And now for something completely different.
Martyn Lawrence Bullard recently said: “Istanbul has become my favorite place to travel to. The exotic ambiance is always enticing, and the people and food are so welcoming and wonderful. The Bosporus is magical, especially in the late summer months, and the history that surrounds you is so inspiring. Let’s not forget the shopping too! From the bargain grinding in the grand bazaar to the caviar tasting in the spice market, Istanbul is a treasure trove of shopping delights: Suzani and Ikat fabrics, antique lanterns, sparkling jewels and soft, voluminous towels. I am currently designing a hotel situated in the walls of the Topkapi Palace and this project has me quite often visiting Istanbul. I couldn’t be more happy coming to the magnificent city of Istanbul and to be surrounded by its beauty and intrigue.”
A hotel? On the grounds of the Topkapi Palace??? And then, there is Martyn’s newest fabric collection called, you guessed it, “The Topkapi Collection.”
Topkapi? Wait…..isn’t that a movie???
First things first.
After posting the Lee Radziwill Swinging 60’s London drawing room by Renzo Mongiardino…
The term Orientalism is often used to describe its style.
Orientalism. The romanticized study of Eastern culture through 19th century art.
And nobody evokes Orientalism more than…
Serdar Gulguqwn, the popular interior designer whose 2014 book “Ottoman Chic” flew off the shelves.
Gulgun became the face of 20th century “Turquerie” through his fantastic designs, including his own house on the shores of the Bosporus, the same waterway that the Topkapi Palace resides on.
Thanks to Gulgun, Turquerie is hot, hot, hot.
Where as Chinoiserie celebrates the designs of the Orient, Turquerie does the same for the Ottoman Empire or Turkey and the Near East. And at the center of Orientalism and Turquerie is the Topkapi Palace, the oldest and once largest royal palace in existence.
The very name Topkapi Palace evokes images of concubines and harems, black eunuchs and white slaves, emerald daggers and fabulous diamonds, red robed sultans and romantic shady courtyards.
And the mental images, it seems, aren’t far from the truth.
The Sultan leaving the Topkapi Palace for Friday services at the mosque. This was the only day he was seen in public.
When Martyn Lawrence Bullard releases a beautiful line of fabrics – called the “Topkapi Collection,” based on the decorative tiles and patterns found at the palace, and when someone with such wonderful taste as Martyn decorates and renovates a hotel on the grounds of the Topaki Palace, shouldn’t we take a look around?
The Topkapi Palace, Istanbul located on the Golden Horn of the Bosporus.
The Topkapi Palace at dusk.
The long row of chimneys on the left are the Palace Kitchens. Nearer the shore is the original stone city wall.
The palace has a magical look to it with all its domes and spires and towers.
It looks even more magical at night.
The tops of the various towers and rooms of the large Palace – the rooms housed all the Sultan’s family, concubines, and eunuchs.
Yes, concubines and eunuchs. The history of the Palace is quite colorful, and I’m not just talking about its iconic tiles.
An aerial view shows the strategic location of the palace located on a bend of the waterway known as the Golden Horn. There are four main courtyards with many assorted buildings that make up the Topkapi Palace. At one time, over 4,000 people lived inside these palace walls. The walls enclosed everything that was needed to sustain life including a hospital, college, mosques, and even a mint. At the right is the kitchen. On the left, the dense cluster of buildings is the Harem.
Sultan Mehmed II The Conqueror, who reigned from 1451 to 1481, conquered Constantinople. It was he who ordered the Topkapi Palace be built.
Over the centuries, the Topkapi Palace survived a devastating earthquake and fires and it still stands. For hundreds of years the Palace was the epicenter of power in the Ottoman Empire. It slowly lost importance starting in the 17th century when other palaces were built. By 1856, the Sultan had moved out to a newly built European styled palace, the Dolmabahçe Palace. The library, the mint, and the treasury remained at Topkapi Palace. When Turkey became a state, the Ottoman Empire came to an end, and in 1923 Topkapi Palace became a museum that today houses important relics of the Muslim world including Muhammed’s cloak and sword and even one of his teeth! The palace is now open for tours, but only a tiny portion of its hundreds of rooms can by seen by the public.
Through the years the Sultans were portrayed in art. Their turbans become larger and larger, bringing to mind the size of English and French crowns with their towering hairdos.
