, which housed the private residence of the sultan and the inner palace school. Only the sultan, members of his family, his servants, and the occasional approved visitor could enter.
Audience Chamber. Visitors to the sultan could only go so far as the Audience Chamber and were expected to follow strict customs. These included not making eye contact or speaking directly to the sultan. Instead, guests were required to lower their heads, cast their eyes downward, and speak to the sultan’s translator.
Interestingly, when Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) renovated the chamber, he placed a small fountain by the entrance that was used not only for drinking water, but also to prevent eavesdroppers from listening in on important conversations.
Enderûn Library. Behind the Audience Chamber and directly in the center of the courtyard is the Enderûn Library. Sultan Ahmed III built the library in 1719 as the first library inside the palace. Lavishly decorated inside like many of the palace’s buildings, the library today is only a museum. The book collection is located in the adjacent Mosque of the Aghas (not pictured), which is the largest mosque in the palace. The Topkapı Palace’s collection includes rare manuscripts, illustrated volumes, and early copies of the Qurʾān, all of which are available to researchers in the reading room.
Conqueror's Pavilion. The Conqueror’s Pavilion (on the right, below) was built in 1462 by Mehmed the Conqueror and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the palace. It was originally intended to be a private retreat for the Sultan, but was later turned into the Imperial Treasury.
Chamber of the Sacred Relics. The Privy Chamber houses the Chamber of the Sacred Relics. Inside are the most important relics of the Islamic world, including the cloak and banner of the Prophet Muhammad, his swords, his seal, a tooth, and a hair from his beard. In the room holding Muhammad’s relics, a mufti recites the Koran 24 hours a day.
Alas, Topkapi Palace is huge, and absorbing the entire history of the place is impossible in a single visit. To be honest, I am having to research each of these places and identify my photos as I go. To end today's post, I'll leave you with three interesting facts about the Third Courtyard that I stumbled up on my research:
Kanunname Code. Sultan Mehmed II was quite strict about maintaining a private life despite the grounds being open to the public. He passed the Kanunname Code in 1481 to ensure that the principle of Imperial Seclusion—the act of observing complete silence—was followed in the inner courtyards of Topkapi Palace. Grilled windows and secret passageways were also built to further enforce this law. (Sounds dreadful to me!)
Fire of 1574. Between 1520 and 1560, Suleyman the Magnificent significantly expanded the Topkapi Palace. Unfortunately, a massive fire destroyed parts of the palace in 1574, and Sultan Selim II was given charge of rebuilding and expanding not only the incinerated parts, but also the baths, Privy Chamber, Harem, and shoreline pavilions.
Royal Pages. The dormitories of the royal pages (not pictured), who were part of a hierarchy of servants to the sultan, are also located in the third courtyard. Most pages were recruited as boys from the conquered Christian populations via the devşirme system, in which boys were removed from their families as a form of tax or tribute. After receiving new names and being converted to Islam, the brightest boys were assigned specific roles and received a rigorous education. They followed a meritocracy and could attain such high positions as a grand vizier, but many men were freed at age 25 and married a girl of the harem or a daughter of the sultan. The royal pages’ dormitories now house parts of the imperial collections.
Can you imagine? Your son being removed from your family as a form of tax or tribute? Unbelievable!
Thanks for reading!