Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The Bosphorus straits divides the city into a part that sits on the European continent, and a larger part on the continent of Asia. The militarily and economically strategic position of the city, on the western portion of the Silk Road, and on the shipping route between the Aegean and Black Seas, has kept it cosmopolitan and prosperous since its foundation 660 BCE, when it was called Byzantium. In 330 it became Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, named for Emperor Constantine the Great. The Ottomans conquered the city in 1453/857 AH and renamed the city Istanbul. It served as their capital until Ankara became the capital of the modern nation of Turkey.
The date of construction of the Ibrahim Pasa Sarayi is uncertain. Solakzade, a seventeenth century historian, notes that a palace was built here during the Bayezid II period (1481-1512). Palace documents record that Süleyman I repaired the Atmeydani palace in 1521 for his grand-vizier and confidant Ibrahim Pasa, while archaeologist-historian Müller-Wiener claims that it was built atop the foundations of the hippodrome seats. Ibrahim Pasa was executed in 1536 and his assets reverted to the treasury's control. The palace, which retained his name, became a government residence over the next two and a half centuries for a number grand-viziers (sadrazam), governor-generals (beylerbeyi), admirals (kaptanpasa) and royal gun-bearers (silahdar) who had married into the royal family. A section of the palace housed the school and barracks of apprentice court pages (acemioglanlari) during this time. The registry at the Topkapi Palace show repairs by head architects Mimar Sinan (1492-1588), Hasan Aga and Sedefkar Mehmed Aga (d.1622), and more repairs were conducted after the fires in 1652, 1660, 1755 and 1808 and after the 1675 earthquake. In late eighteenth century, the official registry (defterhane) and the headquarters of the royal band (mehterhane) were located at the building no longer used as a vezirial palace. The derelict palace was occupied by a mental hospital, a lionhouse, a textile workshop and squatters in the following century and parts of it were torn down in 1939 to clear the site for a modern court house. The restorations to convert the palace into a museum finally commenced in 1966 and lasted fifteen years. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, originally founded in 1914, re-opened at the Ibrahim Pasa Palace in 1984 and is open to visitors at this location.
The vezirial palace, reported by travelers to be grander in scale than the royal palace of Topkapi, extended for about 140 meters along Atmeydani or the Roman Hippodrome, varying from 50 to 75 meters in depth. It consisted of four courtyards of varying size and elevation, three of which were lined up along Atmeydani, oriented southwest-northeast. Built of brick and stone, the Ibrahim Pasa palace is the only aristocratic residence remaining from the sixteenth century when Atmeydani was surrounded by many such palaces built primarily of wood. It hosted many royal celebrations, such as the circumcision ceremonies of Ottoman princes and marriages, beginning with the fifteen-day marriage of grand-vizier Ibrahim Pasa to Süleyman I's sister in 1524. Illustrated accounts of these events, such as the Book of Festivals (Surname) depicting the circumcision of Murad III's sons in 1582 and gravures by foreign travelers such as Melling in late eighteenth century, provide us with clues regarding the original appearance of the palace and its surroundings.
The entrance into the palace was through the first courtyard, a square court enclosed by the walls of the surrounding courtyards, opening out to Atmeydani on the forth. From here, stairs led up to the large second courtyard on the left, where the state apartments were located and a passageway connected to the smaller third courtyard to the right, which also had its own gate on Atmeydani. The fourth courtyard was located behind the first and the third and may have been used to house the harem. The second, third and forth courtyards were enveloped by the walls of wide vaulted corridors on all or three sides, which carried rows of rooms above that looked onto the courtyard through a continuous gallery. A tall corridor placed between the second and forth courtyards with heavy gates on either side is thought to be the treasury.
Although three out of the four courtyards have survived to our day, the second courtyard, which houses the museum, is the only one that retains its original design. The Ottoman land registry, still in use today, was housed in a three-story nineteenth century structure built in the first courtyard and expanded to its larger building erected in front of the first and the third courtyards in 1908 by architect Vedat Tek. The third courtyard, obscured by the Land Registry building and cafés, houses the courthouse archives. The dilapidated forth courtyard was torn down hastily in 1939 to make room for a new courthouse, even though the project later built by Sedad Hakki Eldem, which spans the whole length of the palace, would have accommodated it. Rooms off the second and forth courtyards must have commanded great views in this direction, where the hill descends towards the Golden Horn across Çemberlitas.
The second courtyard and great hall
The second courtyard, or state apartments, was built on a terrace elevated on the ruins of the hippodrome seats. The terrace, about seven and a half meters higher than Atmeydani, is retained by thick walls with buttresses and a deep vaulted gallery along Atmeydani, which has the museum entrance. A continuous vaulted corridor envelops three sides of the courtyard, which opens out to the Atmeydani with a wooden gazebo on the fourth side. Entered from a single door on the side, the corridor is lit with large grilled windows placed in each bay. Above, the northeast and northwest wings have a series of rooms that are entered through a now englazed arched gallery that faces the courtyard. The rooms facing Atmeydani are larger and covered with vaults, while all rooms are equipped with furnaces whose chimneys animate the roof. The upper floor of the southwest wing is occupied by the great hall (divanhane), which has a stone balcony (sahnisin) on Atmeydani. Its wooden roof, which is attached with bowed braces to the courtyard façade, and the wooden roof of its balcony were built during the restoration based on sixteenth century miniatures depicting the palace. The great hall, larger than the corresponding audience hall at Topkapi, was the court of justice of the grandvizier. There is no trace left of the interior decoration of the state apartments which house museum exhibits today.
Atasoy, Nurhan. Ibrahim Pasa Sarayi. Istanbul: Istanbul Universitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Basimevi. 1972.
Dunden bugune Istanbul ansiklopedisi. Ankara: Kultur Bakanligi ; Istanbul : Tarih Vakfi, 1993-1995., IV, 128-130; I, 414-418.
Goodwin, Godfrey. A History of Ottoman Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997. 191-195.