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New facts about Ottoman harem in exhibit

Posted on 12 August 2012

  The Topkapı Palace Museum is presenting an exhibition about harem life in Istanbul for the first time. The museum’s director, İlber Ortaylı, says the exhibition’s purpose is to correct misinformation about the imperial harem. ‘The harem was a center of education for concubines,’ he says

The exhibition features 287 works from the palace’s collection, consisting of belongings of both sultans and concubines. ‘Each sultan changed harem according to his own requirements,’ says İlber Ortaylı.

“These non-Muslim women brought in to the palace as slaves were educated to be married to the Ottoman statesmen and bureaucrats who were also receiving education at another center within the palace premises, called the Enderun School. But the harem was also the sultan’s house, where he lived with his mother, wives and children. The life in the harem was not as spectacular as it is shown in fictitious works,” Ortaylı said.

The exhibition is divided into four sections, each focusing on one significant aspect of harem life.

The first section shows the harem’s construction process with a focus on the building’s physical structure. The construction period is shown with miniatures, engravings and architectural plans. The second section explains the organization of the harem’s servants and guards, namely eunuchs and concubines, in accordance with the hierarchical order imposed by the building’s physical structure. The third section focuses on harem women’s rise from being a concubine to becoming a sultan’s favorite, then wife and finally the Mother Sultan, within the larger narrative of life and education of the members of the dynasty, which consisted of the sultan’s daughters, sons and sisters. This section depicts the place of each within the dynastic hierarchy. The fourth section focuses on the daily life in the harem, as well as its traditions and entertainment.

On the whole, the visitors of the show will be able to see the structural changes imposed on the harem throughout the reigns of different successors from the dynasty.

Ortaylı said the harem was not within the palace but located in the historical Beyazıt neighborhood. “The harem was moved into the palace during Sultan Süleyman’s reign and after Hürrem [Süleyman the Magnificent’s famous wife] asked him to do so. She requested that the family live together. ”

“House of the Sultan: Topkapı Palace Imperial Harem” starts June 13 and runs through Oct. 15 at Has Ahırlar (Sultan’s Stables) within the palace premises.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

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