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Ottomans ruled over one of the most expansive, rich, and powerful empires in history. Numerous history books have been written about the mighty Turks’ military conquests, but no battleground victory has evoked as much wonderment as the royals’ extravagant lives played out within the confines of impenetrable imperial walls. The image of beautiful and sensual women hailing from the four corners of the earth, competing to serve the aging, yet lustful Sultans, is etched in the universal consciousness. The delicate exquisiteness of these gorgeous slaves, thriving in captivity, has been a favorite subject of art and literature for centuries.

The harem by definition is the women’s quarter in a Muslim household. The imperial Harem at the Topkapi Palace (which was later relocated to the Dolmabahce Palace), on the other hand, was a sprawling 400 room compound containing the households of the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother), the Sultan’s favorites, and the concubines --whose main job was to please the Sultan in the bed chamber. While few of these concubines rose through the ranks of the hierarchy to enjoy security, power, and fineries, most performed as the servants necessary for the Harem’s daily functioning.

Those lucky enough to bear a child to the Sultan were ordained ‘Sultanas’ and enjoyed a life of luxury in opulent surroundings. The historical articles displayed at the Topkapi Palace Museum offer clues as to how these mythical creatures lived. The imagination, artistry, and craftsmanship making this lush existence a possibility still survives. Today the best examples of time honored Turkish handcrafts can be seen at the Grand Bazaar, locally known as Kapali Carsi (pronounced "char-shi"). Ottoman inspired hand woven carpets embellished with intricate ethnic designs, exquisitely embroidered tunics, silk tapestries, sumptuous pillows and draperies, stunning gold and silver jewelry, detailed leather clothes and accessories, elaborately hand painted ceramics and more can be discovered in this colossal marketplace.

The origins of Kapali Carsi can be traced back to two large warehouses that were converted into a market immediately after Fatih the Conqueror invaded Istanbul. As the years went by, workshops and small stores continued to sprout around this area, slowly expanding and morphing into the world’s largest covered market.

Bargaining at the Grand Bazaar is a necessity. Every shop owner inflates prices with the expectation that customers will demand a discount. Even if you don’t intend to buy, in order to experience the magic of the Orient one must see the Grand Bazaar -- magnificent with its endless labyrinth of colorful shop windows, traditional Turkish coffee houses, restaurants emanating delicious scents of spicy delicacies, and lively crowds.

Historical Note: Ottoman Fashion as Seen through the Eyes of a Westerner

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, spent two years in Turkey in the early 1700's, and during her stay wrote many letters describing the traditional garbs and habits of Turkish women. Here is a glimpse of what she had to say:

"The first piece of my dress is a pair of drawers, very full, that reach to my shoes and conceal the legs...They are of a thin rose color damask brocaded with silver flowers, my shoes of white kid leather embroidered with gold. Over this hangs my smock of a fine white silk gauze edged with embroidery...The anterior is a waistcoat made close to the shape, of white and gold damask, with very long sleeves....My caftan of the same stuff with my drawers is a robe exactly fitted to my shape and reaching my feet..." (Halsband 326).

Nowadays close reproductions of similar folkloric attire can be found at the Grand Bazaar. To reinvent the glory days of the Ottomans, don an embroidered tunic with matching shalvar pants and enjoy a Turkish coffee at the Ciragan Palace located on the Bosporus.














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