Splendors of Topkapi

For centuries, the Western world was fascinated by the marvels and mysteries of the Ottoman Empire and the sultans who ruled their vast domains from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Built by Sultan Mehmed II, "the Conqueror," after his army stormed and sacked Constantinople in 1453, the palace served as the home of the sultans and their court until the mid-19th century.

From afar, the Topkapi is still a sterling sight — a walled array of domes and turrets and minaret-like chimneys and belvederes commanding the city from on high. A compound encompassing 173 acres of gardens, courtyards, workshops, kitchens, armories, baths, fountains, offices, halls and residential areas, the palace embodied the imperial might of the Ottoman Empire and manifested power through the inaccessibility of the sultan and his court.

Now called the Topkapi Palace Museum, the complex is a hybrid — part museum, like the Louvre in France, and part historic building, like Versailles. Its myriad treasures include swords and daggers, royal clothes, carpets, textiles, ceramics, manuscripts, jewels, armor, paintings and other finely crafted objects of art. A sumptuous selection of these treasures is now on its way to the United States. The new exhibition, "Palace of Gold & Light: Treasures from the Topkapi, Istanbul," will open at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (March 1-June 15) and then move on to the San Diego Museum of Art (July 14-September 24) and the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale (October 15-February 28, 2001). The show will include the emerald-studded dagger that earned notoriety 36 years ago as the target of a band of thieves in the movie Topkapi, the throne used by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent on his battle campaigns, and more than 200 other items that shed light on the significance of the Topkapi Palace and the Ottoman Empire.

Get the latest History stories in your inbox?

Click to visit our Privacy Statement.