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The Sultanate of Women

The Sultanate of Women

Forget any idea that all the members of the harem were downtrodden females subject to their husband’s every whim! For a period of around 130 years in the 16* and i7′”centuries a handful of powerful women defied such casual stereotyping and played a major role in the running of the Ottoman Empire. All of them had been born outside the Empire and only converted to Islam once absorbed into the harem.

The first was Hurrem Sultan (c.1510-58), the only legal wife of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and better known to the West as Roxelana (“the Russian”). Born in what was then Poland (now Ukraine), she was captured as a slave by the Crimean Tatars and ended up in Istanbul where she succeeded in ousting the Sultan’s favorite concubine and giving him five children. She was responsible for the magnificent Haseki Hurrem Sultan Hamam in Sultanahmet Square (LINK), and is buried in the grounds of the Suleymaniye (LINK).

Next in importance was Nurbanu Sultan (c.1525-83). Venetian-born and a relative of the Doge, she was captured by Turks and ended up in the harem of Sultan Selim II (“the Sot”) where she became his favorite wife. As co-regent for Murad III she pursued such a pro-Venetian policy that the powerful Genoese traders in Galata came to hate her. Her death in 1583 looked thoroughly suspicious.

Finally, Bosnian-born Kosem Sultan (1589-1651) became the wife of Ahmed I and then co-regent for her son Murad IV, effectively running the empire for him. When he was succeeded by his feeble-minded brother ibrahim, Kosem continued as the power behind the throne, then when he was in turn succeeded by her grandson, seven-year-old Mehmed IV, she openly became regent again, a situation which persisted until her murder in 1651. She was probably the most powerful Ottoman woman ever to have lived.

Nurbanu Sultan (IMAGE)
Kosem Sultan (IMAGE)
Hurrem Sultan (IMAGE)

Tulip Festival Istanbul

International Tulip Festival begins in Istanbul

The 9th edition of the International Istanbul Tulip Festival organized by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Parks and Gardens Directorate will take place from April 1–30, 2014.

The opening ceremony of the festival will take place in Emirgan Woods, a historic urban park located in one of Istanbul’s finest neighborhoods, along the Bosporus on the European side on April 6th, 2014.

The early species of these types of tulips starting to bloom up in mid-March, are follow to bloom up by normal types of tulips in the month of April and the late blooming types of tulips in May and the people of Istanbul will have such as a visual feast for their eyes with tulips and hyacinths, narcissus and other bulbous plants during the two months of tulip season. Thus, while the city of Istanbul and the people of Istanbul meet their tulips such as Emirgan Woods, Hidiv Woods, Gülhane Park, Bulbous Plants Park, Vatan Street will burst into riot of colors for two months of period.

Especially Woods and Bulbous Plants Park in last year, a total amount of 3 million 500 thousand tulips planted in the central areas of Istanbul that has made positive effects in many parts of Istanbul. Eighty-two kinds of tulips,twenty-seven of which was mainly being planted, have been planted this year from Silivri to Tuzla throughout Istanbul, due to high demand from citizens.

It is preferred to take tulips from domestic producers. The tulip buds were mainly grown in Çumra, a town of Konya, but were also grown by villagers of Silivri, Çatalca, Şile, Pamukova, and Geyve.


- A total of 1.316,000 tulips with 68 kinds have been planted in Gülhane Park

- A total of 2.308.000 tulips with 211 kinds have been planted in Emirgan Woods

- A total of 830.000 tulips with 50 kinds have been planted in Yıldız Woods

- A total of 500.000 tulips with 56 kinds have been planted in Bulbous Plants Park

- A total of 250.000 tulips with 16 kinds have been planted in Beykoz Woods

- A total of 1.800.000 tulips with 150 kinds have been planted in Göztepe Rose Garden

- A total of 500.000 tulips with 18 kinds have been planted in Büyük Çamlıca Woods

- A total of 610.000 tulips with 15 kinds have been planted in Küçük Çamlıca Woods

- A total of 200.000 tulips with 21 kinds have been planted in Fethipaşa Woods

- A total of 450.000 tulips with 23 kinds have been planted in Hidiv Woods

Istanbul free public wireless

IMM provides free public Wi-Fi

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) launches service in popular public squares around the city.

