Harem Life



Women in Harem




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Death of Sultanas

Agreat deal of mystery surrounds the woman who sleeps next to Mehmed theConqueror in a nameless coffin. The mullahs (Moslem theologians) claim it is lrene, Iater declared an Orthodox saint, with whom the sultan had become obsessed: ''He not only consumed dayes and nights with her but bumed with continual jealousie, according to William Pointer's 1566 allegory Palace of Pleasure.

He offered her everything, but Irene would not abjure her faith. The mullahs reproached the sultan for courting a gavur (infidel). According to Richard Davey's Sultan and His Subjects (1897), one day Mehmed gathered all the mullahs in the courtyard of his palace. Irene stood in the center , concealed under a glittering veil, which the Sultan slowly lifted, revealing her exquisite beauty .''You see, she is more beautiful than any woman you have ever seen, he said, ''lovelier than the houries of your dreams. And 1 love her more than 1 do my own life. But my life is worthless compared to my love for lslam.'' He seized and twisted the long, golden tresses of Irene and, with one stroke of his scimitar, severed her head from her body. ln his poem Irene (1708), Charles Goring immortalizes this excruciating moment.

Süleyman the Magnifıcent ordered the execution of his kadin Gülfem when she failed one night to appear in his bed. During one of his debauches, the mad Sultan lbrahim ordered al1 his women seized during the night, stuffed in sacks, and thrown into the Bosphorus. One was saved by French sailors and taken to Paris, where she must have had some stories to tell.
Among the many powerful and interesting sultanas who lived, loved, and ruled in the Seraglio, three deserve special attention. Each embodies the nuances of the century in which she lived. Roxalena (1526- 58) was the fırst woman legal1y to marry a sultan, move into the Seraglio with her entourage, and gain complete ascendancy over the greatest of the sultans, Süleyman the Magnifıcent. Kösem Sultana reigned the longest and saw the most. And Nakshedil Sultana -Aimee de Rivery-lived the sort of life legends are made of.

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