Topkapi palace: Reflections on social and spatial order

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Şalgamcıoğlu M. E., Edgu E., Unlu A., Garip E., Kos F. C.

11th International Space Syntax Symposium, SSS 2017, Lisbon, Portugal, 3 - 07 July 2017 identifier

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Full Text
  • City: Lisbon
  • Country: Portugal
  • Keywords: Configuration, Interaction, Power, Social order, Spatial differentiation, Spatial hierarchy, Topkapi Palace
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Anatolia has witnessed many Ottoman structures, yet, Topkapi Palace may be the most significant one that has influenced the distribution and control of power. The Palace was built in the longest-term capital of the Empire, Istanbul, and reflected architectural and environmental features that were developing and expanding at the site for about half of the 600 years of reign of the Ottoman Empire. The palace is the symbol of interaction, social and spatial order, privacy and the territoriality affecting the overall administrational and social structure. The three-fold interaction between the Sultan, various chambers of administrational levels and the public is the key concept that the research is based on. Although construction of The Topkapi Palace first started in 1459 after Istanbul became the capital of Ottoman Empire, its significant role on reflecting Ottoman ruling is undeniable. The transformation and expansion character of the Palace give clues for understanding how the order is facilitated through the governing and social issues. Therefore, in this research the concept of state that lie behind the tradition of ruling, its reflection to architectural space and the latent aspects of public-and private relations embedded in a deep hierarchy are examined and compared within the context of Mehmet II (Fatih) and Süleyman I (Kanuni) eras of the Topkapi Palace. The palace as the royal residence of the sultan and the centre of social issues as well as the centre for government, is a complex structure, settled on a large area, configured through the spatial hierarchy on the interfaces of four main courtyards and the relationship between the administrative, residential and auxiliary spaces. At its peak complexity, Topkapi Palace was home to as many as 4,000 people, while containing many public and private facilities such as mosques, hospitals, bakeries, as well as a mint in its territory. As the courtyards are the interface between the public and the private, through ceremonies and rituals, integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, the level of visibility through the palace complex and its effects on the spatial meaning are explored. Therefore, depending on the complex and developing physical structure of the palace a two-fold syntactic comparison is executed in this research; in order to define spatial hierarchy of spaces, public-private interfaces and the overall rationale behind the power concept. At the first stage, the configuration of the courtyards and thresholds of both periods are examined through defined reference nodes; whereas at the second stage Süleyman I era is scrutinized. The first stage gives an overall panorama on the motion flow, while the second stage focuses on the building scale. Syntactic findings show that the effects of transformation through administrational and institutional structure from 15th century to 16th century in Ottoman Empire have affected the spatial order and meaning in Topkapi Palace, in terms of deeper hierarchy, centralization of power, and introversion. On the other hand, while the state based on traditions keep their significance within the spatial configuration, and the existence of power remains solid.