This wonderful painting is of Yusuf Agah Efendi, the first Ottoman Ambassador to England, 1793.
Sultan Mahmoud II, 1830, standing in front of the Hagia Sophia.
The last Ottoman Sultan: Mehmed VI who reigned 1918-1922.
The western world became fascinated with the Near East during the 19th century when the Orient Express Railway and P&O Steamships opened up the Near East to tourists. It was then that the exotic and erotic world of Orientalism was born.
A painting by Henriette Browne called Harem Interior caused a stir when it was shown – it was one of the world’s first view into a harem. Above is another one of Browne’s paintings of the Harem. Her paintings helped to start the Orientalism phase where artists romanticized the Harem way of life. Many artists moved to Constantinople or Cairo to paint the subjects people in the western world craved.
Another very early drawing of the Harem from the early 18th century.
Orientalism – highly romanticized Western art of the East.
John Frederick Lewis.
John Frederick Lewis, Life in the Harem. This is something that really did happened. The concubines were in charge of distributing trays of food in order of hierarchy.
And this, depicts the head Eunuch who held much power in the Harem.
A drawing of Topkapi Palace showing the front gates.
Map of the large Palace
The main Gates of Saluation as seen in 1900. These gates lead into the Second Courtyard – the largest of the four.
Today: The main gates to the Palace that lead into the large Second Courtyard where the entry to the Harem is.
The Ambassadorial Delegation Passing through the Second Courtyard of the Topkapi Palace.
Topkapi Palace, 1800, EID Celebration in the Second Courtyard.
The Gate of Felicity in the Second Courtyard.
At some point, rows of trees were planted in this courtyard.
The Gate of Felicity that lead into the Third Courtyard. Each successive gate served to protect the Sultan and control crowds and limit who could reach him.
And another painting at the Gate of Felicity.
The Second Courtyard today, looking back at the main gates.
The entrance to the Harem is located in the Second Courtyard.
What exactly is a Harem or a Seraglio as it is also known? Essentially, the Harem is where the Sultan and his family lived. Besides them, The Sultan’s mother lived in the Harem and was, after the Sultan, the most important and powerful person in the entire complex. The Sultan was allowed to have four wives and each wife had her own apartment in the Harem, where she and her children lived. Besides family, there were the concubines, or slaves, who also lived in the Harem. The concubines were divided into three categories: highest were the “Favourites” - the unmarried concubines, who, along with the staff, also had their own small rooms. The concubines shared lounges, courtyards, prayer rooms, libraries, kitchens, and other areas needed for life. There was also a bath for the concubines.
A photo from the Library of Congress of a Concubine in the Turkish Harem.
The concubines were not Muslims, they were not allowed to be. Instead, the slaves were mostly from North Causcasus, they were white and Christian. The girls from this region were said to be the most beautiful in the world. At the Palace, as many as 300 concubines would be living there at the same time. The girls actually went to school in the palace in order to ready them for adulthood. There is a “Teacher’s Room” that is opened on the tour.
But, through the centuries, there are also horror stories of these young slaves chained in cages living out their lives there. There are stories of others thrown into the river to drown. Life was not easy for many of the concubines. For some, though life was better than others. The Sultan arranged marriages between his troops and the slaves. For the highest ranking officers, the Sultan matched them with his daughters.
The only males allowed in the Harem were the Sultan’s young sons. On view on the tour in the Fourth Courtyard is the Circumcision Room, when the Sultan’s many sons underwent this religious rite before puberty. And then there were the eunuchs, who guarded the Harem but were not allowed inside. The eunuchs are men who were castrated. The more unlucky ones also had their tongues removed.
The Council Hall:
The Tower of Justice over the Council Hall in the Second Courtyard.
The Entrance to the Council Hall.
Inside the Council Hall – amazing painting. This was where the Grand Vizier held court. Above him was a golden window where the Sultan would eavesdrop on the meetings. When he was ready, he would rap on the gate and the meeting was over at which time the Vizier would then go met with the Sultan directly.
The Council Hall today. You can see the golden window above the sofa.
The two gorgeous domes in the Council.
Courtyard of the Eunuchs. This area was three stories high and the Eunuchs lived in rooms that overlooked the courtyard. Called the Black Eunuchs, they were seized from Central Africa. Typically they were purchased in Sudan and were castrated before the sale. It’s so very hard to imagine that this actually happened and it puts a true cloud of despair that hangs over the beauty of the palace. The eunuchs were often sent to the Sultan as gifts by the numerous governors in the Ottoman empire. The eunuchs were taught all the rules of the Harem and lived a very disciplined life. Their main duty was to guard the Harem doors. The head eunuch was very powerful and he worked closely with the Sultan and his mother.
