For almost five centuries, Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, one of the world’s greatest empires during its peak, and it’s not shy about showing it. Though the capital of the current Turkish Republic has been moved further east, to Ankara, Istanbul is, without reservation, still the premier city of the Turks. It still exudes a “regal” air to this day, with its historic landmarks, beautiful parks, elegant cobblestone streets and grand imperial palaces. It had been named one of the “European Capitals of Culture”, and is among the ten most visited tourist destinations globally.
Nothing encapsulates the elegance of Istanbul more than the Topkapi Palace. Perched beautifully at the top of a hill just north of the Sultanahmet Square, the palace has a majestic presence over the city. Rather than a large monolithic structure, the Topkapi is a complex of multiple courtyards and buildings, with gardens in between. The first structures of the palace was built by Sultan Mehmed, right after his conquest of the city then called Constantinople. Succeeding sultans then added more and more buildings, and expanded the palace grounds. It was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans until early in the 19th century, when the Royal Court was transferred to the newer Dolmahbace Palace, further upstream and closer to the banks of the Bosphorus. Still, the Topkapi continued to host royal functions right until the Ottoman Empire was abolished, and then it was turned into a museum.
Aside from the beauty of the palace itself, the northern grounds of the complex gives a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of the city, as well as the Golden Horn and the trendy Galata district. And right beside the palace grounds is Gulhane Park. Formerly the royal garden of Topkapi, it has now been turned into Istanbul’s most beautiful public park. Also enclosed in the palace’s outer courtyard is Hagia Irene, a Christian church predating the Hagia Sophia. Built with the typical Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Irene was not re-purposed as a mosque by the Ottomans, unlike the Hagia Sophia. It held some non-glamorous roles, like a military storage building, before it was converted to a museum. It currently serves as both a museum and a concert hall.
Overlooking the Bosphorus
The Hagia Irene