Evliya Chelebi (1611-1684?) was a Turkish traveler and travel writer. His Seyahatanamé (Travelogue) is an account of the various tours he took in the Ottoman Empire. In this selection, he describes the sprawling Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the sultans. He served there as a page in the court of Sultan Murat IV. While the account is surely exaggerated, it does reflect the sense of awe which the palace was intended to inspire.
The Conqueror, having thus become possessed of so great a treasure (i.e. Constantinople), bethought himself that the most needful thing for a monarch was to build himself a permanent abode. He therefore expended the sum of three thousand purses on the erection of the New Palace. The best of several metrical dates (1) inscribed over the Imperial Gate is the one at the bottom, carved in conspicuous gold letters on a white marble tablet: 'Khállad Allâhu ’ázza sâhibiki.' (May God make the Glory of its Master eternal!)
Never has a more beautiful edifice been erected by the art of man; for, situated by the edge of the sea, having the Black Sea on the North and the White Sea (Sea of Marmora) on the East, it should rather be likened to a town placed at the confluence of two seas than to a palace.
Its founder was the second Solomon, Iskendér Zúlkaréin. The Conqueror's palace was built upon the ruins of earlier edifices erected by former sovereigns to which he added seventy private, public and other well-appointed apartments such as a confectionary, bakery, hospital, armoury, mat-store, wood-shed, granary, inner and outer stables each one resembling the stable of Antar (2), several storerooms ranged round the garden delightful as the Garden of Irâm (3), and planted with twenty thousand cypresses, plane trees, weeping willows, thuyas, pines and box-trees, with an aviary and tulip bed which to this day may be compared to the garden of Jinns.
In the centre of this garden there stands a pleasant hill and slope on which the Conqueror erected forty private apartments wainscoated with tiles, a Hall of Audience (Arz-Odasi) inside the Gate of Felicity (Báb-I Saadét), and a fine horse-parade, to the east of which he built a bath close to the Privy Treasury. Adjoining this are the aviary, pantry, Treasurer's chamber, the senior and junior pages' quarters, the Seferlis'(4) and Külkhán (5) chambers, the mosque attached to the Büyük-Odá, and the gymnasium which adjoins the bath mentioned above. The privy chambers already mentioned were occupied by three thousand pages, fair as Joseph, richly attired in chemises fragrant as roses, with embroidered bonnets and robes smothered in gold and jewels, each one having his appointed place in the Emperor's service, where he must be ready at any moment to attend.
There were no women's quarters in the palace, and these were added later on in the reign of Sultán Suleymán. The latter also had quarters built for the black and white eunuchs, a recreation pavilion and a council chamber where the seven Vezírs of the Diván met four times a week.
Sultán Mehmét likewise surrounded this strongly fortified palace with a wall: This had 366 towers and 12,000 merlons, its total circumference being 6,500 paces, with sixteen gates, great and small.
Besides the officers already mentioned, there were 12,000 Bostanjis who lived within the precincts of the Palace. Forty thousand persons all told lodged within its walls.
1. A.H. 876-877 A.D. 1471-1472.
2. A legendary Arab hero.
3. The legendary garden of King Shaddâd of Arabia (cf. Rubáyat of Omar Khayyâm (Fitzgerald's translation), v.'lram indeed is gone with all his rose.'
4. These were pages who accompanied the Sultan when on campaign.
5. Heating-apparatus for the bath.
Alexander Pallis, In the Days of the Janissaries: Old Turkish Life as Depicted in the “Travel-Book” of Evliya Chelebi (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1951), pp. 103-104.