I find myself in tile heaven the moment we step into the first room.
rooms are open to the public.)
The word harem means forbidden. It was applied to the spaces where women – who were to be secluded from the public – lived. Thus the harem at Topkapı was where the women of the imperial court lived. It housed the powerful mother of the sultan, consorts, concubines and their servants, princes, and the harem eunuchs who oversaw the administration of it all. The sultan had rooms here too. It must have been a crowded, uneasy mix.
Today, even packed with tourists, the beautiful rooms seem empty, aloof, tolerant of our presence here, but not welcoming. It’s hard to imagine actually spending one's life here.
Roxelana has come down through history as a great schemer and, while a great degree of cleverness and ruthlessness would seem necessary to go from slave to queen, I wonder what the truth about her and the other women of the harem really is. Like women everywhere throughout time, the harem would have included the timid and the brave, intelligent and dull, funny and dour, heartless and kind. How those dynamics played out in these beautiful - but ultimately claustrophobic - rooms would be a fascinating story. Unfortunately, it seems to be a story that never escaped the confines of the harem itself. It is a story that seems lost to time.
All that is left to us today are these lovely rooms, a few Western fantasies expressed in art and literature, and our own imagining.
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