There were four main sorts of entertainments in the
So that the women of the Harem did not lead an entirely enclosed life,
particularly in the summer, outside trips were organized called beylik
excursions. One of the most famous of these excursion spots in the Tulip Period
was Kağıthane, situated on the stream which feeds the Golden Horn.
Tents and marquees were sent to the excursion spot beforehand, and these were
set up connected by walkways so that the necessary rulings on the non-mixing of
the sexes could be observed, and the women and slaves could wander about freely
without being observed by any men who had joined the expedition who were outside
the stipulated degrees of kinship. The same practices were observed even in the
family gatherings held in the Palace gardens. The excursions were organized by
the Chief and Second Secretaries. The Sultans wives, daughters, slaves,
servants, and concubines climbed into their carriages and set off for the
excursion spot. The convoy was led and accompanied by eunuchs on horseback.
Formerly, many of the Sultans kadınefendis travelled to the places where their
sons were appointed as beylerbeyis or sancakbeyis, and this was called a göç-i
hümâyûn or nakl-i hümâyûn. Those who did not accompany them very often travelled
to the palace at Edirne. In the 19th century, the palaces of Yıldız, Çırağan,
and Beşiktaş took the place of Edirne.
ii. Musical Entertainments
In Islam some music is lawful (helâl) and some is prohibited (harâm). Music
which arouses elevated emotions and love of God is lawful; it silences the
instinctual soul, raising the mind and spirit to lofty matters and eternal
worlds. While music which excites lust and despairing sadness is proscribed.
Music not specified by the Sharia is judged according to its effect on the
spirit and conscience.
Following fetvas issued by religious scholars in the light of the above rulings,
the people of the Harem played musical instruments such as the lute (ud),
violin (kemân), tambourine (def), castanets (çalpâre), flute (ney), and a sort
of lute called a tambur. Groups for dancing, singing, and playing were formed
out of the female slaves in the Harem. The slaves selected to be
instrumentalists received training in the music school or from teachers in their
apartments, particularly in the later period of the Empire. These players were
generally concubines who had risen to the rank of kalfa, on whom there were no
restrictions to their being in the presence of the Sultan or his sons. They were
called sâzende kalfa, and their chief was the Sâzendebaşı.
With the Westernization in the 19th century, the piano entered among the old
stringed instruments, and even became the fashion in the Harem. The Sultans
sons and daughters and even the kadınefendis learnt to play the piano.
With the exception of some entertainments held in the later period, throughout
the Ottoman period, the players played music with a religious flavour which
arouses elevated emotions, and was accompanied by the flute, lute, and similar
instruments. This is learnt from memoirs about court life. Only rarely did any
incidents occur that may be said to be unlawful. The unlawful musical amusements
depicted in some books are entirely figments of the writers imaginations.
iii. Games and Amusements
It is known that the supposedly monotonous life of the Harem was broken from
time to time by story-tellers, puppet shows, and theatricals, and that among
themselves, the people of the Harem played games known as bekiz, köz, and sürme.
In the 19th century, draughts, backgammon, and dominoes were added to these.
Card games never exceeded the permitted limits. The female slaves of the Harem
held musical evenings among themselves twice a week in rooms assigned to them.
Dancing was also performed by a group of them. Formerly, male dancers were
called çengi, but later they were called köçek and çengi was used for the girl
dancers. But on occasion some of the Harem girls would dress up in mens outfits
and dance the köçek.
After the Tanzimat, these old dances were abandoned in favour of European
amusements. European-style dancing was introduced to the Harem in the reign of
Selim III, and this was followed by the theatre and operetta. Nevertheless,
it was also attempted to keep these innovations within the bounds of the licit.
There were various ceremonies inside and outside the Harem which the women took
part in, apart from births, betrothals, and weddings.
The Friday Procession (Cuma Selamlığı): Whenever they were in Istanbul, the
Sultans attended the Friday Prayers in one of the big mosques, in the part of
the mosque reserved for them. It is recorded that the mothers and Hazinedar
Ustas of the Sultans of the later Ottoman period accompanied them to the Friday
Prayers. Those of his daughters and kadınefendis who wished could also take
part. But this custom was restricted to the late period.
Holy Nights (Kandil) and the Surre Alayı: The Holy Kandil Nights were very
lively times in the Harem. Particularly in later times, the congratulations were
offered in specially prepared halls. An enclosed area was prepared in the hall,
and the invited ladies would take their places together with the Sultans wives
and daughters. After the Mevlid (anniversary of the Prophets birthday) had been
recited and prayers offered, the Sultan would rise and go to the Harem, where he
would receive the ladies congratulations.
On Beraat Kandili (the sacred night of 14-15th Şaban), the camel litter
carrying the Sultans annual gifts to Mecca and Medina (Mahmil-i Şerêf) was
brought into the Harem garden by the Chief Eunuch and other Harem eunuchs amid
cries of Allahu Akbar! God is Most Great! All the women of the Harem would
visit it here. The following morning the procession (Surre Alayı) would be
organized. The Sultans wives and daughters all had poor families in Mecca and
Medina whom they had undertaken to provide for, and to whom they sent money,
goods, and other charity. All these were placed in bags and sealed, then handed
over to the procession by means of the Chief Eunuch. The women watched the
procession from suitable vantage points.
