Topkapi Palace – The Treasury.
The Treasury, which is the most visited section of the Topkapi Palace Museum, evokes much admiration from those who stroll through the four halls where it is housed on the right side of the Third Court, next to the hall containing the Sultans’ Garment collection.
The riches on display should not astonish the visitors. One should be reminded that the Ottoman Empire, which spanned three continents, was the world’s most powerful state from the mid-15th century, when Istanbul was conquered until the end of the 17th century when Vienna was besieged. Today, there are forty independent nations on territory that used to belong to the Ottomans. Thus, there isn’t anything surprising about the palace treasury which is filled the wealth of the Ottomans, who established history’s most centralist Empire over such a wide expanse of territory.
It is known fact that the Ottoman state rapidly receeded starting from the 19th century and was completely bankrupt by the 1850’s. Also, the building of luxurious palaces and mansions during this period drove the treasury, which was already in a very difficult position, into dire straits it would never emerge from. In order to stave off oblivion, we know that the State of the Sultans borrowed large sums of money from both western countries and moneylenders based on Galata district during the final period. However, from a financial standpoint, even in the tightest times, the Ottoman Sultans took great pains to avoid selling off the treasury riches which were their ancestors heritage and heirlooms. Thanks to this conduct, we are able to view the wealth exhibited in these four halls today. What is extremely significant is the fact that despite the recommendation of his closest associates to plunder the Treasury, the last Sultan, Mehmet VI took only his own valuable belongings as he boarded the English warship to abandon his country.
After the conquest of Istanbul the Ottoman treasury was preserved from 1453 to 1478 in Yedikule (the Castle of the Seven Towers), but after the construction of Topkapi Palace the treasury was transferred first to the building which now houses the weapon collection and then to the four rooms of the Pavilion of the Conqueror in the Third Court. Selim I ordered that after his death his treasury should be sealed, and declared that „if any of my successors should fill this treasury with copper coins the treasury that I have filled with gold sovereigns should be sealed with the seal of that individual and should no longer continue to be sealed with my own.” The opening of the treasury took the form of an official ceremony in accordance with the last will and testament. The treasury guards would be lined up on each side of the door. The official in charge of the treasury would bring the key, examine the seal of Selim and open the lock.
Only between 20-30 people could enter the treasury at the same time. The ceremonial opening and closing of the treasury is still carried out at the present day. There was no clear and continuous system of documentation regarding the acquisition of valuables in the Ottoman Treasury with the result that records of only the most valuable items are preserved in the palace archives. According to extant documents the objects in the treasury were acquired in one of the following ways:
I-Some items consisted of war booty seized during the campaigns conducted in both East and West in the 15th-17th centuries. The most valuable of such objects were reserved for the use of the Sultan, after whose death they were delivered for safekeeping to the official in charge of the treasury along with other objects of a personal nature.
II-There is documentary evidence to the effect that after the conquest of Istanbul, ambassadors were sent with gifts to Eastern countries to announce the great event and that letters of congratulation and a large number of valuable gifts were received in return.
III-Some 2,000 craftsmen, including jewellers and furriers, are known to have been employed in the palace to supply objects to this treasury, and there is documentary evidence that a great variety of valuable objects were produced by these craftsmen in accordance with the wishes of the Sultan and court dignitaries. Moreover, each year for many centuries valuable objects such as rose-water flasks, censers and gold candlesticks encrusted with precious stones were carried as gifts to Medina under the supervision of a representative of the Sultan in the procession known as the Surre Alayi. After the capture of Arabia by the British in World War I the Governor of Medina, Fahrettin Turkkan Pasha, brought all these gifts back to Istanbul. These were all recorded in the Medina Register and placed in the Treasury.
IV-According to Ottoman law, goods belonging to court officials who had been dismissed from the service were confiscated and placed in the Treasury. For example, the famous Kasikci Diamond was placed in the treasury after the execution of Tepedelenli Ali Pasha, Governor of the Mora.
