Harem — to me, the word gives off an air of mystery and a touch of the exquisitely exotic followed by the heavy scent of eroticism and an aftertaste of dread. Originally meaning forbidden in Arabic, the Harem was an off-limits area only available to the Sultan and his sons.
Having read this book set in the Imperial Harem of the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, I was excited to visit this intriguing place first hand.
One of the most famous harems, it existed during the Ottoman Empire and was made up of wives, female relatives, concubines and the eunuchs who supervised. Head of the harem was the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) who held a lot of power over the relationships between her son and the women and sometimes got involved in political issues.
Beautiful women were captured as slaves, gifted or brought in from around the empire and it's surrounds to become concubines. There were up to 1,000 women in the Harem and once inside, they couldn't leave. They were educated in academic subjects, singing, dancing, music and the skills needed to become a concubine and pleasure the sultan.
The women that were chosen to lie with the Sultan could climb in status to become a Favourite, a Fortunate or a Wife and if they were lucky, bear his children. The ultimate aim — to become the mother of the next Sultan, the subsequent Valide Sultan. You can only imagine the competition, backstabbing (literally) and scandals that must have gone on.
You enter the Harem through a small gate in the main palace into a maze of enclosed corridors, walled courtyards and dazzlingly decorated chambers. Some of the most stunning areas are the twin kiosks, the chambers of the Crown Prince. These are also known as the gilded cage as the Prince lived here in seclusion, sometimes for many years.
The decoration in the Harem is breathtaking but I'm sure such beauty faded quickly for those trapped inside.
I hope you enjoy my photos… I got a bit carried away with the tiles :)