Ramadan: When the month of Ramadan came round, a religious atmosphere pervaded
the whole Palace and Harem. Everyone kept the fast, and those who could recited
Ramadan in the Harem was wonderful. Preparations began a week beforehand; a
thorough cleaning was done, and large jugs of every sort of sherbet and foods
for breaking the fast were sent from the Imperial Pantries to all the
apartments. On the first night of Ramadan gilded cages were set up on all the
tables, prayer mats were spread and an imam and two muezzins with fine voices
would come. Prayers were performed and religious songs were sung. At night the
doors would be opened, the trays of foods brought, and everyone would stay up
until the cannon was fired for the start of the fast. At noon a religious
teacher would come and preach. The cannon would be fired at sunset and the fast
broken with Zamzam water, the tables set for iftar, iced lemonade and sherbets
drunk... In Ramadan, more than anything the Harem resembled a mosque, everyone
passed their days in worship...
Visiting the Mantle of the Prophet (PBUH) (Hirka-i Saâdet): On the fifteenth of
Ramadan, the Sultan, the princes, the Sultans wives and all his family and
attendants would visit the apartments housing the holy relics. This ceremony
gained greater importance after the move to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1853. Then, all
the women of the Harem would don their finest gowns, climb into the carriages
waiting outside and travel in grand procession to Topkapı. They would be
accompanied by eunuchs on horseback. The procession would enter by the Carriage
Gate and would be met by the eunuchs there. On arriving at the Harem, they were
met by the women conducting the ceremonies and taken to apartments to rest until
the doors of the relics apartments were opened.
When the doors were opened, the women would line up in order of precedence and
move towards the Holy Mantle. First would be the Sultans Mother, if alive.
Everyones heads were veiled. Incense would be burning and from behind a curtain
would come the sound of a fine-voiced muezzin reciting the Quran. The women
would put their faces to the blessed Mantle of the Prophet (PBUH). Afterwards
they would greet the Sultan and return to their apartments.
Night of Power Procession (Kadir Alayı): A procession was held on the 27th
Ramadan, the Night of Power. Those held in the Nusretiye Mosque in Tophane or
the Hamidiye Mosque in Yıldız Palace were always magnificent. The women of the
Harem would watch from their carriages, drawn by pairs of fine horses, parked in
the squares outside. They would watch the fireworks set off and after the
prayers for the occasion, make a short tour of the city to watch the
celebrations. They would then return to the Harem.
Celebrating the Feast at the End of Ramadan (Muâyede): Preparations for the
feast marking the end of Ramadan (Bayram) would continue for days. A week
beforehand the cleaning would be done and new clothes obtained. Roundabouts,
swings, and other means of enjoyment would be set up in the Palace gardens. The
princes, and at night the princesses, would enjoy themselves here.
The mutual congratulating of the Feast in the Palace was called muâyede. It was
held in front of the Middle Gate of Topkapı Palace, and after the move to
Dolmabahçe, in the Festival Hall.
When in Topkapı, the Sultan would perform the prayers of the feast in Aya Sophia
or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, processing there with splendid pomp and circumstance.
The women of the Harem would go beforehand in their carriages to where the
procession passed, to watch it. On the morning of the Feast, the women of the
Sultans family who lived in palaces outside Topkapı or later Dolmabahçe would
come to greet the Sultan. They would be met at the Harem door by the eunuchs,
and then taken inside it by the Chief Housekeeper and Secretaries (Kethüda Kadın
and Kâtibe). They would be shown to apartments prepared for them.
After greeting and congratulating each other on the Feast, the women of the
Harem would await the Sultan. With great ceremony and directed by the Hazinedars
and Secretaries, the Sultan would enter. This was announced by the Chief
Secretary in loud voice. Then in order of precedence, bowing so low as to touch
the ground, all the women of the Harem would greet and congratulate him. The
Sultan would make return visits to his wives and daughters.
While the women were congratulating each other inside, celebrations would be
held outside in the courtyard. The children would look on as clowns performed
accompanied by pipes and drums, boy dancers danced, and jugglers and puppeteers
gave their shows. The women would watch from behind their latticed windows.
Guests and the people of the Harem would be invited to the Sultans guest rooms,
where entertainments of a lawful nature would be laid on.
 Uluçay, Çağatay, Harem II, Ankara 1992, p. 150-151;
Ottoman Archives, Cevdet-Saray, No: 3858. See Penzer, N. M., The Harem, London
 Ünüvar, Safiye, Saray Hâtıralarım, Istanbul 1964, p. 19; Uluçay, Çağatay,
Harem II, p. 152; Topkapı Palace Archives, No: E. 4002, 11842.
 Nursî, Bediüzzaman Said, İşârâtul-İcâz, İstanbul, Sözler Yayınevi 1986,
 Ottoman Archives, İbnül-Emin, Saray, No: 710, 711, 883, 877, 946; Uluçay,
Çağatay, Harem II, p. 154.
 Uluçay, Çağatay, Harem II, p. 154-157; Ottoman Archives, İbnül-Emin, Saray,
 Osmanoğlu, Ayşe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, Istanbul 1994, p. 73-77.
 Osmanoğlu, Ayşe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, p. 62.
 Osmanoğlu, Ayşe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, p. 65-64; Uluçay, Çağatay, Harem
II, p. 160-161.
 Osmanoğlu, Ayşe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, p. 65-68.
 Osmanoğlu, Ayşe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, p. 88; see Hünernâme, IU Library.
 dOhsson, Muradgea Ignace, Tableau Général de LEmpire Othoman, Paris 1790,
iii, (Turkish trans. Ayda Düz, Harem-i Hümâyûn, Hayat Tarih Mecmuası Ilavesi,
İstanbul 1972), p. 1-32; Osmanoğlu, Ayþe, Babam Sultan Abdülhamid, p. 72-79.