Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Ottoman Harem [Part 1 ]

Cariyes - Concubines

Life in the Ottoman harem was very different from what was imagined by Europeans.  In Ottoman society, as an institution, harem life reflected the secluded privacy of family life.

The 'cariyes' served the sultan's wife or his mother. Under the guidance of the sultan's mother, they were taught to read and write, play music, and to follow the intricate rules of palace etiquette and protocol. They were trained and educated in the skills and accomplishments considered appropriate for women at the time. After 9 years in service they were allowed to marry.  Very few were honoured even by the privilege of waiting at the sultan's table, and still fewer became royal wives.  Hurrem Sultan  was a good, but rare, example of palace opportunities for cariyes.  Among the cariyes it is commonly believed that there were many in the harem from noble families of Europe. - for example:

Hürrem Sultan, maiden name 'Alexandra', wife of Süleyman the Magnificent, Ukrainian- Polish
Nur-Banu "Princess of Light" ,  maiden name ' Cecilia Venier-Baffo' , wife of Sultan Selim II, Italian
Kösem Sultan "Mahpeyker",  maiden name ' Anastasia', wife of Sultan Ahmet I, Greek
Hatice Turhan Sultan, maiden name 'Nadya' wife of Sultan Ibrahim,

Nakshidil "embroidered on the tongue " , maiden name 'Aimee du Buc de Rivery', wife of Sultan Mahmud I, French   [ this one remains doubtful, although there is some evidence that she was Aimée, cousin of Napoleon's Josephine]

An Iqbal
After nine years of service the harem girls or 'cariyes' were given their leaving document. In addition, they received a set of diamond earrings and a ring, a trousseau and some gold as their marriage portion. After the harem, their lives and well-being were closely supervised or else suitable husbands were found for them. Outside harem life, they were renowned for their good breeding and for their discretion, never being known to reveal any intimate details about the royal family to outsiders. 
Nevertheless, graffiti on the harem walls shows that not all cariyes were contented with their lot:  'Dilferib whose heart burns / Is wretched / O God / Alas alas.'

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