Things to do in Istanbul – Visit the Harem at Topkapı Palace
If you’re planning on visiting Topkapı Palace, we highly recommend that you pay the additional entrance fee for a tour of the Imperial Harem. This section of the palace was a private and restricted area where the Sultan lived with his family, including his mother (the Valide Sultan), wives, concubines, brothers, sisters, servants, and eunuchs. The harem is a maze of narrow passages, courtyards, and hundreds of interconnecting rooms. To help you understand what you’ll see, we’ve put together a list of the main rooms and courtyards. Note: some of the areas may be closed due to renovations.
Your tour of the harem begins in the Second Courtyard at the Carriage Gate (alar Kapısı) and takes you through:
The Hall with Fountain – named for the marble fountain once located inside, this entry room was guarded by the Harem eunuchs. Damaged in the fire of 1665, the room was remodeled and the current tiles date to the 17th century. To the left as you enter the hall, is the Mosque of the Eunuchs. Near the entrance to the mosque is a stone pedestal used by the Sultan when mounting his horse and along the opposite wall are stone benches used by the guards.
The Court of the Eunuchs – the first courtyard in the Harem, reportedly dates to the mid-16th century. The buildings surrounding the courtyard include the Dormitory of the Eunuchs, the apartments of the Chief Harem Eunuch, and the School of the Princes and Gentlemen-in-waiting of the Sultan.
Eunuchs Quarters – the 16th century dormitories consisted of upper level rooms for the novices and lower levels for the eunuchs with administrative duties.
Apartments of the Chief Black Eunuch – equipped with a fireplace decorated with 18th century tiles, bath (hamam), and several other rooms, dating to the late-16th century. The upper level includes the School of Princes.
Main Entrance to the Harem – this gilded gate, leading to the Sentry Post (Nöbet Yeri), connects the Courtyard of the Eunuchs to the actual Harem, the private residence of the Sultan’s family. Notice the cypress trees on the tiled wall and the 18th century gilded mirror in the Sentry Post. Doorways here lead to the Sultan’s quarters, Court of the Queen Mother, and Court of the Concubines.
Apartments of the Sultan’s Favorite Wives – These three apartments constructed in the 16th century served as the private quarters of the Sultan’s Chief Consorts, the most favorite of his wives or concubines.
The Courtyard of the Queen Mother – surrounded by several private chambers, including the Apartments of the Favorite Wives, the Apartments of the Queen Mother, and the Baths of the Sultan, the courtyard is the center of the harem complex, a sign of the importance of the Queen Mother within the hierarchy of the Harem.
Apartments of the Queen Mother (Valide Sultan Dairesi))– built in the late-16th cnetury for Sultan Nurbanu, mother of Sultan Murat III, the apartment was damaged following the fire of 1665; its current appearance reflects renovations made in various periods (most recently additions in rococo style made during the time of Queen Mother, Valide Sultan Mihrişah, mother of Sultan Selim III). The main living space features a symbolic throne or Şirvan, 17th century tiles, some depicting the Holy Ka’bah, and 19th century wall paintings.
The Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother(Hünkâr ve Vâlide Hamamları) – with heating provided by Roman-style hypocaust system, the baths consist of a caldarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium. Reportedly constructed in the 16th century and redecorated in the 18th century in rococo style, the baths feature marble floors and tub, and a golden gate, which served to guard the Sultan or the Queen Mother against assassination attempts.
Courtyard and Kiosk of Osman III – an 18th century pavilion and garden with marble pool, constructed during the reign of Mahmud I.
Throne Room/Imperial Hall – this late-16th century hall, the largest domed area and most important room of the palace, served as the site of wedding ceremonies and entertainment events. It is also the entrance to the Sultan’s apartments. Special features here include the Sultan’s throne and decorative 18th century Delft tiles.
Thrones Privy Chamber
The Privy Chamber of Sultan Murat III (III. Murat Has Odası) – the oldest room of the Harem, with its original interior, dates to the 16th century. Notice the decorative tile work, border tiles with calligraphic writing from the Qur’an, a two-tiered marble fountain, a fireplace with gilded hood, and two 18th century thrones.
The Privy Chamber of Sultan Ahmet I – the 17th century domed sultan’s residence; decorated with green tiles, shutters and doors inlaid with ivory, mother of pearl, and tortoiseshell.
The Privy Chamber of Ahmet III (III. Ahmet Has Odası) – perhaps used as a dining room, this extremely colorful 18th century chamber – also known as the ‘Fruit Room’ (Yemiş Odası) – is decorated with floral and fruit designs, and a vaulted wooden ceiling.
The Twin Kiosk/Apartments of the Crown Prince (Çifte Kasırlar / Veliaht Dairesi)– two 17th century pavilions used since the 18th century as the privy chambers of the Crown Princes. Decorative features here include the fountains with marble basins, stained glass windows, and the original hand-drawn gilded fabric covering the ceiling.
The Interval (Mabeyn) – this 18th century pavilion bordering the Mabeyn Courtyard, consists of upper level rooms used by the Chief Consorts and a lower level apartment that served as residence of Sultan Abdülhamit I and his family.
The Golden Road (Altınyol) – this narrow 15th century passage extends from the Courtyard of the Harem Eunuchs to the Privy Chamber and Pond Terrace.