Entering the III. Avlu (3rd Courtyard) of Topkapı Sarayı, also know as the Enderûn (Innermost) is done either at the exit of the optional Harem tour or by passing through the Bab-üs Saâdet (Gate of Felicity). The area in front of the gate was used for special occasions and nobody was allowed through without special permission from the Sultan. The gate was originally built by Mehmet the Conqueror, but was renovated by Abdülhamit I, Selim III, and Mahmut II.
Bab-üs Saâdet was under the control of the Bâbü’s-saâde Ağası (Chief Eunuch of the Sultan’s Harem) and his staff. The quarters of the Chief Eunuch and the Akağalar (White Eunuchs) were on either side of the gate, as well as the Küçük Oda Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Small Chamber) and the Büyük Oda Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Large Chamber), which were used as classrooms for the children of the devşirme (see below). The eunuchs kept the gate closed at all times. Trying to enter without proper authorization was seen as directly challenging the Sultan’s power and was treated as the most serious crime.
The III. Avlu was the selâmlık, or area that was reserved for men only, and was where the Sultan spent much of his time outside of the Harem. It was also where the brightest and most talented boys of the devşirme system were educated. The devşirme was a system in which Christian boys were taken from their parents as a tax, forced to convert to Islam, learn Turkish, and serve the empire as loyal subjects.
Right behind the Bab-üs Saâdet is the Arz Odası (Audience Chamber). In this building, the Sultan would receive foreign ambassadors as well as have private meetings with members of the Imperial Council and other state officials. Often, a Grand Vizier or state official would enter the Arz Odası without knowing if he would come out alive.
The Arz Odası dates back to the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror. When it was completely renovated by Süleyman the Magnificent, he placed a small fountain by the entrance that was used not only for drinking water but also to prevent eavesdroppers from listening in on important conversations.
Inside is the throne that the Sultan would sit on while meeting with his guests. The Arz Odası was once filled with tiles, fine carpets, pillows, and other ornate decorations, but they were destroyed in a terrible fire in 1856. Only the throne was saved almost completely intact.
Behind the Arz Odası and directly in the center of the courtyard is the Enderûn Kütüphanesi (Enderûn Library). It was built in 1719 by Ahmet III as the first library inside the palace. It replaced an older building and contained the personal libraries of Ahmet III, Abdülhamit I, and Selim III.
The Enderûn Kütüphanesi was richly decorated with 16th and 17th century İznik tiles and mother of pearl. Books were kept in cabinets built into the walls. The Sultan had his own personal reading niche.
The Seferli Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force) was built by Murat IV in 1635 and rebuilt by Ahmet III in 1719. It now houses the Padişah Elbiseleri Koleksiyonu (Imperial Wardrobe Collection), which consists mostly of caftans and uniforms worn by the sultans. Photography is not allowed inside but I managed to snap a few.
Next door is the Fatih Köşkü (Conqueror’s Pavilion) was built in 1462 by Mehmet the Conqueror and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the palace. It was originally intended to be a private retreat for the Sultan but was later turned into the treasury. Several priceless items are on display inside including the famed Topkapı Dagger. Photography is prohibited.
Continuing around the courtyard is the Kilerli Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Pantry Ward Chamberlain). The Pantry Ward was responsible for preparing the Sultan’s meals. Next door is the Hazine Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Treasury Ward).
The Has Oda (Privy Chamber) houses the Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi (Chamber of the Sacred Relics). Inside are the most important relics of the Islamic world, including the cloak and banner of Muhammad, his swords, his seal, a tooth, and a hair from his beard. In the room holding Muhammad’s relics, a mufti recites the Koran 24 hours a day. Other items include Joseph’s turban, the staff of Moses, the sword of David, and the keys to the Kaaba. Visitors to this building are expected to dress respectfully as if visiting a mosque. Photography is not allowed inside.
Finally, there are the Has Oda Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Privy Chamber), now used as exhibition space for the Portraits of the Sultans, and the Ağalar Camii, the largest mosque in the palace complex. The mosque was built in the 15th century under Mehmet the Conqueror and was used by the palace squires and pages as well as the Sultans and their mothers. It now holds over 13,500 books from the Enderûn Kütüphanesi and all other libraries in the palace.
Beyond the III. Avlu is the IV. Avlu (4th Courtyard), which was the most private area of the Sultans.