The Topkapi Palace grounds are immense, so we prepared to spend several hours exploring. Photos are not allowed inside many of the buildings, though rule enforcement varied from not at all to loud nagging depending on the guard. Many of the guards were glued to their mobile phones, so we did manage to sneak a few shots here and there.
After entering through the gates we turned right and started with the kitchens. These turned out to be surprisingly interesting, as it must have taken a lot of work to feed the several thousand people that inhabited the palace grounds in its heydey. The imperial kitchen had first choice at the markets and docks, and they made everything from meals to medicines on the grounds. Serving the sultan was a big deal, and upwards of 14 servants attended him at each meal!
The imperial jewels were close by, but the line was long so we continued through the receiving room into the heart of the palace grounds, the third and forth courtyards. We explored the calligraphy museum which included the first word portraits we’ve experienced – a detailed description of Muhammad in beautiful calligraphy with gold overlay.
There was beautiful tile and woodwork everywhere and we enjoyed exploring many of the large decorated rooms.
After about two hours elsewhere we ended up back near the (still) long line for the jewels, so we joined it. The crowds made it hard to really enjoy each piece without getting jostled, but they had some amazing pieces. Just next door was a second room with other imperial accessories, and since it was uncrowded with no line, we gave it a try and really enjoyed the beautiful clocks and other timepieces.
The Harem was our last stop, which was recently included in the Museum pass. Unfortunately, several sections are under restoration. However, the rooms we did get to see were opulent and beautiful with amazing tile, wood, and carpet work; even the ceilings were gorgeous. This part was our favorite section of the palace, largely due to the reduced crowds.
Topkapi Palace is on the must-see list for good reason and we felt that four hours was enough time to see everything without rushing around.