The Turks called the harem “House of Happiness.” Polygamy first appeared among the Assyrians. Then it was accepted by Muslims who were allowed to have up to four wives. In the 10th century, with the acceptance of Islam, the Turks had a tradition to contain harems. It reached its climax during the Ottoman rule and was banned by Ataturk in 1926.
Sultan harems of the 16-17th-century sample were huge “organizations” with their hierarchy and management structure, at the head of which always stood the mother – the sultana. The keepers of the harem – black eunuchs were not the last in the empire. According to the official protocol, the post of chief eunuch was the fourth most important post after the sultan, the grand vizier, and the high priest.
There were two ways for girls to enter the harem, the first, something like a chance to make a brilliant career that could only be made by very strong, intelligent and sometimes cruel women. To make a career in a harem, it was not enough to fall in love with the sultan, you had to enlist the support of a eunuch, sultana or other influential persons of the empire. Intrigues, bribes, betrayal flourished in the harem. And the second way, to remain in the harem all my life as a slave.
The girls lived in designated areas. They were engaged in all sorts of teachers. The girls were taught literature, music, mathematics, astrology, also taught to be a servant and a woman at the same time. Each of them had their duties, someone brought coffee to the sultan, someone scrubbed pots in the kitchen, the fate of these girls depended on two people in the harem of the eunuch and the sultana. If the girl was lucky and the Sultan liked her, she was transferred from a slave to the next step of the career ladder and became a concubine – “Iqbal”.
The next high and difficult step is the wife of the Sultan (Kadin Efendi). Only the most talented and intelligent concubines, who managed to win the heart and mind of the Sultan and get support in his surroundings, became wives. That wife who bore the Sultan of the first son was called his first wife. The beloved wife was called “Haseki”. It was these women who managed to leave their mark on history.
One of the most famous “Haseki” in history was Roksolana. So-called the European ambassador’s red-haired girl Nastya, a prisoner from Western Ukraine. She, Nastya-Roksolana, managed not only to survive in the harem, but also to become the beloved wife of one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent.
Through many intrigues, skillful seduction of Suleiman, bribes, the eunuchs Roksolana achieved her own and became the wife of the Padishah. By adopting Islam after the birth of her first son, Roksolana had a serious influence on state policy. Roksolana was declared the legitimate spouse of her sovereign with the granting to her of all the privileges of Sultana-Valida. The beautiful and romantic correspondence of the Sultan and Roksolana, which he called Horror (laughing), has survived to the present day: “Let Hurrem be sacrificed for one hair from your mustache.”
This love lasted until the death of Roksolana and was irrigated with the blood of more than one person, including the first sultan’s son. Mustafa was agreed and strangled by the order of his father. Nevertheless, for thirty years Sultan the Magnificent loved his Hurrem, who bore him six children and was her faithful husband.
One of the oldest Turkish palaces, Topkapi has long been the main residence in the Ottoman Empire. It is located in the historical center of Istanbul, at the top of the peninsula, among greenery, with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus. In a huge palace with four courtyards, a mosque, a hospital, a harem, and many pavilions, from generation to generation, the sultans lived with their families and concubines.
From here, for 400 years, they ruled the empire, until in 1856 they moved to a new Europeanized residence – the Dolmabahce Palace. In Topkapi, it was decided what land the fate would fall to expand the borders of the Ottoman Empire. How to manage and in the case of Suleiman the Magnificent, and how to reform state institutions.
Walking around the palace, one can only imagine what and how much these walls have seen. Due to the abundance of books and films on the topic of the Ottoman Empire, living images easily replace planted here and their dummies. But the romanticism of the era fades in the background of events once taking place here. The struggle for power has always been, is and will be ruthless, and the degree of the latter will be determined only by the system of values adopted in society. Against the background of the glory of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi remembers its horrors, such as the massacres of heirs.
Far from the only one, but perhaps one of the “outstanding” cases was during the time of Mehmed III. After becoming ruler, the sultan gave the order to strangle all of his 19 brothers, among whom were babies. And all because those, sometime could challenge the right to a throne. Choked in those days a lot and passionately. But here it is O tempora, o mores! Oh times! O morals! / – In the case of potential heirs, this method of murder was chosen, because the poor people had noble blood that could not be shed.
Today Topkapi is an incredibly beautiful museum, which houses half a century of exhibits and the memory of life and customs in the Ottoman Empire. One of the most beautiful parts of the palace is the harem – a labyrinth of corridors and rooms where the family of the sultan, eunuchs, and concubines lived. Harem impresses with its luxury and colors. Bright colored mosaics, stained glass, marble, and gold adorn the walls of its halls and windows.
The largest Ottoman harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul today is open to visitors. Many of its rooms are still closed, but you can walk along stone corridors covered with soft carpets to the chambers of the Sultan and the sultana, admire the elaborate interiors and stained glass, go out to the inner courtyard and see where simple concubines lived.
Be sure to take along an audio guide (at the entrance, when buying a ticket), which will tell a lot of interesting things from the life and customs of the sultan’s harem.
The cost in the harem (about $ 6.5) is paid separately from Topkapi. The museum is open from 09:00 to 16:45. Detailed information about the Topkapi Palace, including work schedule, ticket prices, visiting rules, etc., can be found on the official website of the museum.