During its heyday (1453-1856) Topkapi palace was home to a population of about 4,000 people including cooks and advisors, a harem, eunuchs, and the one Sultan.
Shortly after Ataturk took power from a grateful nation, his government converted Topkapi to a museum in 1924.
Today Topkapi is considered a must on any visit to Istanbul. The palace consists of multiple buildings framed by flowers, fountains, and ancient trees.
If you only have time for a short visit, be sure to make your way into the Imperial Treasury inside the Conqueror's Pavilion, where riches brought for the Sultan's pleasure are on display behind protective glass in three rooms.
Priceless works of art, precious textiles, jewels, swords, gifts, spoils of war, and commissioned items produced by the palace's own craftsmen are there to be oohed and aahed over. Three major pieces not to miss are the jewel-encrusted Topkapi dagger, the 86-carat Spoonmaker's diamond, and the solid-gold candlesticks as tall as a man.
Couples who learn about the Sultan's vast power and the harem (aka "House of Felicity") maintained for his pleasure and that of his sons can't help but imagine themselves in those roles, if only briefly.
If you want to see the harem where the concubines lived, it requires a second ticket for admission. Walls and floors are ornately decorated, but the furniture used by the Sultan's posse of 300 or so women is long gone.
Tip: Get to Topkapi early in the day. It can get quite crowded.