Topkapi Palace Museum
Built by Mehmet the Conqueror and embellished by countless other sultans, the Topkapi Palace was the epicentre of the Empire for some 400 years. Sited on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, the Topkapi owes its form more to a military encampment than to the grand sacred or monumental architecture of the Greeks or Romans. It’s best described as a collection of rococo mansions and bling-tastic kiosks, where everything from meetings of state to palace intrigues and circumcision ceremonies would have taken place. Aside from the treasure room, the armoury and the sultans’ dress room (a bevy of pajama-chic costumes if ever there was), one wing to look out for is the palace kitchen, which reopened afresh in 2011. It reportedly contains the worlds’ greatest collection of Chinese porcelain outside of Asia, much of it dating from the time when the Ottomans were convinced that the china’s blue celadon glaze would discolour at the first contact with poison. The Topkapi is vast and often packed with visitors, so to maximise your viewing pleasure try going as early or as late as possible. If you have limited time, have a quick stroll around the complex and then dive into the famous Harem (you need an additional ticket for this area). This complex of 300 intensely-decorated rooms is joyously decadent. It’s easy to imagine its steamy confines awash with the beautiful women gathered from the Christian borderlands of Armenia, Ukraine and Hungary, especially in the secluded outdoor pool to the rear where the young maidens would frolic in the nude under the sole eyes of the sultan and his team of eunuch retainers.