The Harem-i Hümayûn (Imperial Harem) of Topkapı Sarayı was the location of the private apartments of the Ottoman Sultans. It also housed the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother), his children, concubines, wives, and their servants. Added to the palace in the late 16th century, there are over 100 rooms in the Harem, but only a handful are open to the public.
A ticket to the palace does not include a visit to the Harem. This must be purchased outside the entrance to the Harem in the II. Avlu (2nd Courtyard) after passing through security. As of September 2016, tickets cost 25TL and include a visit to the Zülüflü Baltacılar Koğuşu (Dormitory of the Halberdiers with Tresses). On all of my visits to the Harem, the Dormitory was closed for renovation.
The first room visited is the Dolaplı Kubbe (Domed Cupboard). It was built in 1587 by Murat III for keeping the deeds of trust, financial records for the Sultan and Imperial Family, and money from charitable foundations of the Harem. It was administered by the Chief Harem Eunuch. The room leads into the Şadırvanlı Sofa (Hall with the Fountain), which in turn leads past the Karaağalar Mescidi (Mosque of the Black Eunuchs). Both are beautifully decorated with İznik tiles.
The Karaağalar Taşlığı ve Dairesi (Courtyard and Apartments of the Black Eunuchs) is next. This is where the Black Eunuchs lived. They were mostly from central Africa and were in charge of security for the Harem and making sure nobody unauthorized would enter. The Eunuchs’ quarters face the courtyard.
The colonnaded section was the home of the Kızlar Ağası (Chief Black Eunuch), who was the 4th highest ranking official in the Ottoman Empire. He was in charge of the education of the Ottoman princes. The School of Princes is on the ground floor while the apartment of the Kızlar Ağası is above.
The end of the Karaağalar Taşlığı leads to the Cümle Kapısı (main entrance to the Harem). After passing through the gate, the first stop is the Valide Sultan Taşlığı (Queen Mother’s Courtyard), which is directly in the center of the Harem.
A room that was open on the courtyard during one of my visits is the Ocaklı Sofa (Hall with the Fireplace). I was able to admire firsthand some of the delicate restoration work that is being done in the Harem.
Next, it’s through the Cariyeler Koridoru (Corridor of the Concubines), where the Black Eunuchs would leave meals on a long counter for the concubines to serve to residents of the Harem. The corridor leads to the Cariyeler ve Kadınefendiler Taşlığı (Courtyard of the Sultan’s Consorts and Concubines). This is where all of the consorts and concubines of the Sultan lived.
Frescoes of landscapes dating back to the late 18th century adorn the walls outside the entrance to the Valide Sultan Dairesi (Queen Mother’s Apartment), which is covered in Harem: Part 2.