The Topkapi Palace’s Harem is one of the most iconic historical sites in Istanbul, Turkey that informs us about their culture and practices from the past. This historical site used to be a residence for the Sultan, his mother, wives, concubines, female members of the family and servants. The Harem was only for the women where no man was allowed inside the premises, except for the eunuchs. A Chief eunuch was hired to take care of the needs and requirements of all the women and several eunuchs guards were appointed to ensure the safety inside Harem.
The eunuch guards ensured that no one trespassed the boundary of Harem except for the Sultan. This private quarter for women, mainly designed by Mimar Sinan, was added at the end of the 16th century. The Sultan also used this place to conduct state affairs and entertain his guests. The Harem had more than 400 rooms and grand courtyards, each with its own unique stories and features. Marvel at the stunning paintings, tile works and stained glass windows that will inform you about the history and culture of the Ottoman Empire.
The sultans Mahmud I and Osman III redecorated the Harem in an Italian inspired Ottoman Baroque style and added to the beauty of the structure. Today, the Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace Harem is converted into a museum that attracts millions of visitors all round the year. If you are someone who is interested in the history and culture of the old royalties, then this place is a must visit for you.
The Topkapi Palace’s rich history speaks of the glorious culture and past of the Ottoman Empire. The practice of Harem was popular in the pre-Islamic civilization that meant a separate quarter for the women where no men except the Sultan or the eunuchs were allowed. The construction of the palace began in the year 1459 on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II.
Beginning with Mehmed II, the palace has seen the reign of over 30 Sultans for almost over four centuries. The construction of the Harem started around the end of the 16th century which later served as the private quarters for women. The Topkapi Palace Harem served as a residence for over a thousand women including the Queen Mother, the Sultan’s wives, female relatives, children, consorts, concubines as well as a separate section for the eunuchs. Apart from being a private quarters for the women, the Harem also had huge halls where the Sultan conducted his state affairs as well as entertained his guests.
The Harem has white-blue tiles on the walls, stunning fountains and lush green gardens that make the place pleasing to the eye. The Harem was carefully designed and constructed, keeping in mind all the intricate details. Each section of the Harem reflects different stories and is decorated in their own unique way.
You can checkout this enchanting journey exploring the captivating Harem of Topkapi Palace. This video takes you behind the palace walls to discover the hidden world of Ottoman royalty. We'll walk through the exquisitely adorned chambers, revealing their rich history and architectural splendor. From the Privy Chamber of Murat III, the oldest and most well-preserved room, to the vibrant Privy Chamber of Ahmed III, affectionately known as the 'Fruit Room,' each space tells a unique story of grandeur and cultural heritage. With stunning visuals and expert insights, our tour unlocks the secrets of this mesmerizing enclave, offering a glimpse into the opulent lives of the sultans and their families.
Out of all the 400 rooms in the Harem, unfortunately, only a few are open to the public. You will get to enter the Harem through the Gate of Carts in the second courtyard. The Gate of Carts will lead you directly to a place called the Domed Cupboard Chamber. This place, full of shelves and cupboards, was like a vestibule that was designed by Murad III in the year 1587.
The Domed Cupboard Chamber was considered the treasury of the Topkapi Palace Harem which stored all the important deeds of trust, money from foundations, and financial records of the Imperial family. This treasury was administered by the Chief Harem Eunuch, as he was responsible for all the safekeeping. This is one of the most interesting rooms in the Harem that indicates the importance of record-keeping and is a testament to the Topkapi Palace’s rich history.
The Hall of the Ablution Fountain, also known as the Sofa with Fountain, is the actual entrance hall into the Harem. Located in the fourth courtyard of the palace, this hall is one of the most significant parts of the Topkapi Palace Harem. The hall and the fountain was used for the ablution of women who lived in the Harem and held major significance for its residents.
Although the fountain that gave the hall its name was later moved to the pool of the Privy Chamber of Murad III. The hall also leads to the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs where you will also get to see a small mosque built only for them. The walls of the hall are beautified with 17th century Kütahya tiles that were a specialty back then.
As you move forward, you will come across a huge courtyard that was dedicated solely to the eunuchs. This courtyard, dating back to the 16th century, has apartments on its left where the eunuchs lived and rooms where they worked. At the end of the courtyard, you will get to see the apartment of the Black Chief eunuch who was also the fourth high ranking official.
The eunuchs not only served as attendants and guards but also played significant roles in the administration of the Ottoman Empire. This courtyard was also the place where the concubines of the Sultan were presented in front of him.
Although there are several entrances to the Harem, the main entrance of the Topkapi Palace Harem is the most impressive one. The main entrance is a huge and beautifully ornate gateway that leads to the main courtyard with fountains. The main entrance of the Harem separated the area from the Courtyard of the Eunuchs where the family and the concubines of the Sultan resided.
