When Emperor Constantine moved from Rome to Constantinople, a magnificent palace named “Great Palace” was built in the new capital. Seven centuries later, the Palace of Blachernae began to rise. The Palace of Porphyrogenitus, which is the only surviving extension from the Palace of Blachernae, was recently turned into a museum under the name Tekfur Palace. In this article, I will try to introduce you to this new museum of Istanbul.
Tekfur Palace is located in the far corner of the Historical Peninsula. While other Byzantine works such as Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern are located in Sultanahmet, Tekfur Palace is located on the shores of the Golden Horn.
Tekfur Palace, which is within walking distance from the Chora Church (famous for its Byzantine mosaics), is a tile museum today. Although there is not much about Byzantium in it, Tekfur Palace promises a medieval experience with its mystical atmosphere.
From Great Palace to Palace of Blachernae
Great Palace, a 4th century structure, lived its golden age in the period between Constantine and Justinian. You can see the Roman era Istanbul in the picture above. The buildings to the east of the Hippodrome in the visual are parts of the Great Palace.
Great Palace’s world famous beauty lost its charm as it started to wear off in 11th century. The Palace of Blachernae, which consisted of a few mansions and expanded over time, became more and more popular.
Even though the Great Palace remained standing, some emperors such as Justinian II and Manuel I Komnenos preferred to live in the Palace of Blachernae. With its walls and pillars covered with reliefs, gold and silver; this new palace was praised to the skies by historiographers of Byzantine period.
When Constantinople, the most populous and most civilized city of the Middle Ages was invaded by Latins between years of 1204-1261, the Great Palace fell into ruin completely. Known as “Tekfur Sarayi” today, Palace of Blachernae was the only palace that emperors used permanently after the collapse of the Great Palace.
Yet, Palace of Blachernae was also affected by the plunder during Sack of Constantinople (1204) The magnificent throne that jewelled with precious stones in the palace was gone.
After the Latin occupation between 1204-1261, Byzantine Empire could survive only like a shadow of its past. They were using only earthenware even in feasts in the palace. it seemed flamboyance of the past was gone for ever. Ottomans found a city that couldn’t pick up its pieces after the devastation occured 200 years ago when they captured Constantinople in 1453.
Palace of Blachernae in Ottoman Era
The Palace of Blachernae continued for a while during the Ottoman period. However, the Ottoman sultans had decided to live in the area where the Great Palace used to be. While Topkapi Palace, built in the east of the Historic Peninsula, rose, the Palace of Blachernae disappeared over time.
After visiting the city in the early periods of Ottoman Istanbul, Petrus Gyllius, a Byzantine historian, reported that the palace had still been standing. Moreover, Piri Reis, a famous Ottoman navigator, portrayed this palace in his map. According to some historians, exotic animals such as elephants and giraffes that were used in feasts in Istanbul were fed in the gardens of this palace.
Today, there is only one building (Palace of Porphyrogenitus) left from Palace of Blachernae. The building that survives today is named after the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, who lived in the 10th century. When we look at the historical depictions of the Palace of Blachernae, we conclude that this building is a very small part of the palace.
Restoration of Palace of the Porphyrogenitus
The restoration of the Palace of Porphyrogenitus took many years. The old palace, which was opened as the “Tile Museum” after the work done, gives us important clues about the medieval Byzantine architecture.
Ottomans had founded a tile workshop at this palace in 18th century to revive tile art that was at its peak in the rise of the empire but began to decline afterwards. Tekfur Palace Tile Museum exhibits Turkish ceramics and glass art referring to that Ottoman period.
When you visit the museum, you will notice that this medieval structure still preserves its mystical apmosphere. You will notice that the museum overlooks the city like an eagle’s nest and you will be able to watch the Golden Horn from its windows.
Tekfur Palace Museum Entrance Fee 2021
Tekfur Palace Museum entrance fee is 20 Turkish Lira as of 2021. The Museum is also known as Palace of the Porphyrogenitus in the Byzantine history. Istanbul Museum Pass is not valid for this museum.
The Istanbul Museum Pass, a product of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is not valid in museums run by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The other museums in this category are the Basilica Cistern, the Miniaturk Museum, the Panorama 1453 Museum and the Theodosius Cistern respectively.
Tekfur Palace Museum Opening Hours 2021
Tekfur Palace Museum opening hours are between 09:00 and 18:00. The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, known locally as Tekfur Sarayi (Palace of the Sovereign), is open to visitors every day of the week.
Visiting times of museums in Istanbul may change due to events and renovations. Before going to the museum, I recommend you to visit official website of the museum and review the latest situation.
How to Get to The Museum?
In order to get to Tekfur Palace Museum (Palace of the Porphyrogenitus), you need to reach Ayvansaray district on the coast of Golden Horn. You can reach the museum on foot from Chora Church, one of the best known Byzantine sites in Istanbul.
Those coming from Taksim can come to Golden Horn by M2 metro and reach the museum by walking from there. If you get off the M2 at the metro bridge known as “Halic”, there will be many Byzantine artifacts around you.
Church of Christ Pantocrator (Zeyrek Mosque), Church of St. George (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate) and Chora Church (Kariye Mosque) are also in the vicinity of Tekfur Palace. These works on the less touristic West side of the Historical Peninsula can be visited on foot in half a day.
Those coming from Sultanahmet can go to Eminonu (around the Spice Bazaar) by tram and then take buses in the direction of Ayvansaray. In fact, one can go to Tekfur Palace on foot from Eminonu, but the streets are quite winding and complicated.
Written by Serhat Engul