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The Topkapi Palace in the European city of Istanbul, Turkey, was the palatial home of the Ottoman Sultans from the mid-15th to mid-19th centuries. Named after the Topkapi cannon gate, situated among the old walls of Istanbul, the structure was completed over many years. It was started in 1459 and has survived earthquakes, fires and many additions to the original structure. The palace has operated as a museum since 1924. Housing famous artifacts and lush gardens in a dramatic location, the museum attracts a large number of visitors each year.
The Ottoman Sultans ruled for over 600 years and had power over a vast empire from Eastern Europe to Iraq. Topkapi Palace was an extravagant example of the wealth and power of the sultans, and was the site for many lavish meetings, events and entertainment shows. Initially, the palace was designed with four main courtyards and numerous small structures that could house thousands of people at a time. Additions over many centuries include religious meeting places, medical facilities and a money manufacturing facility. The palace functioned much like its own self-sufficient city and provided almost everything a sultan could desire without the need to leave the palace boundaries.
As of 2011 the palace attracts thousands of visitors a year due to its rich history and the fact that it is the home of a number of important historical artifacts and relics. The most popular of these are the sword and cloak that once belonged to the prophet Mohammed. There are also many collections of fine pottery, calligraphy, ancient manuscripts, murals and royal jewelry. The Topkapi Palace employs Turkish ministry guards to protect these collections and the hundreds of individual rooms. Much of the building is inaccessible to the general public, and other areas are only accessible with the escort of trained guides.
The outdoor sections of the Topkapi Palace are also particularly dramatic, with many areas providing wonderful views of the Marmara Sea and Bosphorus Sea. Trees in the courtyards are famous due to their hollow trunks, resulting from a rare type of fungus that has spread throughout the gardens but has not managed to kill off the vegetation. In the garden of the second courtyard, two species of trees have become intertwined and now grow together as one tree. These courtyards and segregated buildings are arranged in a manner that highlighted distinctions between classes, function and hierarchy.