“The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate,
But in this world a spell of health is the best state.
What men call sovereignty is a worldly strife and constant war;
Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates.”
– Sultan Suleiman i, aka Suleiman the Magnificent
While most of Ramadan traditions are derived from the past, one of the most recent Ramadan traditions is the abundance of TV shows produced specifically for Ramadan, promoted heavily before the month and eagerly awaited and watched throughout. It is safe to say that Ramadan TV shows are today an inseparable part of the spirit of the month. Like the stocking of the pantry, once the billboards are hung to promote the shows, you sense the closeness of the approaching month. Because of the magnitude of the shows aired during Ramadan, channel providers are now offering recording services as well as later viewing on their websites in case you miss anything. This way, most people get to watch most programmes even if they are aired at conflicting times. The shows range from drama, to comedy, short films, historical documentaries, competitions, reportage, cook shows and a most recent cook show drama… you name it, it is included. One such huge show that many eagerly wait for is
Hareem Al Sultan حريم السلطان
A TV Drama about the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent, highlighting life at the Harem and the many ladies characteristic of the era known as the ‘Sultanate of Women’.
One summer, I was visiting my mother who would ask us not to distract her when the show is airing as she’d sit to watch the episode. Being in the same room with her and not allowed to talk (she would literally shush me! lol) I took notice of the dresses and jewelry the ladies were wearing. After the episode is finished, I would express this admiration to mum who told me that authentic jewelry and dress replicas were given to these actresses and that the show was filmed at the actual Topkapi palace. I am not sure how accurate this info is, but everyone seems to think it is.
Anything historical takes my fancy, so I would sit with her and watch, and in a couple of days I was completely hooked. Having become hooked to the drama part as well, which is torture for me as I am not one for this much anticipation over such a stretch of time lol; I became very interested in finding out the real historical events as the characters fascinated me.
So – and in case you too were curious – I thought to include some of this info I have been reading in a post and share with you some of the real historical information about the Sultan Suleiman and the Harem.
Good to know
A lot of people are currently basing their knowledge of the Ottoman Sultans, the Harem and the traditions of the palace on this popular – so far 3 series – TV Drama. The show does base its story line on some historical events, however, this Drama is not an accurate record of history as most of its events were amplified and at times distorted for ends of Dramatic production.
The Drama & The Reality
The TV drama derives its plot from a part of the history of the Ottoman empire, known as the the Era of the Sultanate of Women*.
*The Sultanate of Women (Kadınlar Saltanatı)
was the almost 130-year period during the 16th and 17th centuries when the women of the Imperial Harem of the Ottoman Empire exerted extraordinary political influence.
Many of the Sultans during this time were minors and it was their mothers, leaders of the Harem, who effectively ruled the Empire. Most of these women were of slave origin. This is mainly because the House of Osman felt that no other royal house was perceived as being prominent enough to be worth marrying into.
With that said, some of the events in the TV drama are not accurate to events that actually took place at that time.
When women become mothers of potential Sultans, naturally, power struggles are bound to surface and of course they did in Topkapi too. These struggles have been the highlight of the TV drama, but even these have been blown out of proportion and left to the interpretations of the production requirements.
Stories of betrayals, cheating husbands, love affairs, murders… are mostly dramatic interpretations and if have any trace in truth have been significantly blown out of proportions.
To this effect, many of the characters are kind of distorted in the drama, as in history lots of those characters have actually majorly contributed to their empire and its political relations as well as the advancement of their people. Here is a more accurate historical account of some of the major characters and what really took place at the Harem.
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent
السلطان سليمان القانوني
Suleiman was the 10th and longest ruling Sultan of the Ottoman empire. His reign lasted for 46 years, until his death.
In his life, Suleiman became a prominent monarch of 16th century Europe. He personally led Ottoman armies on many occasions and annexed many countries to his empire. Also during his reign, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and through the Persian Gulf.
He had also personally instituted major legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation & criminal law, all of which fixed the form of the Ottoman Empire for centuries after his death. This is perhaps one of his most significant achievements as it played a huge part in the creation of many legislations of internal and international laws put to practice everywhere in the world today..
