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)