At the time of his conquest, Sultan Mehmed encountered an impoverished city with a population of a mere forty thousand souls who lived scattered about in isolated residential sections set amidst cultivated fields. The site he chose for his palace was typical: a hill covered with an olive grove, presumably several abandoned monastic structures, chapels, and bathhouses, and a small residential district by the sea.
This was the beginning of an unprecedented scheme of grandiose proportions which became synonymous with Ottoman cultural and administrative history. More than a residential complex for the royal household, the new palace was to become the pivotal institution for the planning and decision-making institutions of a far-flung empire and it remained so from the late 15th century to the middle of the l9th.
All the palaces built (or completed) during the reign of Mehmed II exhibit the same spatial order based on the principle of interconnected courtyards, each located in clearly defined public, semi-public, and private zones. These courtyards were arranged according to hierarchical considerations with their shapes being determined by topography rather than precise geometric or orthogonal principles. The number of these courtyards was flexible: there had to be at least two but could be as many as nine, as in the case of the