Walking up to the gatehouse of the Topkapi palace is unimpressive, yet behind the stone walls originally built more than 500 years ago, is a staggering collections of courtyards, rooms, and imperial places that portray the varied and certainly colourful life of the Ottoman sultans and their entourage.
Having invaded Constantinople in 1453, Topkapi Palace was the first home for the Ottoman Sultans, used until the beginning of the 20th century when it was abandoned in favour of the newly built Dolmabahce Palace which showcased western architectural themes of that time.
These days, the palace is an extensive museum holding artefacts and relics. Visitors walk around kitchens that cooked food for more than 10,000 people, they pass through the highly ceremonial circumcision rooms; they view the extensive armoury and also get an insight into the clothes and jewels worn by Sultans, their wives, children and servants. The section that usually garners the most admiration though is the Harem.
The Harem of Topkapi Palace
Life was extremely formal as well, in that the sultan would tell the eunuch which woman he had chosen for the night. She would then bathe and prepare herself, ready for the sultan to come to her chamber. The date and time was recorded in case she fell pregnant and if this did happen, she gained higher status.
Obviously this intense network of sexual relationships and the potential off-springs bought with it many more problems.
The Mad Monarchs Website says of Murad IV of Turkey (1612-1640)…
Knowing the strife among the harem women, Sultana Kösem had tried to encourage her son to homosexual love, showing him only beautiful boys and keeping him away from girls. During the rest of his life Murad was to show both feelings of lust and hate for women.
Once Murad encountered a group of women singing in a meadow and ordered all of them to be drowned for disturbing his peace. When a boat with ladies came too close to the harem walls, Murad ordered his gunners to open fire, sinking the boat and drowning them all.
At other times, he forced his harem women to jump naked into a pool. He liked to fire harmless pellets at their bodies or fill the pool with so much water that they had to jump up and down to take a breath.
There was also the problem of who would succeed the throne. In the beginnings, half-brothers or brothers would fight each other for the throne, when the ruling sultan passed. This then changed, as to the eldest male had a right to the throne.
As a result, many male heirs that were not direct successors spent their life in the “cage” only to be killed by their half-brother or brother when he took the throne. Naturally, life does not work in some set order and quite a few sultans who were barking mad, became Sultan ruler.
The same website says of Sultan Ahmed (1590-1617) and his mad son Mustafa…
Sultan Ahmed I used to take a different woman to his bed each night, although he subsequently favoured two women: Hadice and Kösem (1589-1651). Hadice was the mother of Osman II (1604-1622) and Kösem gave birth to Murad IV (1612-1640), Bayezid and Mad Ibrahim (1615-1648).
When Ahmed died of typhus in November 1617, at the age of 28, his most powerful concubine, Kösem, opposed the succession of his eldest son, Osman, because she was afraid that Osman would execute her sons. It was due to her influence that the completely insane Mustafa was released from the “Cage” and declared Sultan
Over time, Ottoman sultans and their extreme paranoia combined with unlimited wealth caused them to live life behind the walls of the palace, spending their days in idyllic pursuits with no idea of what was happening in their kingdom.
Ottoman sultans that were fierce fighters and clever leaders were instead a fixture of history. Many historians say that the harem, succession rules and intense competition between male heirs ultimately led to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, a force that was once so powerful, it ruled nearly half the earth.