The IMM is offering free Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) to citizens of the city of Istanbul to access internet and stay connected with their near and dear ones on social media.

The municipality announced that, starting with public squares, services will be broadened to cover wider parts of the city. Users can access the free public internet service in key squares such as Taksim, Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Mecidiyekoy.

After getting a password through their mobile phones, users can login to use the public Wi-Fi service, according to the announcement.

The service is put into service following Turkey’s 30 March, 2014 local elections as this service was promised during campaign time.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has also started to roll-out Wi-Fi services on Istanbul Transportation Authority (İETT) buses in November, 2013.

Passengers traveling on the modern and smart buses enjoy wireless Internet for free, and they charge their cellphones on board.

Imperial Hall

Imperial Hall

The Sultan’s own suite of rooms was centered on the huge if faded and ecleltically decorated Hunkar Sofasi (Imperial Hall), the largest room in the harem. Tall and light, this room has sometimes been claimed as a work of Sinan but is probably a good hundred years newer than that; the musicians’ gallery, where men in blindfolds would have played to the sultan on his throne and the women gathered behind the arcade in front of the windows, was probably added in the 18 th century.
The walls are partially tiled with blue and white Delftware imported from Holland because the great potteries at iznik and Kutahya had passed their prime. This room would have been used for wedding parties and family entertainment, as well as during the main religious holidays.

Much more cohesive and beautiful is the Sinan-designed Salon of Murad III dating back to 1578, whose walls are entirely encased in fine examples of iznik ware; when water was still flowing down the selsebil this must have been a truly delightful room, its windows looking out onto the garden. Opening off the far side is a small room known as the Pavilion of Ahmed I that is exquisitely encased in tiles whose blue and green hue affects the quality of the light. Even more delightful is the tiny Fruit Room (Yemis Odasi) which opens, in turn, off the pavilion and is completely covered with paintings of fruit and flowers prepared for the tulip-loving Sultan Ahmed III.

On the other side of the Salon of Murad III are a pair of tiled rooms equipped with fireplaces and gorgeous stained glass whose purpose has been the subject of debate but which may have been used by the royal princes. The first of them contains one of the few original inlaid wooden domes to survive in the complex. Shortly afterwards you will arrive in the GozdelerTasligi (Courtyard of the Favorites) which overlooks a sunken pool and then the Golden Horn. Despite its name, it doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with the “gozdeler”, the women who had particularly caught the sultan’s eye.

From here visitors walk back along the Altin Yol (Golden Way) and emerge through the Kushane Kapisi (Aviary Gate) into the third courtyard. The story goes that the Golden Way took its name from a custom whereby the sultan handed a gold coin to one of the women waiting in the corridor to indicate that he wished to spend the night with her.
However, it’s just as likely that it was called this because it was the sultan’s main route into the harem, or because he distributed coins to the women here on special occasions. It was near the Aviary Gate, an 18th-century building designed to look like a bird-house, that the powerful Valide Sultan Kosem was murdered by the Chief Black Eunuch Suleyman Aga in 1651.

Sultan Murad III private quarters (IMAGE)
Sultan Ahmed III room (IMAGE)
Royal Princess quarters (IMAGE)

The Harem

The Harem

Approached through the Carriage Gate, an inconspicuous doorway beyond the Divan, the harem, also known as the House of Felicity, is the part of the palace that has most gripped the imagination of foreigners, probably because the intense privacy with which the sultans’ private life was guarded helped fuel their lurid fantasies. In Arabic “harem” means forbidden, and the harem was the part of the palace that was closed to outsiders, where the sultans (at least from the reign of Sultan Murad III onwards) lived with their concubines, their children and the vast entourage required to look after them all.