V-In the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the closer ties with Europe had been formed by the visit paid to France by Abdulaziz (1861-1876) and the friendship with Kaiser Wilhelm II founded by Abdulhamit II (1876-1909), it became the customfor members of the European royal families to visit the Sultan in Istanbul, bringing with them a number of very valuable gifts which served to further enrich the imperial collection. The treasury exhibits are arranged in four rooms in accordance with the type, material and function of the various items.
The first room contains a lacquered leather shield, a pair of silver gilt spurs encrusted with precious stones, ornamented bags for carrying a section of the Koran and a suit of armour belonging to Mustafa II, the ivory inlaid ebony throne used by Murat IV on the Baghdad campaign, rose water flasks and zinc decanters decorated with turquoises and emeralds, Ottoman pistols, arrows and quivers, the sword of Suleyman the Magnificient, various other swords, archery rings, daggers, crystal sweet bowls, cup holders, crystal hookah pipes, a gold hookah pipe belonging to Mustafa Pasha, the Governor of Van, gold candlesticks belonging to Mehmet Ali Pasha, the Governor of Egypt, candle snuffers, jade dishes, an ebony walking cane and gold basin and ewer belonging to Abdulhamit II, a model of the palace presented by the Japanese Emperor on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Abdulhamit II’s accession to the throne (1901) and an Indian music box with gold elephants.
The second room contains emeralds and various items decorated with emeralds. Exhibits include the emerald rosary beads of Selim III, chrysolites, emerald earrings, crests and an emerald pendant belonging to Abdulhamit I, an emerald bearing the date 1616 belonging to Ahmet I, the dagger with emerald handle presented to the mother of Mehmet IV on the opening of Yeni Cami (New Mosque) in 1663, an emerald snuff box, an emerald archery ring, the dagger with three oval emeralds on the side of the handle and a watch at the end which has now become the emblem of Topkapi Palace (this dagger was prepared in 1747 as a gift from Mahmut I to Nadir Shah of Iran, but subsequent to the death of the Shah in a revolt which broke out in Iran the ambassadors returned to Istanbul with the intended gift), a Chinese jade vase with a dragon in relief, a bowl adorned with the Russian imperial double-headed eagle with dark green jade handles presented to Abdulhamit II by the Russian Czar Nicholas II, a jade writing-set, rose-water flasks, a rock crystal water pot and rock crystal candlesticks and boxes.
The third room contains Sancak Korans, gold Koran caskets, an enamel sweet set belonging to Abdulaziz, a pendant belonging to Mahmut II, diamonds belonging to Ahmet I, gold censers prepared by Hatice Sultan, daughter of Mustafa III, for the tomb of the Prophet and Ottoman and foreign medals ornamented with diamonds, including a miniature of Mahmut II decorated with diamonds. The room also contains the famous 86 carats Kasikci (Spoon-Maker) Diamond. This Measures 70 x 60 mm and is surrounded by 49 brilliants arranged in two rows in gold mounts. Little credence, however, should be given to the story that the diamond was found in a rubbish-heap during the reign of Mehmet IV (1648-1687) and exchanged for a set of spoons. It is also said to have formed part of the property belonging to Tepedelenli Ali Pasha confiscated after his execution. The room also contains a gold candlestick adorned with 6,482 brilliants and weighing 48 kilograms made for the tomb of the Prophet. It bears the tughra of Abdulmecit and a date of 1856.
The fourth room contains the Persian throne measuring 1.55 x 0.95 x 2.00 meters presented to Mahmut I by Shah Nadir Shah of Iran in 1747. It has four broad legs in the form of vases, while the back and sides are encrusted with pearls, emeralds, rubies and enamel set in gold mounts.
Other exhibits include the hand, skull and various bones allegedly belonging to John the Baptist, a number of belts and buckles, the emerald and turquoise encrusted belt dated 1508 belonging to Shah Ismail of Iran brought back by Selim I from his Persian campaign, the mirror dated 1543 with ebony handle and ivory back belonging to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificient, rock crystal chessmen, a set of crystal belonging to Abdulhamit II, sets of drawers, spoons,prayer-beads, the sword of Osman, the scimitar of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificient, rifles, powder horns and jewel boxes.