Harem

After conquering Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II set about establishing his Ottoman Empire. First order of business: build a palace. Every good islamic emperor needed somewhere to keep all his concubines and slave girls. So, in 1459, the Sultan ordered the building of Topkapı Palace which was to become the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for the next 400 years.

Topkapı Palace was strategically placed next to the Aya Sofya (the former Hagia Sofia) on a promontory overlooking the Bosphorus. The complex consists of four courtyards and numerous buildings and at its peak it housed 4,000 inhabitants. But, mainly, it was the Sultan’s residence. Here’s a photo of a model of the Palace grounds, taken from the western entrance:

In the photo above, you can see the main gate at the bottom. Along the right hand side there is a double row of chimneys – this was the kitchen and bakery. On the left hand side, starting at the bottom, was the livery. Above that, the very busy building with all the towers and rooms was the Harem where the Sultan’s concubines and slave girls lived and, ahem, entertained, supervised by African eunuchs. At the far top left was a pavilion complex with a magnificent view of the Bosphorus and the asian side of Istanbul.

I don’t know how big the entire Topkapı Palace complex is, but it must be at least 20 acres (the explanatory signage throughout the complex is not very informative, appearing as if the interpreter simply ran the Turkish narrative through a Google translation engine, generating something that looks english, but lacks syntax).

We started our tour in the Harem. Here’s the entrance hall:

And here’s the doorway into the chambers:

We were immediately struck by the tile work covering the walls and ceilings. Every piece was undoubtedly handmade with slightly varying patterns. To us, the placement of the tiles looked very haphazard, though I’m sure there is a meaning to the patterns. At any rate, the overall impact of this amazing palette of colors was quite pleasing.

The Sultan’s concubines occupied mezzanine apartments surrounding an inner courtyard, but they lounged around in numerous rooms on divans like this one:

Dale had read that the fountains in every windowsill were there to make it difficult for anyone to eavesdrop from outside.

The Sultan’s bed chamber was conveniently located between the Harem and the pavilion complex:

I especially liked the mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinetry throughout the Harem.

Here’s a view of the Harem from outside:

We took this self portrait in a mirror. Here I am with my concubine.

From here, we walked over to the pavilion. Here’s the view looking across the Bosphorus:

From the point, I took this picture looking back at the pavilion:

There are four pavilions: two containing relics of the Prophet. One of the pavilion rooms was for the Sultan to store his various turbans (you can see the storage alcoves in this picture).

We really liked this pavilion fountain:

On the way out of Topkapı Palace, we walked past the kitchen.

It was a beautiful day, but we had enough of the crowds by the time we left Topkapı Palace.

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