Extract

Sanctuary of the Sultans

The harem unveiled

Hidden from the view of visitors trailing through the Topkapı Palace, a modest door in a narrow corridor in the Harem opens into an empty but splendid set of privy chambers. Cornucopia was given rare access to these rooms, which cast light on the way imperial tastes changes during the 18th century and how Dutch tiles became such a prominent feature of the decor. Nurhan Atasoy and fellow art historians from Turkey and Holland tell the story. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg.

  • The Privy Chamber of Abdülhamid I (1774–89)

Most of the sultans’ privy chambers and pavilions in the Topkapı Harem are closed to the public and will remain so until ways can be found to exhibit them sensitively – no mean feat given the fragility of the murals, the gilded fretwork, and the rush flooring that once protected precious carpets from damp and friction.

Cornucopia was allowed to tiptoe through two of the privy chambers at the palace built by sultans for themselves and their families rather than for public show. Filling out the picture of how life was lived in this inner sanctum, the palace museum organised an exhibition this summer (2012) of some 300 related objects, entitled Harem: The House of the Sultan. The book of the exhibition contains useful essays on the history of the Harem, and how it was built and added to, layer upon layer, over the centuries, until they ran out of room and had to build huge platforms and terraces out over Gülhane Park, literally creating pavilions in the air.

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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 48
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