First courtyard (Alay Meydani)

The first courtyard of the palace feels more like a small park than an integral part of the complex, and even in the past this was the part of the palace that was open to everyone provided they had left their weapons at the gate. Here some of the most important ceremonies would have taken place, including the funeral of Sultan Mehmed II which was attended by 25,000 of the elite foot soldiers called the Janissary (see p.495); not surprisingly, it was sometimes known as the Courtyard of the Janissaries.

The buildings ringing the walls were mainly used for storage, although a renowned
bakery stood against the south wall Firewood for the palace fetched from the woods of Thrace was stored against the west wall, while there was a mint (darp-hane) against the north wall which dated back to the i5′”century (the surviving buildings are 18th-century replacements). Waterwheels behind what is now the ticket office controlled the flow of water to the palace.

You buy a ticket to enter the palace from the booths against the right-hand wall. Once you’ve done so, be sure to take a look at the Executioner’s Fountain, also against this wall (it’s the fifth along). Supposedly used by the executioner to rinse the blood off his sword, this must be a replacement for the original since its inscription dates it to the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909) when the last such gruesome head-severing had taken place in 1826.

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