The palace has four courtyards, each of which is more private than the first. The Imperial Gate leads to the first courtyard, and the twin towers of the Gate of Salutations serve as the entry to the second courtyard of Topkapi Palace. Each of the buildings inside harbors a different type of treasure. For example, the old kitchen houses a wonderful collection of priceless Chinese porcelain and some huge ancient kitchen utensils. The Treasury has exquisite jewels, many of which are embedded in daggars, chainmail, or other weapons of war. The Treasury also has golden thrones encrusted with precious stones and the 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond, the 5th largest in the world, which once adorned the turban of Mehmet IV.
Some of the relics in the Topkapi Palace are harder to authenticate. Among them is a cabinet containing bones from the skull and hands of John the Baptist. The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle has some of the holiest relics of Islam, most of which found their way to Istanbul during the reign of Selim the Grim who conquered both Egypt and Arabia. The most sacred treasure is the mantle once worn by the Prophet Mohammed. A holy man continually chants passages from the Koran night and day over a gold chest containing the mantle. In the same room are hairs from Mohammed, two of his swords, a letter written by him and an impression of his footprint.
The harem is very intriguing. Just the idea of over 1,000 wives and concubines living together in a lush area guarded by black slave eunuchs and frequented by sultans and their sons probably sounds more exotic and interesting than it actually was. The concubines were foreign slaves and all hoped to become a sultan's favorite or provide him a son. Since Islam forbid enslaving Muslims, Christians, and Jews, the girls were often brought from far away, many from Russia. The concubines were educated and schooled in the ways of Islam life and culture. Many were eventually granted their freedom to marry powerful men in the empire, thus securing loyalty to the sultan. If you visit Topkapi, be sure to sign up early for the guided tour of the harem. You can't enter otherwise, and the tours fill up early in the day.
It's easy to have a wonderful day in Istanbul. But, one day is just not long enough. Looking out over the Bosphorus and the city below, it's important to promise to return one day in the future.