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The harem in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is world famous and the rooms can be visited on a guided tour.

The Harem at Topkapi Palace

The word harem comes from the Arabic word “Haram” and means forbidden. The meaning of the word alone and the many stories that entwine around the women’s chambers of the palace, let the fantasies bloom.

At Topkapi Palace, visitors can tour what was once the most famous and largest harem. The normal tickets to visit the Topkapi Palace do not apply here. Those who want to visit the chambers must buy a separate ticket, which costs the equivalent of about 6.50 euros. The rooms can be visited as part of a guided tour.

At the end of the 16th century, approximately 500 harem ladies lived in the lavishly furnished 400 rooms. However, only a few rooms are open for viewing. At first, the visitors get into the chambers that were at the disposal of the eunuchs. After a big main gate the rooms of the sultan’s mother follow. She was one of the most powerful women in the palace and her rooms were richly decorated and opulently furnished. The sultan’s mother was considered the head of the harem and every matter had to be settled with her. After the appointment of a Sultan, his mother was made the “Walide Sultan”. She was subordinated to the “Kaya kadin”, the administrator of the harem as well as the four main wives of the sultan, the “Kadinlar”. If the sultan changed his mind, the four main wives could be exchanged at will.

There was a lot of intrigue in the women’s chambers. Each of the ladies wanted to give birth to the sultan’s first son, because after the sultan’s death this harem lady would automatically become the most powerful woman in the empire. The women who lived here were not of Muslim origin, because according to Muslim principles, sisters of the faith were not allowed to be enslaved. Thus, the harem ladies came from very different parts of the world, often the sultan also received a wife as a gift.

Wealthy families could send their daughters to be educated in the women’s chambers of the palace. These girls were allowed to leave the harem later for the purpose of marriage.

Personal tip

The harem can only be visited in conjunction with the Topkapi Palace and an additional entrance fee is charged. Due to the interesting history and architecture, you should not miss a visit.

More Info

AdresseHarem, Selimiye, 34668 Üsküdar/Istanbul, Türkei