He was very well educated, spoke 5 languages, and besides being a distinguished poet and goldsmith he became a patron of culture overseeing the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire in art, literature and architectural development.
A romantic at heart, Suleiman was infatuated with his wife Roxelana, so much so that he broke 2 major, centuries-old, Ottoman traditions. The first, by marrying Roxelana as Sultans never married concubines. And the second by allowing her to remain with him at court for the rest of her life, as tradition was that when imperial heirs came of age they would be sent along with their mothers to govern remote provinces of the empire.
Suleiman died in 1566 and their son Selim ii succeeded him.
Hurrem Sultan – Roxelana
خرم سلطان – هيام
The originally Ukrainian Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska, also known as Roxelana, and eventually as Hurrem, was the wife of Sultan Suleiman and the mother of 5 of his children, including Selim ii who succeeded Suleiman in ruling the empire.
Hurrem’s influence over Suleiman was legendary. Starting off as a concubine, she quickly captured the attention of Suleiman, who eventually freed her and married her in a break of tradition that was greatly astonishing to observers in both the palace and the city, as this made him the first Emperor to have a wed wife since Orhan Gazi in the mid 1300’s. This strengthened her position and paved the way for her to become as she is known today, one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history and a prominent figure during the era of the Sultanate of Women. It also eventually led to her son Selim ii to inherit the empire.
During her life, and through her husband, Hurrem achieved power and influenced the politics of the Ottoman empire, besides playing an active role in the empire’s state affairs. She had acted as Suleiman’s advisor on matters of state, and seems to have had an influence upon foreign affairs and international politics. Two of her letters to King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland have been preserved, and during her lifetime, the Ottoman Empire generally had peaceful relations with the Polish state within a Polish–Ottoman alliance.
This stature along with the Sultan’s infatuation with her attracted the jealousy of her rivals (the Harem). More so than ever, when Hurrem gave birth to her first son Mehmed (1521-1543) and then Selim therefore becoming a very influential rival for
Mahidevran’s status of being the mother of the sultan’s only son was destroyed by Hurrem’s two sons. The rivalry between the two women was partially suppressed by Ayşe Hafsa Sultan (Suleiman’s mother) but after her death, and as a result of the bitter rivalry, a fight between the two women broke out, with Mahidevran beating Hurrem. This angered Suleiman, who subsequently sent Mahidevran to live with her son, Şehzade Mustafa, in the provincial capital of Manisa. This exile was shown officially as the traditional training of heir apparents. Unlike in the TV Drama, Mehidevran never went back to live in the palace.
Many years later, towards the end of Suleiman’s long reign, the rivalry between his sons became evident. Furthermore, both Hurrem Sultan and the grand vizier Rustem Pasha (Hurrem’s son-in-law) turned Suleiman against Mustafa when the latter was accused of causing unrest among army troops during the campaign against Safavid Persia and planning a rebellion. Consequently, Sultan Suleiman ordered the execution of his son Mustafa.
After the death of Mustafa, Mahidevran lost her state in the palace (as being the mother of the heir apparent) and lived a troubled life. She had moved to live in Bursa, where her son’s tomb lay. However, and since she had no income of her own, she lived in poverty, until Selim ii having become the new Sultan put her on a salary until her death.
The title held by the mother of a ruling Sultan in the Ottoman Empire. The title ‘Valide‘ was first used in the 16th century for Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, consort of Selim i and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent, superseding the previous title of mehd-i ülya (“cradle of the great”).
This was perhaps the most important position in the Ottoman Empire after the sultan himself. The valide sultan would have a significant influence on the affairs of the empire. She had great power in the court, the Harem and over all the state staff.
During the era of the Sultanate of Women, having many underage potential heirs raised the status of this role of the valide sultan to new heights. Beginning with Hurrem and continued by Nurbanu Sultan, mother of Murad III. As valide sultan in 1574-1583, Nurbanu was the de facto co-ruler, and managed the government together with the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.
With that said, the most powerful of all valide sultans and haseki sultans in the history of the Ottoman Empire was Kosem Sultan.
Was an Ottoman princess the daughter of Sultan Selim i and Ayşe Hafsa Sultan and the sister of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. She first married Iskender Paşa but became widowed by his death (see below). Then, she married Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, who was the Grand Vizier until he was executed by the Sultan and his property was confiscated by the State. The couple had two daughters and lived in their palace together with their children.
