Covering 172 acres on Istanbul’s Seraglio Point, Topkapi Palace features a sprawling array of lush gardens, richly decorated courtyards, winding passageways, and elaborately furnished rooms. For hundreds of years it was home to the Ottoman imperial family and served as the administrative headquarters for the empire. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited attractions in Turkey. In addition to the Harem, highlights of the palace include an Imperial Treasury with a dazzling collection of jewels, porcelain, silver, gold, royal robes, and gifts from throughout the world.
For Muslims, the most precious treasures in Topkapi Palace—and indeed in Turkey itself—are relics from the Prophet Mohammed that are kept in the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. Located on the northwest side of the Third Court opposite the Imperial Treasury, the five rooms of the pavilion contain a variety of sacred items.
Most precious is a mantle once worn by the Prophet, but the collection also includes two of his swords, hairs from his beard, a tooth, and an impression of his footprint, plus swords from the first four caliphs and keys to the Kaaba in Mecca. The pavilion also features relics of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and King David, who are honored by Muslims as well as Christians and Jews.
Some of the relics were given as gifts to the sultans, and others were taken from Cairo by Sultan Selim I in the early 16th century. In recognition of the sacredness of the site, holy men chant passages from the Koran here 24 hours each day.
At one time these relics were displayed only to the sultan, his family, and the court during a ceremony held on the fifteenth day of Ramadan each year. In 1962 they were put on public display to everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The collection is considered to contain some of the holiest relics of Islam and is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from around the world.