You will also notice that the hall leads to three different sections of the Harem. The left section leads to the Court of the Concubines, the middle section leads to the Court of the Queen Mother and the right section to the Sultan’s quarter. As you enter the hall through the main entrance, you will get to admire the large mirrors that date back to the 18th century. The main entrance of the Harem is a reflection of the royalty and grandeur of the Ottoman Empire.
The passage of the concubines led straight to the Sultan’s chief consorts and concubines. There are counters all the way on the passageway and this is where the eunuchs served the food brought from the kitchen. There are rooms in the passageway as well but unfortunately they are not open for the visitors, so you will have to walk straight through the passage. However, visitors will still get to discover the lavish Turkish baths, laundry rooms, apartments and dorms there.
The Courtyard of the Sultan’s Consorts and the Concubines is one of the most popular and the smallest courtyard of the Harem. The Courtyard of the Concubines and the Eunuchs were constructed at the same time in the middle of the 16th century and had to be restored after the fire of 1665. This beautiful courtyard has a laundry fountain and baths where the concubines bathed and relaxed.
It was a central gathering place for the women that was decorated with fountains, gardens and intricate tile work. There are stunning frescoes dating back to the 18th century that reflect the Western influence. This courtyard has earned popularity and has also been featured in a number of movies and TV shows, portraying the rich and lavish lifestyle of Ottomans.
The Apartments of the Queen Mother, also known as the Valide Sultan Dairesi, was constructed in the late 16th century when the Queen Mother moved to the palace. Along with the Sultan’s apartment, it was one of the largest and the most lavish sections of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace Harem. These apartments included a bedroom, the dining room, a prayer room, reception hall, private chamber and a small music room.
The Queen Mother was a person of authority and had considerable power and influence. Hence,the apartments were also decorated in a way that reflected her power and status. The apartments of the Queen Mother are on the top beautifully riveted with blue and white or yellow and green tiles. The tiles are decorated with flowery motifs from the 17th century and paintings with Western influence from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Baths of the Sultan and the Queen Mother speak of the royalty and the lavish Ottoman lifestyle. The room had double baths that was decorated in the rococo style in the middle of the 18th century. Both baths had the same design with their ceilings glassed in a honeycomb structure to allow the natural sunlight. The baths that were designed to provide relaxation to the Sultan and the Queen Mother were made of high quality marble.
The room had floors made of white and grey marble with an ornamental fountain to enhance its appearance. The most attractive feature is the golden lattice work that not only adds to the beauty of the room but also protected the Sultan and the Queen Mother from unfortunate attacks. The structure was mainly designed by Sinan but after the fire it was renovated by Sultan Ahmed I.
The Imperial Hall, built in the late 16th century, is also known as the Throne Room or the Hall of Diversions. It is the most significant part and the largest dome in the Harem. The Imperial Hall played a crucial role in the social as well as political life of the royalty. It served as the official reception hall and the main entertainment area for the Sultan.
All kinds of entertainment and ceremonies like wedding or festival celebrations took place here. The Imperial Hall has a lavish design that is a popular attraction amongst tourists. Sultan Osman III renovated the Imperial Hall after the fire of 1666 in a rococo style. Another interesting fact about the hall is that it has a secret passage behind a mirror, built for emergency purposes.
Within the Harem of Topkapi Palace, you'll discover a collection of exquisite chambers steeped in history and architectural opulence. Among them, the Privy Chamber of Murat III, dating back to the 16th century and designed by the renowned architect Sinan, stands as the oldest and most impeccably preserved room. Its allure lies in its beautifully crafted door and original interiors.
Another captivating chamber is the Privy Chamber of Ahmed I, accessible through the doors of the Imperial Hall. This space, situated opposite the Great Bedchamber, dazzles with İznik glazed tiles adorning its walls, showcasing intricate floral patterns.
Adjacent to the Privy Chamber of Ahmed I, you'll find the petite yet vibrant Privy Chamber of Ahmed III, affectionately known as the "Fruit Room." Its walls are adorned with lively floral designs and depictions of fruit bowls, hinting at its likely use for dining purposes. These chambers serve as enduring testaments to the grandeur and architectural brilliance of the Ottoman Empire's reign.
The Topkapi Palace Harem has a number of exquisite chambers, and among them, the Privy Chamber of Murat III is a commendable one. This chamber is the finest and the oldest surviving room of the Harem that has retained its original interior. Sinan was the architectural head of the chamber having the finest doors of the palace and is only slightly smaller than the Throne Room. Admire the beauty of the room that is decorated with blue, white and coral red İznik tiles. The chamber has a large fireplace just opposite the two-tiered fountain that is made of colored marbles.
