Harem Rooms are the most interesting part of Topkapi Palace. The Harem, described by 19th century orientalist painters, looked like a place where women danced all day. However, in reality, Harem was a school where women from many different parts of the world were educated.
The greatest authority in the Harem was the mother of the sultan. The Sultan’s mother was known as “Valide Sultan”. The Sultan’s sisters and female relatives also lived in the Harem. For this reason, there was a unique hierarchy in the Harem.
In this article, you can find facts about the history of the Harem in Topkapi Palace. You can also see the sightseeing route and photographs of the Harem, which can be visited as a museum today.
Harem Rooms in the Topkapi Palace
The entrance to the Harem Rooms is in the second courtyard of Topkapi Palace. You can enter the Harem from the side of the Imperial Council, which is the most striking structure of the second courtyard. It is necessary to buy an extra ticket for the Harem visit.
1. Zuluflu Baltacilar Courtyard
Before you enter the Harem Rooms, you will see the stairs going down on the left. These stairs will take you to a living space downstairs. A group of soldiers called “Zuluflu Baltacilar” lived here and they were in charge of doing the hard work of the Harem.
In the Zuluflu Baltacilar Courtyard, there is a small mosque, a Turkish bath, a cafe and a bedroom. This section provides clues as to how ordinary people lived in the palace centuries ago.
In peacetime, the Zuluflu Baltacilar carried wood to the harem and organized the work to be done outside. During the war, they joined the army and went on military expeditions with the sultan.
2. Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs
The Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs includes a dormitory, prayer room, and a long corridor leading to the women’s section. The Black Eunuchs were the guardians of the Harem and would not let anyone in but the sultan.
Over time, the Black Eunuchs gained great importance and authority in the palace. The officers who came from Africa and spent most of their lives here earned good money and would retire.
Retired Black Eunuchs received the title of “Agha”, a sign of respect in Ottoman society. One of them had Huseyin Agha Mosque built, which is very close to Taksim Square. However, many of them had a hard time adapting to normal life after living in the palace for many years.
3. Courtyard of the Concubines
The Courtyard of the Concubines was a place for young women. As these women were educated and rose up the palace hierarchy, they would move to the Courtyard of the Favorites, with larger rooms and views.
Young women from different parts of the world were taught to read, write and play musical instruments. Some of them gained strength as they got closer to the Valide Sultan or the Sultan.
4. Valide Sultan Room
The Valide Sultan Room was one of the most spectacular places in the palace. The Sultan’s mother was the second most authorized person in the palace and had a great influence on the Sultan.
During the war, when the Sultan and his right hand Grand Vizier went to war together, Valide Sultan ruled the state. For this reason, she had an important place in the balance of power within the state.
The importance of the Valide Sultans increased during the periods when child rulers took the throne in Ottoman history. In addition, strong women such as Sultan Suleiman’s wife Hurrem Sultan managed to be more decisive in government affairs.
5. The Imperial Hall
The Imperial Hall was the place where the family came together for special occasions. Especially on religious holidays, the Sultan, his mother, sisters, princes and their mothers would gather and celebrate here.
The Imperial Hall is a blend of classical Ottoman architecture and the modern era. In addition to the blue tiles and complex patterns used in the classical period, the baroque effect of the late period can also be seen.
6. Sultan’s Room in the Harem
The Sultan’s Room is one of the simplest and most beautiful rooms in the Harem. Designed in the 16th century by Mimar Sinan, the most famous architect of the Ottoman Empire, this room is a wonderful reflection of classical Ottoman architecture.
Fountains occupied an important place in Ottoman palaces. Since the sound of water is considered as a relaxing music, the most luxurious rooms would definitely have a decorated fountain.
7. Princes’ Chambers
Princes’ Chambers is a twin room for the Sultan’s sons. The beautifully decorated rooms have a view overlooking the Courtyard of Favorites and the Golden Horn. The woodwork and tiles in these rooms are among the most distinguished decorations of the palace.
During the power struggles in the late Ottoman period, these rooms also gained a bad reputation. The princes who could not ascend to the throne had to live in prison in these rooms.
8. Courtyard of the Favorites
The Courtyard of Favorites belonged to the women who climbed the top steps in the Harem hierarchy. The concubines who gave birth to the Sultan, the female directors of the Harem and the female relatives of the Sultan used to stay here.
The Courtyard of Favorites overlooks the Golden Horn and is quite large and spacious compared to the other parts of the Harem.
9. Harem Mosque
Harem Mosque was the section where women in the palace worshiped. This section, decorated with beautiful tiles, was recently restored and opened to visitors. Although the Harem Mosque has a very plain appearance now, it was covered with beautiful carpets in the past.
10. The Golden Road
The Golden Road was the road for the women who would go to the Sultan’s room. Although the Harem is known as the place where the Sultan’s concubines lived, most of them rarely saw the Sultan throughout their lives.
The women who would be with the Sultan were chosen by the Valide Sultan. Among the women in the Harem, the most beautiful, the most skilled and educated could be favorite.
Of course, love stories such as Sultan Suleiman and Hurrem Sultan have also emerged from the Harem. The couple’s love was recently the subject of a TV series called Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yuzyil).
Written by Serhat Engul