Places We Go / Turkey

The Sultan’s Harem: Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Ahhhh, Topkapi Palace.  Topkapi Palace was built between 1459 and 1465 by Mehmet II shortly after his conquest of Constantinople.  Rather than a single building, it was conceived as a series of pavilions contained by four enormous courtyards, a stone version of the tented encampments from which the nomadic Ottomans had emerged.

It is difficult not to appreciate the life the sultans maintained here, even before you enter the palace and see the Harem and the Treasury (full of war loot and gold), as the two photographs below, taken of the outside of the palace, likely illustrate.


topkapi palace

Inside the palace grounds, of course, are many gorgeous gardens and fountains.

topkapi palace

As attractive and interesting as the rest of Topkapi Palace and the grounds are though, it seems to be the Harem that attracts the most interest and attention.  And understandably so…   The Harem was a place where the sultan could engage in mass debauchery at will (and Murat III did, in fact, have 112 children).  People love debauchery.

The women of Topkapi’s Harem had to be foreigners, as Islam forbade enslaving Muslims.  Girls were bought as slaves (often having been sold by their parents at a good price) or were received as gifts from nobles and potentates.

On entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading and writing, embroidery and dancing.  They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan’s concubines and children, then to the sultan’s mother and finally – if they showed sufficient aptitude and beauty – to the sultan himself.

Although the sultan was only allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, he could have as many concubines as he could support – some had over 1,000.

The concubines themselves were waited on by black eunuch servants.

Below you see the entrance to the labyrinthine Harem:

sultans harem

And these are some of the gorgeous rooms and decorations inside the Harem:

harem of the sultan

harem room

sultan's harem


istanbul harem

sultan's harem

sultan's harem istanbul


And this… This is the sultan’s throne inside the Harem.  Convenient, isn’t it, that the throne bears a strong similarity to a couch?

sultan throne

The two pictures below were both taken inside the throne chamber.  So, you can see what a nice place it would have been in which to stay and get some work done.


The women in this picture are mannequins, dressed in period concubine costume, to give one a better sense of life in the throne chamber.


And, delightfully, I thought, after a long and, ummm, hard day’s work, the sultan could make his way outside the Harem to this lovely perch overlooking the city (and the beautiful gardens in the palace grounds below) in order to unwind from the daily stresses of being a sultan.

sultans harem topkapi


2 thoughts on “The Sultan’s Harem: Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

  1. From your post, it sounds like sultans had a really “hard” and stressful life… :P
    Great pics! I enjoyed the images of the luxurious rooms of the harem.

  2. Please look at this website and let me know if you would like to work on the project. I want there to be a place where everyone can see pictures like your over time.

    I could post your work in a slightly different way.

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