Friday, June 18, 2010
One of the more disturbing and beautiful sites in Istanbul is the Harem, a decadent complex within the Topkapi Palace where foreign ladies were held.The Lonely Planet offers a recap of Harem life here. An excerpt:
"Upon entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading, writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the sultan's mother and finally, if they were the best, to the sultan himself ...
"As for concubines, Islam permits as many as a man can support in proper style. The Ottoman sultans had the means to support many, sometimes up to 300, though they were not all in the Harem at the same time."
It's difficult to fathom such an arrangement today, and to a woman in 2010, horrifying to imagine such a life. Still, the harem decor is beautiful and worthy of a visit.
The rooms themselves are not disturbing — they mimic the delicate decoration and architecture of any other building within the palace grounds, at least to my untrained eye, but the thought of the establishment's purpose gave me the shivers. It felt creepy to be thinking of all of the tourists, myself included, wandering the chambers as a form of education and entertainment.
Posted by Brianne at 6:12 PM