The Harem

Extraordinarily beautiful women slaves raised by the Master Treasurer used to be congregated in a separate group named Sultan’s assistant masters. The ones the Sultan liked were deposited as odalisques (Majesty’s Chamber). The Sultan would select four of them as peyk (for his service) and the other four as Gozde (Favourite). If one of those Gozdes got pregnant she would promote to the rank of Ikbal (Felicity) and become Kadin Efendi (Wife). The Sultan would marry the Concubines he did not like, to some other men outside the Harem. There was not a precise rule for the Sultan to keep four Peyks and four Gozdes. It is known that some Sultans used to have fewer women.

The sexual relations of the Sultans with their Concubines have always been told mixing with fantasies by some western authors.

The Venetian envoy Ottoviano Bon (1606), Madam Monteque (1717) and some other travellers furnished us with details of the intimate lives of the Sultans. What 0. Bon said, especially copied by other European authors. According to Bon, If the Sultan wanted to see Concubines sing, dance he would whisper the names in Ba§kadm’s ear (Headwoman) who would later send them to the Sultan to be selected. If he liked one of them, then he would walk past them a couple of times giving his handkerchief at the one he liked to spend the night with. Another legend is that, the Sultan threw a handkerchief at the girl he liked who was to take and put it in her bosom. Another way was that the woman slave selected and raised by the Treasurer Master and accommodated with Kahveci Usta (Coffee Maker) would serve the Sultan coffee with the hope of being selected. If the Sultan liked that Concubine he would take her into his private Odalisques. The Sultan would send some gifts to the one he intended to spend the night with. Then, the selected Concubine would be escorted to the Hamam (The Bath) soaped and scrubbed raw with the spongelike tropical gourd, and ladled perfumed water over one another. After the bath, they used to be put in loose, clean garments. She would be escorted into the Sultan’s chamber (Odalisques) by the Master Treasurer. In the chamber, she had to wait outside until the Sultan went into bed. When she entered the room she would crawl towards the bed and after reaching, she would stand up and go into his bed. But, Madam Monteque wrote that, as she had been told by Mustafa I.’s Ikbal, Hafsa Sultan, the handkerchief throwing and crawling were all made up stories.

The following morning, the Sultan would take a bath in the Sultan’s Hamam, change his clothes and send the Concubine he had spent the night with some presents, jewellery and clothes if he had found the night satisfactory. That Concubine would reach to the rank of Gozde then. She was escorted back and given a separate chamber with slaves under her command. The following legend furnishing us with details on how- to become a Gozde favourite is quite interesting.

Aimee de Rivery born in 1763 in the island of Martinique, was the daughter of a very noble family and the cousin to Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon’s wife. As they were being raised together in their childhood a fortune-teller came up one day saying to the two girls ‘You, Josephine! you are going to be the Queen of France in the future , and you, little Aimee! you are going to be the Queen of a country in the East in the future.’ They wondered if that would come true. In 1784, on her return to Martinique, after attending convent school in France, Aimee was kidnapped by Algerian pirates . Twenty-one years old, Aimee was sold to the Dey of Algiers. Captivated by her beauty, the Dey saw an opportunity to win the Sultan’s favour. He presented the girl to Abdulhamid I. She was fair, demure and intelligent. The Sultan named her Nak§idil (Embroidered on the Heart), converted her to Islam and made her his favourite as odalisques.

In Michel De Grece’s book ‘La nuit du Serail’, the presentation of Naksidil Sultana’s to the Sultan is described as follows;

“First, I was escorted to Valide Sultana’s Hamam. I was soaped, scrubbed raw and given a perfect massage with some oil. Then, they brushed my long hair down my back. They sprayed perfumes with different odours in Bohemian crystal bottles on all parts of my body. After that, the master of the robes brought me a white blouse, almost transparent, embroidered with silver stripes lightly, a pair of red satin baggy trousers and a dress enhanced with silver stripes in flower patterns. They wound a purple girdle made of Persian brocade around my ostentatious waist. The final stage was the jewellery clerk’s business. She brought in her small chest of drawers filled up with jewels. She took out a very long pendant enhanced with ruby repousse golden rings. Two big pearls were my ear-rings. They put a pink net-lace on my hair amended with rubies and diamonds. I was ready. I got scared to death… Vartuhi instructed me what I was supposed to do one by one: “About half an hour later His Majesty will be in his chamber. Then, you will be escorted to him. Don’t you ever forget to walk to his bed on your knees, and to kiss his bedcover by holding it on the edge and to wait.” “…Kizlaragasi (Chief-footman) appeared in the splendour of his red silk clothing with sable fur. Eunuchs were following him. They were coming to escort me to the Sultan’s chamber…” With a confident voice, I said ” I am ready”.