The Privy Chamber of Ahmed I is a captivating chamber that is accessible through the doors of the Imperial Hall. It is one of the two rooms situated opposite to the great Bedchamber. The chamber is a small room richly decorated with İznik glazed tiles. Another small room opposite the great Bedchamber is the Privy Chamber of Ahmed III. This chamber has a very colorful interior and the walls are painted with floral designs and fruit bowls. This is why this chamber is commonly known as the Fruit Room and most probably it was used for dining purposes.
As the name suggests, the Twin Kiosk/apartments of the Crown Prince consists of two twin privy chambers, although built at different times. The Crown Prince along with other princes used to live here in seclusion for training purposes, until they reached adulthood. These single storey apartments are built on an elevated platform to provide a better view from the inside and to restrict view from the outside. These two rooms are designed with a conical ceiling and the sofa set on the carpeted floor towards the side of the walls.
These apartments reflected the classical style of Ottoman architecture. Unfortunately, the Baroque woodwork and the decorative tiles were later removed. However, the visitors can still see the original paintings of these rooms, dating back to the 16 and the 17th centuries.
As the name suggests, this courtyard belonged to the favourite consorts of the Sultan. The main structure was built by Sultan Osman III and the second floor of the courtyard was built by Sultan Abdulhamid I. This courtyard is the last section of the Istanbul Topkapi Palace Harem that was extended in the 18th century.
As you walk over to the edge, you will be able to witness stunning views along with a large pool and the Boxwood Garden. This place was also where Abdulhamid I used to live with his Harem on the ground floor of the building. This was the first time in history, when the women’s quarter was combined with the Sultan’s. The Sultan, along with this family, lived in a beautiful wooden apartment that was decorated in rococo style.
Built in the 15th century, the Golden Road is a narrow passage that forms the axis of the Harem. This passage extends from the Courtyard of Harem Eunuchs, to the Courtyard of the Queen Mother and the Favourites, all the way to the Marble Terrace in the fourth courtyard. The Sultan used this passage to pass through the Harem and reach the Imperial Terrace. The walls of this passage are painted white in some parts and are bricked or tiled otherwise. It is believed that the name ‘Golden Road’ came from the story that the Sultan used to throw golden coins as he walked by , later to be picked up by the concubines during festivals.
As you pass through the Golden Road, you will come across the Aviary/Harem Gate that is currently used as an exit gate for the tourists. At this end of the courtyard, there used to be a small inner court that existed till the late 19th century. This inner court led towards the Kushane Gate that further leads to the Harem. Earlier, birds were raised in the building around this gate for the Sultan’s table.
On the door of the Kushane Gate, visitors can also see the inscription that mentions that Mahmud I repaired the kitchen of the Kushane. You will also come across the balcony of the Aviary that was built in 1916 during the repair work. Once you leave the Aviary/Harem Gate, your tour of the Topkapi Palace Harem will come to an end.
There are over 400 rooms inside the Istanbul Topkapi Palace Harem including the Turkish baths, kiosks, rooms for the eunuchs, Imperial Hall, courtyards and the Privy Chambers. All these chambers held different significance and were designed in their own unique way adorned with Kütahya or Iznik tiles.
To avoid waiting in long queues, you can simply book your tickets online to the Topkapi Palace Harem, from the comfort of your home. You may also be able to grab some exciting offers or deals for booking the tickets online. An entry ticket will also offer you a tour that will include the entry of the Palace as well as the Harem along with a guide who will enrich you with information and details about the place. For avoiding any inconvenience, it's recommended to book Topkapi Palace tickets online in advance.
The Harem was the official residence for the women including the Queen Mother, the Sultan’s wives, female relatives, children, consorts and concubines. The Palace also had a special chamber for the Sultan for his occasional stays as well as a separate section for the eunuchs who served as attendants and guards.
Life inside the Topkapi Palace’s Harem was quite formal with rules being laid out for every household member which was required to be followed strictly. The Sultan and the Queen Mother were the two persons in charge. Also, the importance of a concubine was dependent on the fact that they delivered Sultan’s children.
Photography inside the Topkapi Palace or the Harem is strictly prohibited. However, you can take casual pictures in other areas of the Palace. Make sure you check with the authority before clicking the pictures to avoid any violations or disappointments.
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If you are in Istanbul then a visit to the Topkapi Palace and the Harem is a must do activity. There is rich history and stories in every corner of this palace and you will get to witness the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. If you are someone who is interested in the history of the royalties, then this is the place for you.
Yes, the Istanbul Topkapi Palace Harem is open for visitors. The best time to visit would be during the months of March - May and September - November as the weather remains pleasant with less crowd. These are not the peak months so it will give you a chance to explore the palace peacefully.
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