The Topkapı Palace Museum and the Harem


The Topkapı Palace was originally built during the years 1465–1478 by Sultan Mehmed II, known as “The Conqueror.” Over time, new buildings were added as the need arose, giving it its final form in the mid-nineteenth century. The Topkapı Palace was the principal residence of the Ottoman sultans until the Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1856. It was converted into a museum in 1924, and partly opened to the public in 1927. Different sections of the museum house Holy Relics such as the Prophet’s mantle, strands from his beard, and other objects that belonged to him; the sultans’ thrones; the 86-carat Kaşıkçı diamond; the ceremonial sword of Sultan Mehmed II; and an edict issued by the second Ottoman sultan, Orhan known as “The Holy Warrior.”

The Imperial Harem was first located at the Edirne Palace, and then, after the conquest of Constantinople, at the Old Palace in Bayezid. It was moved into the Topkapı Palace by Sultan Süleyman I, known to the West as “The Magnificent” and to the Turks as “The Lawgiver.” Most of the buildings of the new Harem were built by the great architect Sinan. The Harem was not only the sultan’s private apartment but also the site where the women who had become part of the imperial household were educated and trained. Those who were considered able would then be appointed to various positions, some would be married off to high-level officials, and others would work in various capacities according to their abilities. Not very much is known about the Ottoman Imperial Harem since, after all, the word “harem” itself comes from a root that signifies “forbidden.” In this respect, the orientalist descriptions in western art and literature, involving naked concubines frolicking about and an environment of continuous amusement and pleasure, are nothing more than fiction.


Sultanahmet, Fatih - İstanbul
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