The Harem

Meaning ‘the home of happiness’, Harem was the place where the guardian of the family lived in with his women, female slaves and the children. This place formed with the same structure in the palace used to be called Darüssaade (The home of happiness) earlier and named as the Harem in later years where the guardian was, of course, the Sultan himself.

Although the Ottoman Harem is famous, the Abbasids and the Seljuks used to have Harems too. The Sultans kept female slaves in their harem but they only married the daughters of the Christian princes in neighbouring countries and of the Principalities. But, that tradition changed after Bayezid II and the harem became a place where candidates could become the Sultan’s wives were kept and selected afterwards. Except for a few, almost all the Sultans followed that tradition and married female slaves selected amongst the candidates in the Harem. When Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror took Istanbul in 1453, he beautified the city by having many works of art constructed. He had a palace built in Beyazid square after the palaces built in previous capitals, Brusa (Bursa) and Adrianople (Edirne). That palace was used for some time but a little later since they were iri need of much room Topkapi Palace had to be built between 1472-1478 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in order to move the Sultanate to a much bigger location. The foundation of the Harem started with a few buildings by the golden road first.

During the construction work of the new Palace, it turned to be a giant compound with the additional buüdings within years. That new palace became a location where the governmental affairs were undertaken and a place for the Sultan’s public procession greeting his public while going to the mosque on Fridays. in the meantime, the old palace was used as the Harem. Although the Harem remained in the former palace Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent made use of Saray-i Duhteran (The palace of the women) in the newly built Palace from time to time. it is often said that Hürrem Sultana moved to the Sultan’s most favourite chamber and had a long-lasting love affair with Süleyman the Magnificent. Structuring work continued in the Topkapi Harem until the period of Murad III. Murad III relocated the former Harem totally to the recently built Topkapi Palace in the year 1587 and so, it gained its importance once again. He also started to stay at the Murad III mansion Mimar Sinan had built. The Harem which was quite small at the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmed (Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror) advanced with the new additional compounds the following Sultans’ ordered to be added. Unfortunately, this very well-developed Harem ruined by a big fire in 1665. After it was restored, The Istanbul earthquake hit that unique architecture and knocked it down in the year 1776. Having been restored once again, it was re-opened and continued its advancement with the additional compounds untU the period of Mahmud II. in later years, Harem lost its previous magnificence as the palaces (so-called the splendid villas) by the Bosphorus became much more popular. Of course, the top stars of the Harem were the Sultans themselves. After the Sultan, came Valide Sultan (the Mother Queen-the mother of the Sultan). After his son sat on the throne, the Mother Queen would ride to the new Palace from the old one in a glorious parade accompanied by The Mother Guards and settle in the Mother’s chamber. After Valide Sultans there came Kadinefendis, the wives of the Sultan having different titles like ist., 2nd., 3rd. Kadinefendis and would live in separate chambers with their children. No doubt that the most colourful people of the Harem were the Cariyes (female slaves). Having been selected by the Sultan they would be able to obtain one of those titles. The unselected female slaves would remain in the Harem and undertake various duties.

There was another class formed in the Harem called Haremagalari who was in charge of the security affairs of the Harem. We understand how important their title was by checking the protocol queue; Darüssaade Agasi (The head of the Harem security) would take the third row in the queue coming after Sadrazam (The Grand Vizier) and Seyh-ul-Islam (The head of the Islamic hierarchy).
Now. let us start to get to know the life in the Harem along with its people in details by revealing the secrets as much as possible.

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