Sultans’ Hidden Life: Harem Of Topkapı Palace
Harems of Eastern Civilizations have been depicted by Orientalist painters as colorful, fun and full of entertainment. That is why people visiting Topkapı Palace has a big smile followed by nasty comments when they eventually come across Harem.
However, the most famous of all harems, Ottoman Imperial Harem, is not exactly like that. First things first, we need to note that Harem was not a prison where beautiful women were kept for pleasure. Harem was a place known as “Sultan’s Private” where his family accommodated. There was a strict discipline and hierarchy in Ottoman Palace where silence and simplicity were the basic principles.
Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs
Security of Harem was ensured by black eunuchs. Anyone visiting Harem will see the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs. Because there is no other way to enter Harem without passing through the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, which has a big ward, large courtyard and a prayer room. The punishment for entering Harem without the permission of Sultan was death.
The Ruler of Harem: Valide Sultan
Valide Sultan, a mother of a Sultan, stands for the highest level in Harem hierarchy. Concubines who were trained to be with Sultan was chosen by Valide Sultan. Valide Sultan had an absolute authority over anyone living in Harem. As a matter of fact, Valide Sultans took influential roles in governing the state during some periods. There was actually a period in history, known as Sultanate of Women, when palace administration was totally controlled by women.
Concubines of the Harem
Young and beautiful girls in all provinces ruled by the Ottoman Empire were chosen at early ages for Harem to be trained there. They were trained in playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing or knitting according to their talents. Families of such girls were willing most of the time to send their daughter to the palace, hoping for a better life. There were even some incidents in which beautiful girls were kidnapped by pirates and sold to the palace or presented to the palace by some provinces in good faith.
Privileged Mothers: Haseki Sultans
It was evident that most women in the palace were in rivalry with one another because there was a system motivating them for competition. Private and comfortable rooms were assigned to the ones who managed to get in Sultan’s good graces. Women who bear a male child from the Sultan reached the rank of Haseki Sultan, which meant specific privileges. All Haseki Sultans definitely hoped that their child would become the next Sultan. That is why, there was a lot of plots going on in the palace.
Retirement Days in Old Palace
When the Sultan died, harem of the late Sultan would be dissolved and most women would be sent to the palace in Beyazıt, known as the old palace.
In some cases, women from Harem would get married to a Pasha and leave Harem. And sometimes women who served many years in Harem would be freed into the public. Such women would be regarded with respect in the society.
The most impressive rooms of Harem are Mimar Sinan‘s Privy Room of Murad III and Imperial Hall.
There is a restoration going on for years in Harem; therefore, majority of it is not open to visitors. Every year different parts are open to visitors.
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