The single most important person here was the Valide Sultan (the Queen Mother) who exercised enormous power over the house hold, often including the sultan. After her, the sultan’s women, all of them Christian slaves who had converted to Islam, were ranked in a rigid hierarchy with the “kadinlar (the women who most approximated to wives)” at the top, and the ordinary “cariye (slaves)” at the bottom. The harem was guarded by eunuchs, a tradition seemingly adopted from Byzantium. Any woman who stepped out of line risked dire punishment – being stitched up inside a sack and tossed into the Bosphorus.

The harem buildings are not part of the original palace as Sultan Mehmed seems to have been happy for his family to live in the Old Palace at Beyazit (LINK). The oldest structures that can be dated with certainty were erected under Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-95),
but much of the harem had to be reconstructed following a fire in 1665. Although a separate ticket is required to visit the harem, visitors are no longer required to take a guided tour which makes it easier to appreciate the rabbit warren of rooms, many of them much smaller than you might have expected. What is not so easy to imagine amid the constant crush of visitors is the silence that reigned here along with the sense of rigid control that was imposed by the Kizlar Agasi, the Chief Black Eunch, whose task it was to ensure that everything ran smoothly.

As you pass through the gate to the harem notice on the left the Dormitory of the Halberdiers with Tresses, an eccentrically-named slave corps whose long locks meant that they could cover their faces when they brought wood into the harem.

You enter the harem via the Domed Cupboad, the harem treasury where deeds of trust and household money were stored. This opens onto the fountainless Hall of the Fountain which is decorated with lovely blue and green calligraphic tiles, and then to the Courtyard and Dormitory of the Harem Eunuchs with cells on the left-hand side where the men charged with ensuing absolute privacy lived; you can see models of two of them warming themselves around a brazier through one of the windows. The current decoration dates back to 1668-9 when the rooms were probably rebuilt after the 1665 fire.

A gateway then leads through to a hallway. The sultan would have proceeded straight ahead along the Altin Yol (Golden Way), while his mother would have stepped into the courtyard beside it. Modern visitors, however, turn left and proceed along a corridor lined with stone benches where food from the kitchens was left for the women. Since this would have had to be passed from hand to hand right the way across the courtyard from the kitchens it’s hard to imagine that anyone would ever have eaten a truly hot meal here.

The corridor opens onto the small Courtyard of the Cariyeler, where the female slaves slept in dormitories very close to the women in charge of the day-to-day administration of the complex: the head stewardess, the harem treasurer, and the harem laundress.

Eighteenth-century landscape paintings are preserved on the walls here. A winding corridor then leads through a tiled room equipped with an enormous fireplace into a part of the Valide Sultan’s suite; the bedroom features a dome decorated with a painted grapevine and frescoed landscapes; a small room off to the side is assumed to have been for prayers. Immediately afterwards you pass through the magnificent Sultan’s Hamam, which is decked out in marble and goldleaf, and superbly illuminated by light streaming in from cutouts in the ceiling. Particularly lovely would have been the selsebil, a gold-flecked marble fountain against the far wall down which water would 1 once have cascaded.

Sultan Abdulhamit Apartment (IMAGE)
The Sultan’s bath (IMAGE)
Selsebil (IMAGE)

The Tower of Justice and the Divan

The Tower of Justice and the Divan

The most conspicuous building in the second courtyard is the conical-roofed Tower of Justice that is another prominent feature on the city skyline. The body of the tower dates back to the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, although the roof was completely remodelled by Sultan Mahmud II in 1820.

In front of it stands the domed Divan, or Council Chamber, where the business of state was conducted and justice administered. Before every meeting of the Divan the council of viziers (ministers) would process to the palace along the road now called Divan Yolu in their memory (LINK).

Once in the chamber they would seat themselves on the benches around the wall with the Grand Vizier, the Ottoman equivalent of the prime minister, in the middle facing the entrance. Originally the sultans also attended these meetings but over time they prefered to take a back seat, the grille above the Grand Vizier’s seat allowing them to eavesdrop on proceedings. The hanging gold pendant was a symbol of their continued authority. Fine iznik tiles adorn the lower walls of the Divan although much of the decor dates back to an 18th-century restoration by which time state business was being conducted from the Sublime Porte (LINK) beyond the palace walls.