All the lights along the corridors and the courtyard were dimmed and the Harem as I was walking behind the Chief-footman was getting ready for the night. We walked past the chambers of Valide Sultana and the long, dark and empty corridor of the Sultan’s Hamam. As we arrived right outside that huge gate, the Chief-footman bowing in front of me , kissed the hem of my dress and showed me the way in. I walked into Abdulhamid’s bedroom in twilight. I
stood right by the door for a short time watching the bright, splendid ceiling. Two old ladies were sitting still on the floor quietly. No doubt, they were the women in charge of the illumination of the chamber.

“Come by girl, don’t be afraid!” I was unable to see the man calling me with a sweet voice. I made a step, then the second one. Despite the instructions of Vartuhi, I walked towards the Sultan’s bed without kneeling down. With a movement of his hand, I was seated by the edge of his embroidered bed with cushions on. He was glancing at me very comfortably. And me, without blinking, glanced back at him. In his long navy shirt, the Sultan was unimpressive without diamonds and his turban. He was almost bald. He suddenly started to recite an ode from the poet Nedim “My beautiful lady who brought you up fearlessly” As he finished, without taking his eyes off he came next to me.

Very slowly, he began caressing my breasts on the transparent fabric which was covering my head, shoulders and arms. Continuously, he was whispering some lovely words into my ear. His voice and its tune amazed me. I felt my body in an unresisting numbness and started to feel some hotness deep inside my bosom. When he started to undress me very slowly I deliberately let him kiss all parts of my body. I soon, found myself as a rosy-tanned naked blonde lying on the dark-coloured velvet. I suddenly startled with the awareness of those two old ladies sitting on the ground. But, he had already begun spreading my legs wide-open with his soft and determined hands. At that very moment, I got totally oblivious of all my embarrassment. Some passion pushed me hard towards that man. As I was only feeling the warmth and the weight of that body on mine , I let myself in the waves.

While we were resting together side by side after our passion died down, I suddenly felt some shivers deep inside me accompanied by a muscular shock on my hand.”

“When I woke up. I found myself alone in the room. Through the high and small windows of the room, some disturbing sunlight was shining on the extravagant decoration of the wooden veneers and the bedstead… A cobalt-blue fur coat was sitting at the foot of the bedstead undercoated with a silver chinchilla. On his pillow, there was a large purse by a rounded bright red ruby enhanced with a diamond. The presents Abdulhamid left for me…
I had just sat up when the door opened. Beside the Chief-footman, eunuchs who had been waiting to watch me wake up entered in. They put the fur coat on me in a little hasty but a respectful manner…”

So, after a night spent in the Sultan’s bed I rose to the rank of Ikbal… Naks.idil Sultana rising to the rank of Ikbal, gave birth to a baby son named Mahmud and deserved the rank of the fourth Kadmefendi (Sultan’s wife). In the
meantime, she learnt a lot about the intrigues and contentions when the first Kadmefendi Nukhetseza and the second Mihri§ah Sultana had a fierce struggle to have their own sons sit on the throne.
In 1789, when the French Revolution had already started, Abdulhamid died. Selim III. Mihrisah Sultana’s son sat on the Ottoman throne. He wanted Naksidil Sultana to stay in the Harem with his son since he really got on well and shared his secrets with her. Naksidil Sultana was a part of the French culture he deeply admired. She was teaching the Sultan French and had already become the pioneer of the reforms taking place in the Palace. Selim III.’s radical movement made the bigots angry. They rebelled in 1807 and killed almost all the members of the Sultan’s family but Nak§idil Sultanas’ son Mahmud II. He sat on the throne, and thus, Naksidil Sultana became Valide Sultana (The Sultana Mother). Having been brought up by her mother with a Western culture he started reforms. His strongest supporter was his mother of course.

Until her early death in 1817, Nak§idil Sultana remained as Valide Sultana. She died young and buried in a sepulchre mentioned by her name in Fatih. Naksidil Sultana went into the Harem as a French girl, had lot of public fountains and charity foundations built. As an unforgettable Valide Sultana she has a historical importance.