We recommend you spend at least half a day in the Palace – there is an awful lot to see.
In case you didn’t know, on public holidays in Turkey entry to historic sites, museums, etc., is free. So on our recent trip to Istanbul, when we realised we were there on 19 May (Youth and Sport Bayram) we headed down to Topkapi to take advantage of the free entry. It is normally 10YTL to get into the Palace, a further 10YTL to tour the harem and possibly yet another 10YTL to see any exhibition that may be being mounted within the Palace complex – when you are a group of seven that adds up to a significant amount. However, as we discovered, on free entry days the crowds are horrendous with long queues outside all of the buildings that were open – and several were closed due to low staffing levels so we were reduced to peering through barred windows. Hence we recommend you pay the money and get good value by spending at least half a day in the Palace – there is an awful lot to see.
The Palace was begun in 1460 and the first parts completed about five years later. Prior to the conquest of Constantinople the Turks had been nomads and this feeling for camp life is reflected in the Palace where, although there are some substantial buildings, there are also a whole host of discrete pavilions reminiscent of a campsite with stone buildings taking the place of tents.
The Palace was the home of the Ottoman Sultans from around 1460 until the middle of the nineteenth century, with successive Sultans adding and altering existing structures. It is truly an amazing place with tilework, mother-of-pearl inlay and carved stonework decorating rooms and buildings which lie in the midst of extensive gardens overlooking the point where the Bosphorus and Golden Horn meet the Sea of Marmara. It is far too extensive a subject for us to cover in detail here, so be sure to read it up before you go, take a good guide book or hire an audio guide to take you around the whole complex.
To be honest if you want to really take your time about visiting Topkapi without having to battle the crowds, go in the winter. Fethiye Times visited in December 2004 and spent the whole day in the Palace with only the odd group of school children (all very regimented) to distract from the beauty and history all around – we are currently planning a return visit for December 2008.