Hatice died in 1538, two years after the death of Ibrahim Pasha.
Pargali Ibrahim Pasha
Originally Greek from Parga, Ibrahim Pasha was the boyhood friend of Suleiman. At a young age, he was educated at the Palace School under the devshirme system. Ibrahim also married Suleiman’s sister Hatice Sultan.
Suleiman first made him the Royal Falconer, then promoted him to First Officer of the Royal Bedchamber, After which Ibrahim rose to Grand Vizier in 1523 and Commander-In-Chief of all the armies. Suleiman also conferred upon Ibrahim Pasha the honor of beylerbeyi of Rumelia, granting him authority over all Turkish territories in Europe, as well as command of troops residing within them in times of war.
According to a 17th-century chronicler, Ibrahim had asked Suleiman not to promote him to such high positions, fearing for his safety; to which Suleiman replied that under his reign no matter what the circumstance, Ibrahim would never be put to death.
Yet Ibrahim eventually fell from grace with the Sultan. His rapid rise to power and vast accumulation of wealth had made Ibrahim many enemies among the Sultan’s court. Most significant event though was his adoption of the Serasker Sultan سرعسكر سلطان , which was seen as a grave affront to Suleiman and confirmed the reports that had reached the Sultan of Ibrahim’s impudence during a campaign against the Persian Safavid empire. Suleiman’s suspicion of Ibrahim was worsened by a quarrel between the latter and the Minister of Finance Iskender Chelebi. The dispute ended in the disgrace of Chelebi on charges of intrigue, with Ibrahim convincing Suleiman to sentence the Minister to death. Before his death however, Chelebi’s last words were to accuse Ibrahim of conspiracy against the Sultan. These dying words convinced Suleiman of Ibrahim’s disloyalty, and on 15 March 1536 Ibrahim was executed.
مهر ماه سلطان
Is the daughter of Suleiman and Hurrem. It was widely known that Mihr-i-mah was very loved by her father and seen as his companion. She traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire with her father as he surveyed the lands and conquered new ones. There are references in Persian literature about her having traveled into battle with her father on an Arabian stallion called Batal at the Battle of Gizah in northern Egypt just outside Alexandria.
At the age of seventeen, she was married off to Rustem Pasha, the Grand Vizier under Suleiman. Though she was never happily married, Mihrimah flourished as a patroness of the arts and continued her travels with her father until her husband’s death.
The fact that Mihrimah encouraged her father to launch the campaign against Malta, promising to build 400 galleys at her own expense; and that like her mother she wrote letters to Sigismund II the King of Poland; as well as having lent her brother Sultan Selim 50,000 gold sovereigns on her father’s death to meet his immediate needs, illustrates the political power she had. In her life, Mihr-i-mah was not only a princess, but also functioned as Valide Sultan to her younger brother Selim ii. Traditionally, the Valide Sultan had access to considerable economic resources and often funded major architectural projects.
Mihrimah Sultan’s most famous foundations are the two Istanbul-area mosque complexes that bear her name, both designed by her father’s chief architect, Mimar Sinan. Mihrimah Mosque at the Edirne Gate, at the western wall of the old city of Istanbul, was one of Sinan’s most imaginative designs, using new support systems and lateral spaces to increase the area available for windows. The second mosque is the Iskele Mosque, which is one of Uskudar’s most prominent landmarks.
There is a myth about these two Mosques, that Mimar Sinan fell in love with Mihr-i-mah and built the smaller mosque in Edirnekapi on his own without palace approval, dedicated to his love. The legend goes on to say that on the 21st of March – when daytime and nighttime are equal and Mihrimah’s alleged birthday, hence the name – at the time of sunset, if you have a clear view of both mosques, you will notice that as the sun sets behind the only minaret of the mosque in Edirnekapi, the moon rises between the two minarets of the mosque in Uskudar.
You may also like to read more about Topkapi Sarai and How the Sultans celebrated Ramadan in Topkapi Sarai on this link.
Food For Thought
Even in the most serious of things, we must possess the ability to laugh at our shortcomings, after all and no matter what we are all humans.