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Imperial Treasury

The sultans would observe the items in the treasury—which, in addition to being great works of art, also have great historical, monetary, and spiritual value—as if taking part in a special ceremony. Since the treasury was, in effect, a memento of the royal family, the sultans showed special care in enriching its collection. The items in the treasury were originally kept in chests and cupboards that would only be opened on the occasion of the sultans’ visiting the treasury. It was Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839–61) who broke with this tradition by putting some of the objects on display; this continued in the time of Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861–76) and Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909).

That tradition continues today, as the valuable objects and monies belonging to the Ottoman sultans are now on display in the palace’s Imperial Treasury section (Hazîne-i Hümâyûn). Following the conversion of Topkapı Palace into a museum in 1924, the treasury objects were classified and used as the basis of the museum’s collections.

A large part of the palace treasury is made up of gifts presented at ambassadorial receptions and gifts presented on the occasion of the sultans’ weddings, of births, and of the circumcision festivities of the princes. While such gifts as these would sometimes be brought to the sultan from the four corners of the world, other gifts would be presented by local artists and artisans who would, in exchange for their gifts, receive not only gifts in return, but also promises of support and future purchase of their works. The sultans would also, on occasion, send gifts to foreign rulers; however, for various reasons, some of these would not reach their destination, in which case they would be returned and take their place in the palace treasury. An example of this sort of gift is the emerald dagger and emerald- and diamond-studded bow and quivers sent by Sultan Mahmud I (r. 1730–54) to Nadir Shah of Persia (r. 1736–47).