Fifteen years after the Turkish occupation, Sultan Mehemet the Conqueror transferred his residence from his palace on the hill now surmounted by the War Office to this quarter of the city, and for the security of his new abode built the wall that, on its way across the promontory, from the Sea of Marmora to the Golden Horn, passes to the north of S. Sophia. In its general plan the Seraglio was a series of three courts, opening one into the other ; and around and within them, embowered in groves of plane-trees and of cypresses, rose the numerous and picturesque edifices which served the convenience of the imperial household. But however inferior in the magnificence created by art, no royal abode has ever been invested by nature with the beauty and lordliness surrounding that in which the Ottoman Sultans sat enthroned from Mehemet the Conqueror to Abdul Medjid, with its grand outlook over Asia, Europe, and the great waterway between the lands on the north and on the south.
It was at once a royal palace a fortress, and a sanctuary
” It was at once a royal palace, a fortress, and a sanctuary; here was the brain and heart of Islam, a city within a city, inhabited by a people, and guarded by an army, embracing within its walls an infinite variety of edifices, places of pleasure or of horror; where the Sultans were bom, ascended the throne, were deposed, imprisoned, strangled ; where all conspiracies began and the cry of rebellion was first heard; where for three centuries the eyes of anxious Europe, timid Asia, and frightened Africa were fixed, as on a smoking volcano, threatening ruin on all sides.”
The slopes which descend from S. Sophia and the Hippodrome to the Sea of Marmora, immediately outside the Seraglio Enclosure, are also haunted by memories of splendour and power, for upon them stood the great palace of the Emperors of New Rome from the time of Constantine the Great to almost the end of the Byzantine Empire. The site did not command so extensive a view of the Bosporus as the Seraglio enjoyed, nor had it the outlook of the latter upon the Golden Horn and the busy life of the harbor. But its prospect over the Sea of Marmora and the hills and mountains of the Asiatic coast, rising to the snows of Mount Olympus or merged in the pale blue of the distant horizon, was wider. It had also the advantage of a sunnier and more temperate climate. The site was furthermore recommended by its proximity to the Hippodrome, as direct communication between the palace and that arena of the city’s public life, in serious or gay mood, was of paramount importance in Constantinople as at Rome. We must therefore imagine these slopes wooded with trees, and crowded with stately buildings, often domed, for the accommodation of a Court which sought, in pomp and luxury never surpassed, to find all that power and pleasure can do to satisfy the human heart As in the case of Byzantine churches, so in the edifices forming the “ Sacred Palace,” artistic effort was chiefly devoted to the decoration of the interior, and it was with similar means, marble revetments and mosaics, that artistic effects were produced.