Our visit to Topkapi continued after our lunch on a terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara and more of the palace grounds. We had, in fact, reached the point of beginning to return to the beginning...partly because we had reached the innermost part, and partly because the weather was becoming increasingly grim.
This is Part 2 of 2. For Part 1, click HERE
The Fourth Courtyard, where we now found ourselves, was originally united with the Third, but over time, it became more physically separated, and also isolated from state and public religious functions; it became an equivalent to the White House "family quarters." Only the Sultan, his family and favorites entered the Fourth; it was, if anything, more exclusive even than the Harem.
Among the buildings of this area are the Baghdad kiosk, built to commemorate a victory; its distinctive table fountain in a shallow pool offers a calm area for contemplation. Also a feature of this area is the blue-tiled Revan pavilion, which was used for religious purposes, including a dedicated Circumcision Room for children of the royal family.
Tiled walls of the Circumcision Room
And then it was time to move on to the Harem. The Harem is actually a series of buildings and couryards that run along the side of the Second through Fouth Courtyards. The Harem, though, is separate from the Courtyards, and has only limited entrances. While it was indeed the residence of the imperial concubines, it's not quite like what you're probably imagining.
The Harem was basically the residence of the Sultan's household. Wives, concubines, the children of those women, and most importantly, the Valide Sultan, the Sultan's mother. Not only was she the Sultan's mother, and the most important figure of the Harem; frequently Valides acted as Regents for their young sons. Because of the diffuse nature of the Ottoman royal household, she was sometimes his only actual relative there.
Each group in the Harem had its own apartments and courtyards. That included not only the women, but also the eunuchs who staffed the Harem and guarded it. There was a Chief Black Eunuch and a Chief White Eunuch. Each had a courtyard, a staff, and different functions. I won't even try to take you through all the detail; if you want it, there's a pretty clear, if lengthy Wikipedia article.
It's not clear how many rooms there are in the Harem; in some cases rooms are connected in ways that make it unclear whether to count them as separate; the best guess is somewhat over 400, but only a few are open to visitors to Topkapi (there's also a separate admission charge).
In the courtyard of the Eunuchs
and the Courtyard of the Concubines
Many of the rooms are richly decorated; the fancier you see, the more likely you are seeing the places reserved for the Sultan and his mother.
In this Imperial Hall, with its spacious throne, the Sultan spent time with his mother, chief wife, confidants and friends and his children. It's also called the Hall of Diversions, and was the scene for family weddings and entertainment. The dome is the largest in the Harem.
The Courtyard of the Favorites, where the Sultan's favored consorts had their places. They are the women whose children might become the next Sultan. The lucky mother would then become the Valide Sultan, and ruler over the Harem.
For more Gumbo articles and photographs from Turkey, click HERE