The Topkapı Palace sits on top of a hill with views across the sea on two sides. It was founded in 1459. The palace remained the official residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years. High walls surround the palace.
The imposing main gateway has gilded calligraphy above its high arched entrance. It gives access to the gardens, courtyards and pavilions within the palace grounds. The sultan's officials rode out through this gate to rule his empire or fight his enemies, as depicted in paintings of the time. Visitors who entered this first gate were faced with two more grand gateways as they progressed towards the heart of the palace.
The second gate resembles a medieval castle with its battlements and turrets. It leads into the courtyard where official business was conducted below the Tower of Justice. At the beginning of his reign, the sultan received oaths of allegiance in this courtyard. A painting of the 1550s shows one of the sultan's officials making his oath of allegiance. He kneels before the sultan, with his hands clasped and his head bowed. Only the very privileged were allowed through the third gate.
Beyond this gate is a richly decorated pavilion where ambassadors were presented to the sultan. In this private area beyond the third gate were the women's quarters and the pavilions and terraces reserved for male guests of the sultan. A gilded canopy and pavilions faced with marble and tilework look out over the sea and the teeming city beyond. One of the ceremonies conducted in these private quarters was the circumcision of the sultan's sons.
In a painting from the 1720s the young princes are shown in their beds while in the centre the sultan scatters gold coins at the feet of his attendants. The walls of one terrace are covered with tiles with different designs based on plants. Most are painted in a vibrant combination of blue, green and red on a white background.