The Topkapı Palace, especially its most talked-about section the harem, are on the list of must-visit places of every local and international tourist. Harem, which means forbidden in Farsi, has been written about over and over again, yet its true nature still remains a mystery. It was the private living quarters of the Ottoman Sultan, occupied by his family and several hundred concubines. That’s why it was forbidden for outsiders to enter it and it’s the same reason why there are very little known facts about this curiosity-arousing institution.
Those who want to get a better understanding of the harem should consider visiting it during September or October when a temporary harem exhibition is on display and parallel harem seminars are being held. Antonina Turizm began their harem seminars a few days ago with Prof. Dr. Nurhan Atasoy, a prominent Turkish art historian with a specialization in Ottoman art history, who gave a talk on clothing in the harem.
A typical seminar day starts with a pick-up in Taksim where participators are placed in their buses, and the journey to Topkapı begins. The tour guide, who only speaks in Turkish, gives background information on the harem and the Topkapı Palace on the way. After arrival at the palace, the seminar is held (in Turkish). Afterwards, a guided tour of the - harem exhibition is held, which is on show until October 15.
The harem exhibition; which showcases 270 used pieces, such as paintings, musical instruments, shoes, earrings, ring cases, letters, clothing; sheds light into the life of the harem. The exhibition is divided into five sections: Women of the Sultan’s Family, Sons of the Sultans – Şehzades, Ottoman Sultans, Life in the Harem, and Black Eunuchs and the Chief Black Eunuch. The current state of the harem, although preserved and restored, doesn’t recreate the grandeur of the old days. Seeing a display of objects used by those who lived in the harem helps paint a better picture of it. Some highlight objects include kaftans that are in very good condition, a letter written by the infamous Hürrem Sultan to Sultan Süleyman (also known as Süleyman the Magnificent), a silver classroom globe, a prayer rug from the 18th century, shadow puppets from the 19th century, and Sultan Süleyman’s sword.
Antonina’s seminar program is held concurrent with the harem exhibition and will end on October 9. The upcoming seminars feature Prof. Dr. Gül İrepoğlu who will talk about harem and jewelry on September 18, Dr. Mehmet Kalpaklı who will talk about harem as a cultural center of the palace on September 25, Doç. Dr. Deniz Esemenli who will talk about harem architecture on October 2, and, last but not least, Prof. Dr. İlber Ortaylı who will talk about the Topkapı Palace and its history on October 9.
The seminars and guided tours are all held in Turkish, and the price for this half-day activity is 100 TL. For further information and to reserve a spot, call (0212) 292 28 74.