The Harem tour at Topkapı Sarayı continues from the courts of the Black Eunuchs and concubines into the Valide Sultan Dairesi (Apartments of the Queen Mother). The rooms were constructed in the 1580s under Murat III. Before that time, the Valide Sultan lived her entire life at Eski Saray (Old Palace) in nearby Beyazıt.
When a woman would become Valide Sultan, she would live at Eski Saray and then move into Topkapı after a grand procession. The Valide Sultan was the highest authority in charge of the Harem, and many had quite an important influence over the Sultan. However, once their son died or was dethroned, they had to move back to Eski Saray to live out their days.
The current look of the Valide Sultan Dairesi dates back to 1789, when Selim III had the rooms renovated in a rococo style. In the main room, it’s possible to see 17th century İznik tiles along with inlaid mother of pearl along the walls. Frescoes adorn the upper sections.
Next is the Hünkâr Hamamı (Imperial Bath), which was used by the Sultan, his mother, and women of the Harem. It was constructed in the 1580s by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It’s heated from the bottom up like a Roman bath and contains a caldarium, tepidarium and frigidarium.
The bath was once decorated with İznik tiles, but they were removed by Ahmet I for use in the Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) in 1609. The walls are now whitewashed or marble, while the floor is made of marble. A golden screen was for the purpose of protecting the Sultan and his mother from assassination attempts as they bathed.
The hamam opens into the Hünkâr Sofası (Imperial Hall), one of the most impressive rooms in the palace. Also known as the Throne Room, this was where receptions and ceremonies were held as well as entertainment acts for the Sultan and the Harem. Out of all of my visits to the palace, the hall was only open once.
The dome above the hall is the largest in the palace while the entire hall is decorated with fine craftsmanship.
The Sultan’s throne is located in the center while the gallery of the Valide Sultan is off to the side.
One item of particular interest is a clock that was a gift from Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Great Britain in the 19th century.
From the Hünkâr Sofası, the tour of the Harem continues to the private apartments of the Sultan, which are covered in Harem: Part 3.