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The Harem at The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul – a place you have to visit!

August 3, 2015

Today I was lucky enough to visit the Harem in the world famous Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. I have been there before many many years ago but it is my first visit since having kids.

I went alone, my dearest chose to relax in the shade at a nearby coffee shop. I rented an audio guide and was transported back in time. A time where Sultans reigned and held a Harem of women.

Firstly you may wonder what the word ‘Harem’ means. It is a word that means “forbidden.” Wikipedia explains that it refers to the sphere of women in what is usually a polygynous household and their enclosed quarters. 

The Harem was build at the end of the 16th century. It is a labyrinth of around 400 intricately tiled rooms, connected by courtyards and fountained gardens. It was home to over one thousand harem women, children and black eunuchs.

I was very lucky today as the Harem was not that busy. Access is gained to the Harem by first getting a ticket to entre the Topkapi Palace, and then you need to buy another ticket for the Harem. A little tip, visit the Harem first then go to see the other exhibitions. The Harem is a section not to be missed.

In an era when Sultans ruled, the Harem, in what was then Constantinople, was filled with girls who were mostly beautiful Circassians from the North Caucasus. Muslim women were forbidden to be concubines, so these mainly white, Christian slave girls, were used instead. There could be up to 300 in residence within the complex at one time. Their main aim was to serve the reigning Sultan at that time.

Walking through the myriad of rooms, corridors and stairs which make up the Harem I tried to imagine what these girls felt. I tried to feel empathy for how difficult it must have been to be imprisoned in this golden cage in a country so far away from their homes. A strange land, strangers and an unknowing of what lied ahead.


The Harem

The Harem is absolutely beautiful, the stained glass windows, amazing tiles, guilded mirrors which remain today give us only a mere glimse of how it must have been 400 years ago, but no matter how beautiful, the girls of the Harem were infact prisoners in this caged golden palace.


Stained glass


hand painted doors


Mother of pearl encrusted doors

A mystical world of a bygone era, so intact to this day you will feel like you stepped back in time.

If you visit Istanbul make sure The Harem is on your list of ‘must see’ places! 

Find out more here –

Love from Istanbul xxx

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