Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace (Turkey)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was erected by Sultan Mehmet II (1432–1481) after his army took Constantinople in 1453 and turned the city into the headquarters of the new Ottoman Empire. Along with building a palace, he converted the large Orthodox church, the Hagia Sophia, into a mosque.

Mehmed II spent much of his reign establishing and further extending Ottoman territory, and his successors would turn Istanbul—as Constantinople was renamed—into a significant center for the Muslim world. The empire encompassed most of the land associated with the origins of Islam, and beginning early in the sixteenth century successive sultans used their position to turn their capital into the leading Muslim city. One way they did this was by accumulating many relics of Muhammad, which were gradually collected at the palace. The first relics appear to have been given to the Sultan Selim, who assumed the title caliph after his conquest of Egypt. On that occasion, his representative in Mecca sent him some of Muhammad’s relics.

The items that came to be included in the collection reputedly include some hair from Muhammad’s beard, a chip off one of his teeth, and his footprint preserved in porphyry. Among items he is believed to have used are his cloak, his seal, a bow, and a letter he wrote. In addition, there is the oldest known copy of the Qur’an, which was written on gazelle leather, two pieces of cloth from the cover of the Kaaba in Mecca, and a sword used by the first four caliphs, who have a special place in secular and sacred Muslim history. The cloak, called Hirka-i Saadet, is one of the most valuable items in the collection, and so it is kept in a box made of solid gold. Maintained in a single room, this extensive collection of relics, the largest of its kind in existence, turned Topkapi into a pilgrimage site.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was in rapid decline. It chose the wrong allies in World War I, and after the revolution led by the Young Turks, the empire was dismantled and the central lands turned into the secular state that is now modern Turkey. By 1924 the sultans had abandoned the palace as a residence. It has subsequently been turned into a museum.

The relics of Muhammad and the four caliphs are now housed in the Chamber of the Sacred Relics at Topkapi Palace. It was first opened to the public in 1962. An imam (Muslim teacher) is on duty at the chamber and reads verses from the Qur’an as part of an attempt to insure the solemnity of the spot for believers. It is interesting that the larger palace has also been decorated to convey a certain ambiance as a Muslim holy place. For example, the front doorway was brought to Istanbul from Mecca, where it had previously served as the doorway to the Great Mosque.

Sources:

Cimok, Fatih. Topkapi Palace. Istanbul: A Turizm, 1990. Davis, Fanny. The Palace of Topkapi in Istanbul. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970.
Rogers, J. M. The Topkapi Saray Museum: The Treasury. London/Boston: Thames & Hudson/Little, Brown, 1987.