Established in 1478 the Topkapi (Gates of Cannon) Palace, was the political heart of the Ottoman empire until the building of the Dolmabahce Palace, also in Istanbul, in 1853. For nearly four centuries, the Ottoman sultans dwelt amid the secret splendors of Topkapi Palace. Access to the Grand Seraglio--which served as the empire's administrative, legislative, and judicial center and an academy of fine arts, as well as the ruler's home--was jealously guarded, even after the sultans ceased to reside there in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1936, a distinguished scholar of Orientalism, Norman Mosley Penzer (1892-1960), was afforded a rare opportunity to step inside the Grand Seraglio; in this eagerly embraced and much-consulted volume, he reveals what he found.
Constructed between 1459 and 1465 at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Topkapi Palace stands in present-day Istanbul, near the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the Marmara Sea. Penzer surveyed the entire palace from end to end during numerous visits over the course of two years, and he presents photographs and floor plans that provide a comprehensive view of Topkapi's structure. Penzer's illustrations of the opulent gardens, chambers, and pavilions come to imaginative life with his explorations of day-to-day palace life--particularly among the women of the harem and their eunuch guards. His evocative accounts of the manners, dress, and politics of Turkish court life continue to influence the scholarly work of the twenty-first century, and this classic history remains indispensable to studies of harem life.