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Topkapi Palace, Istanbul – A Paper Come to Life

November 18, 2015

From the Architectural Bucket List Series posted by Allison Stoos

After years of architecture and landscape architecture history classes, I’ve developed quite a must-see architectural bucket list for myself. This past spring I was fortunate to travel to Turkey and Greece to cross off several sites, including my Number 1. In a series of blog posts, I will highlight my experiences at some of these top sites as well as a few that hadn’t been on my list before but should be on yours.

Also from this series: » My No. 1 – Hagia Sophia

The Topkapi Palace is a place that I fell in love with through writing a research paper for a landscape architecture class during my master’s program at UT. I’d never been particularly interested in the organization of gardens or planting patterns, so I searched for a final paper topic that was a landscape highly integrated with architecture. I found the Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years beginning in 1465. This past spring, I finally got experience in person the words I had written.


First of all, the palace is a huge complex, in fact, much of what was once royal gardens is now the public, tulip filled, Gulhene Park and the first courtyard is now where you buy tickets or just hang out and watch stray dogs play. The museum itself is made up of the Second, Third and Fourth Court, and The Harem. The functional buildings – kitchens, armory, etc. - are now display areas for Ottoman artifacts. But, to my pleasure, most of the complex is just there for the enjoying of architecture.

Gulhene Park The complex, organized by topography, built-upon and adapted with each new reign, lacks in the monumentality and axial characteristics of royal architecture that we have come to associate with power in the West. However, the complex today greatly reflects the hierarchy of the palace culture and the architectural accommodation of the leisurely existence of a sultan’s life in the late sixteenth century and onward. As you move from one sitting room to another, you can see this shift as the design becomes more and more ornate, with influences from the French Rococo movement of the eighteenth century.

Most striking though, was the amount of 16th and 17th century Iznik Tile covering the walls and ceilings of many of the complex’s building. The bold colors, still as bright as the day they were installed, give a feeling of joy to the rooms. The organized chaos of the intricately painted patterns laid with such precision gives a visual representation to the buzz of the bi-continental city of Istanbul itself.

To fully experience the pleasure of the leisurely sultan life, I insist you travel to Istanbul during the Tulip festival in which millions of Tulips are planted throughout the city. They bloom sometime in April and last about a month (we went the last week of April). Then visit the Topkapi Palace’s Sofa Pavilion and look out over the Tulip Garden – *sigh*, now if only you could lay on those couches and be served wine, olives and cheese…


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