When: Built in 1453
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
History: Girl power harem and sacred treasures
Don’t Miss: checking out the crown jewels
For four centuries, Topkai Sarayi was the home of the great Ottoman Turkish Sultans and in now one of the world’s greatest museums and Harem. The palace was built in 1453. Despite thousands of eathquakes, every sultan lived here until the 19th Century.
In the western world, the word harem has acquired seedy connotations of prostitution, but the true Eastern definition is far from this. The harem is defined as the women’s quarter in a Muslim household. The royal harem contains many households, for the Queen Mother, the hasekis(Sultan’s favourites), his daughters, and for the concubines. Many of the women of the Harem would never have even met the Sultan and became the servants making the Harem function as a household.
Islam forbid enslaving Muslims so many of the girls imprisoned here were Russian. It was a good life for the women who were able to have a good education and grooming and were able to climb the household ladder and even achieve the rank of Kadin, equivalent to a rank of wife, of which the Sultan was allowed four in this non-western convention. The women of the Harem were reputed to have been the most beautiful women in the Ottoman Empire and were often donated to the harem as gifts by governors.
In the 3rd court, only the chosen could enter and the eunochs would be. A visit by the Sultan would cease all activity in the court.
The safekeeping room was a holy site. Once a year the imperial family were allowed to pay homage because within these rooms lie the cloaks of the Prophet Muhammed in a golden cask and even a hair from his holy beard.
Visiting the Palace
The Topkai Sarayi harem is still a major attraction. The Imperial Treasury still contains the crown jewels, golden thrones, pearls, rubies, jade and giant emeralds and diamonds including that worn by Mehmet IV for his accession, the 5th largest diamond in the world.
Topkai Sarayi is open daily except for Tuesday $6, $3 for students. $2.50 entry to Harem.
A historic article on the ancient palace.