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Carl and Lorraine Aveni
The Topkapi palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years (1465 until 1856). It was also the site for state occasions and royal entertainment. Currently, the Topkapi palace is a Museum and UNESCO World Heritage site. The palace is actually a complex of buildings surrounding four main courtyards; hosting mosques, a hospital, a kitchen, bakeries, and a mint. At its peak, at least 4000 people lived on the grounds. The original construction began in 1459 upon the orders of Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople, but was constantly added to over the centuries. When it was first completed, the complex was called the "New Palace". The name "Topkapi" (meaning canon gate) was not given to the complex until the 19th century. It was named after a gate (now lost) and a shore pavilion. Towards the end of the 17th century, Topkapi began to lose its importance because the Sultans preferred newer palaces being built along the Bosphorus. In April of 1924, the complex was turned into a museum.
One section of the private apartments of the Sultan was devoted to the Harem. This complex of 400 rooms was the home of the Queen Mother, the wives of the Sultan, the concubines, the rest of the family, and the Eunuchs who guarded them. It was considered to be "off-limits" to everyone except the Sultan and those that lived there.