Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Sacks of Odalisques
"Don't they put aunts in Turkey in sacks and drop them in the Bosporus?" - P. G. Wodehouse.
Chris sent me the Wodehouse tip about the Topaki Palace, which we visited yesterday. I'm grateful. It helped to bring another dimension to all the harem's old tile, arches and stained glass.
Wodehouse was referring to the practice of throwing weighted sacks of odalisques into the Bosporus. An odalisque was a member of the Sultan's harem, ranking below concubines and wives.
The Bosporus is a 20-mile long strait that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. It runs through the heart of Istanbul, past several Ottoman palaces, and it is said that if the sultan wished to be rid of one of his harem, the unfortunate woman was tied in a sack and thrown into the Bosporus. This is a view of the Bosporus from our hotel balcony.
For example, there was an incident under Padishah Ibrahim I (1615-1648). When he heard rumors from his lover, Sechir Para (Sugar Cube), that one of his concubines was sporting with a man outside of the palace, he raged for days and had his chief eunuch torture a few of the harem girls to discover the identity of the mysterious girl. Angered by the lack of forthcoming information, Ibrahim placed 280 of his harem women in weighted sacks and had them thrown into the Bosporus River . Only one girl survived (other than the sultana and Sechir Para, who were spared) because she was saved by a French ship. The Valide Sultana became jealous of Sechir Para's power after the drownings and had Sechir Para strangled. Ibrahim was told that she had died of a mysterious illness.
The garden below was in our last hotel. Nice roses. Bad WiFi.
The sultan's wives had a lot of power. An example is Roxelana who arranged the murder of Suleyman's favorite sons (Mustafa and Beyazit). This resulted in her own son (Selim II, also known as Selim the Sot) becoming sultan. Having so many wives led to having a lot of little princes running around. Many of these became troublesome and were killed, imprisoned or blinded on the "Princes' Islands" about nine miles south of Istanbul. When these same little princes became sultans with no training or relevant life experience (outside debauchery) the natural result was the decline and ultimate collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
This old ruins is just below our window. It is unmarked. I made inquiries and was told that it is the ruin of the oldest palace in Istanbul. There is some new concrete and rebar and signs that the ruin is being restored. The project may have run out of financing.
Lunch. Overcooked salmon. I can't wait to cook my own fish again.
A pack of Marlboros goes for 4 Turkish Lira or about two US dollars. These water pipes are in all the restaurants and cost about 18 lira. They are good for one smoke, so they cost about 100 times as much as a cigarette. I think it's a little like Starbucks coffee. The smoker feels a sense of luxury and financial success that explains the irrational willingness to pay the relative difference in cost between home brewed coffee and Starbucks....
After a week of Turkish food, I Google "Istanbul big mac".
One of the underground cisterns.
Cats in the park.
Mrs. Phred takes a bunch of tile pictures in the Topaki Palace. It costs 15 lira extra to get into the harem.
In 2011 the Law Society of British Columbia brought a discipline hearing against an unnamed lawyer for referring to another lawyer's client as living with an odalisque. The Law Society found the use of the word, though an extremely poor choice, did not rise to the level of professional misconduct.
An odalık was not a concubine of the harem, but it was possible that she could become one. An odalık was ranked at the bottom of the social ladder of a harem, serving not the man of the household, but rather, his concubines and wives as personal chambermaids. Odalık were usually slaves given as gifts to the sultan, bought or given by wealthy Turkish men
Another view of the Bosporus from the windows of the Sultan's harem.
The palace kitchen is just to the right of this corridor. Meals were prepared for all the palace inhabitants, including the eunuchs and the several thousand members of the harem.
This is the Hagia Sophia. I remember it from a Humanities 101 course I took in 1960. It was completed in 537Ad. The desecration of the church by the Crusaders in 1204 led to the final split between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 and declared the church to be a mosque. Now it's just a museum.
We find the Jewish Museum. I have trouble getting though the metal detector until I remember the GPS in my back pocket. No pictures are allowed. The story told inside is that the Jews have been well tolerated and protected by the various Ottoman sultans.
Last night we ate at this restaurant. This is the front of the ruined palace outside our hotel window. You can see that some restoration has been done on the brickwork.
I think these little appetizer dishes are called mezes.
Inside the palace.
We told the waiter to surprise us. We got chicken breast strips, chicken wings, beef, lamb sausage, lamb chops, roasted tomatoes, rice and peppers....and some green things...
Mrs. Phred is embarrassed that I make a doggy bag of the few leftovers to feed the neighborhood cats.