Settled on the best panorama viewpoint of Bosphorus, dominating Golden Horn, Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Sultans from Mehmet the Conqueror(1465) to Sultan Abdulmecid I(1856). Now the palace is the major tourist attraction as a museum, which contains costumes, jewelry, weapon, pottery, holy relics(Islamic) exhibitions, and a mysterious harem section.
“Top” means cannon and ”kapi” means gate in Turkish, its named derived from a former gate that had cannons around to protect the walls. Unlike other famous palaces, you can see simplicity and feel tranquility in Topkapi Palace; it has basic fourth courtyard plan, each yard opens onto another. The palace was been developed during its serving times for 4 centuries with many additional buildings and renovations. Its architecture is mostly in Ottoman character, also influenced by Middle Eastern elders.
There are two entrances for first court. Imperial Gate is at the behind of Hagia Sophia, or if you climb for a minute after leaving Archaeological Museum, you are going to see other entrance. First court is the largest of all, you may lie on the grass under the shade of huge trees. When you enter from Imperial Gate, you will see Aya Irini on your left. It was church before conquest then used as arsenal, store house, recently as a concert hall, and finally, it is open to visit as a museum. First court is free to visit, if you want to keep going through second court, you have to buy tickets(25 tl) before Middle Gate; on the right you will see long queues, where ticket offices are. You may rent audio guides or attend a guided tour. There is a souvenir shop next to the ticket offices that you should check before leaving the palace.The Middle Gate(Gate of Salutation) leads into a second court; it was a restricted area in Ottoman times, just the officials and ambassadors allowed inside. On the right, you will see the palace kitchens with tall chimneys. The Porcelain and Celadon Collection, Imperial Council, Tower of Justice, and the entrance of Harem are also in the second yard. You need additional ticket (15 TL) to visit the Harem; you may buy it from main ticket offices in advance or from Harem entrance. There is a cafe close to the Tower of Justice(second yard) to quench your thirst during your visit.
You have to take a guided tour to visit Harem before, but you can wander inside on your own now. There was no trespassing beyond the gate of Harem with the exception of the Sultan, the Sultan’s mother, consorts, and the Sultan’s favorites; also the eugenes guarded the building.
The third court, The inner palace, is beyond the Gate of Felicity, where the Sultan and servants lived. There are small pavilions, chambers, and Treasury exhibition inside.
There is no gate to enter the fourth court, you will just pass the corridors to get in. It consist of a number of pavilions and terraces. There is a restaurant, a cafe, and a mosque inside. You will catch great views of Bosphorus, take many photos, and probably spend most of your visit in fourth court.
Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time. There is no need to rush as there are so many different parts of the complex to visit. At least half day should be reserved.
Also check the movie, Topkapi (1964), about theft of jeweled dagger from Topkapi Palace.