Adjoining the Divan is the Public Records Office, so that any paperwork needed would be readily to hand. Beyond it the Grand Vizier had a private office that is not currently open to the public.

Next door to the Divan was the Public Treasury (Silahlar Seksiyonu) where tax revenues collected from the provinces were stored. Every three months the Janissaries were ceremonially paid from here at which time they were also treated to a specially prepared meal. This building houses the palace collection of armor and weaponry, including some of the horsetail standards that would be erected in front of the Gate of Salutations before the sultan set off for war.

Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent

Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent

Bab-us Selam (Gate of Salutations)

Bab-us Selam (Gate of Salutations)

After buying your ticket you proceed through the Bab-us Selam (Gate of Salutations, also known as the Middle Gate) into the second courtyard. Flanked by octagonal towers topped with conical roofs, this is a far grander gate than the Imperial Gate and designed to leave a lasting impression on foreign visitors. Its exact date of construction is unknown although it must have been in existence by 1493 when the towers appear in pictures of the palace. An inscription above the gate records the Islamic creed: “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” (SalAllahu Aleyhi va Sallam)
In the past visitors would have had to leave their horses here since no one but the sultan could ride through the gate. At this entrance to the inner palace enemies of the sultan were sometimes beheaded and their heads displayed on “example stones”.

Second courtyard (Divan Meydani)

Second courtyard (Divan Meydani)

Little changed from the days of Sultan Mehmed II, the second courtyard is ringed with porticoes and adorned with many ancient cypress trees. If you turn left and walk downhill you can peer through a locked gate at the stable complex where the sultans’ horses were kept. In the rooms behind the portico immediately to the right of the gate some of the carriages used by the later sultans and their families are on display; the finest is also the oldest, an 18th-century landau with latticed windows.

Continuing to the right you come to the enormous domed kitchens whose soaring chimneys are a feature of the Istanbul skyline. This is where the famous Ottoman palace cuisine was prepared and cooked, with upto 300 people working here at any one time. Today the kitchens house an impressive collection of Chinese porcelain and celadon mainly built up by sultans Beyazid II, Selim I and Suleyman the Magnificent, and ranging in date from the 10 th to the 18 th centuries. In the confectioners’ kitchen can be seen some of the huge cauldrons and ladles used to prepare meals for the sultans’ extensive household, as well as a collection of porcelain and silverware.

Two huge stone capitals, one in the grounds of the kitchen complex and one on the lawn just outside, are preserved on the sites where they were dug up; they probably formed part of a late Roman monumental arch. Parts of the brick vaulting of a Byzantine cistern can also be seen midway along the path leading from the second to the third courtyard.

Hagia Eirene

Hagia Eirene

The one unmissable building in the first courtyard is the church of Hagia Eirene (Divine Peace) that was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in 537 after an older building was destroyed by the Nika Riot of 532. It was patched up again after an earthquake in 740, since when it has been little altered. After the Ottoman conquest it was enclosed inside the walls of Topkapi Palace and used as an arsenal by the Janissaries. Later it became a forerunner of the Military Museum in Harbiye (LINK).
Today it serves as an occasional concert hall but can’t be visited at other times, which is a shame as the sight of its great brick dome and its apse adorned with a simple mosaic cross is very dramatic. The mosaic itself is of uncertain date, some attributing it to the Justinian period, others to the tion in 740. The synthronon (bench seat ringing the apse) is the only such known in the city.
Hagia Eirene
The first church on this site appears to have preceded the reign of Constantine the Great who probably had it rebuilt. Peaceful as the setting may seem now, it was here in 346 that more than 3,000 people died in a riot over one of those obscure theological squabbles for which early Christianity was renowned (in this case Aria-nism versus Orthodoxy).

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