In 1903 there were 194 serving or retired eunuchs at the Ottoman Court.
The Head Eunuch.
Beyond the gate, entrance to the Harem was prohibited except to the Sultan, the queen mother, the Sultan’s consorts, concubines and favourites, and the princes.
The Eunuch’s area, leading to their Mosque.
Be sure to notice all the various tiles on the walls. Most are Iznik and Kutahya dating from the 15 to 18th centuries.
The Courtyard of the Concubines. This area was surrounded by the baths, the laundry, their tiny rooms and the larger apartments for the Sultan’s Consorts.
Depressing corridor that led to where the concubines lived. Dishes of food from the kitchen were placed here by the eunuchs on large trays that the concubines then picked up after the eunuchs left. The girls passed out the trays according to who was more important in rank, first.
The Courtyard of the Sultan’s Mother – The Queen Mother.
The Queen Mother’s apartment is more Western in decor than the other apartments.
There’s even a western style chandelier in the Queen Mother’s apartment.
Display set up for the tours in the Queen Mother’s apartment.
The cabinets here and elsewhere are mother of pearl and tortoise shell.
Here is a close up of the richness – inlayed mother of pearl and tortoise shell.
An old drawing of the Harem bath.
The bath is located between the Queen Mother’s and the Sultan’s rooms.
The brass gate served to protect the Sultan from being harmed or killed. The baths are gray marble with gilded borders.
A close up of the Turkish sink in gold and marble.
This building is the Privy Chamber of Murat III. It is the oldest surviving room in the Harem – and it retains its original interiors from the 16th century. The twin beds are from the 18th century.
Close up of the tiles.
Incredible tiles! Just beautiful.
Looking up at the domed ceiling.
The dome is amazing when seen close up.
The fountain – - the flow of water was to prevent the Queen Mother from hearing anything happening in her son’s room. Notice the small shelves with tile backs – these are found throughout the palace. And notice the calligraphy tiles – many sayings are written out in the tiles.
The Twin Kiosk Building – The Crown Prince Rooms.
Close up of the tiled walls and wood shutters.
The building, which connects to the palace, consists of two rooms from the 17th century. These two rooms were for the Crown Prince who lived here alone.
Stunning tile work.
Notice the trees in the tile work. The room consists of a low platform divan that circles the room, exactly how Carolina Irving described her favorite family room design.
Across from the Twin Kiosk is the Courtyard of the Favorites. Above are the tiny windows where the Sultan’s sons were kept imprisoned.
The passageway into the Imperial Court with fountain and cabinets with tortoise shell and mother of pearl.
The Audience Chamber
The Audience Chamber entrance – the fountain is at the right. On the left is the gate where large gifts for the Sultan were passed. Notice the marble floor’s pattern and the beautiful columns.
From the 1700s, a picture of the Audience Chamber, although it doesn’t look quite like this today.
The Audience Chamber or the Imperial Court Throne Room in The Harem.
The Sultan would meet with men here. If he was pleased, they would be gifted, if not – they would be murdered by the eunuchs. Therefore, a meeting with the sultan would be quite worrisome.
The throne with two large flanking porcelain vases.
View of the ceiling in the throne room.
Up from the throne area.
The incredible fountain and door in the throne room. The clock was a gift of Queen Victoria of England. There were rooms that connected to this one – and there is a secret door behind a mirror that the Sultan used to leave the throne room.
One of the small rooms off the Throne Room above is this room, the Fruit Room, known for the beautiful and unusual fruit and flower tiles. The Sultan used this as a dining room.
Close up of the tiles.
Here is how an envoy described a meeting with the Sultan in the 1500s:
“The Emperor was seated on a slightly elevated throne completely covered with gold cloth, replete and strewn with numerous precious stones, and there were on all sides many cushions of inestimable value; the walls of the chamber were covered with mosaic works spangled with azure and gold; the exterior of the fireplace of this chamber of solid silver and covered with gold, and at one side of the chamber from a fountain water gushed forth from a wall.”
An Orientalized painting of the Topkapi Palace. As always, the sunlight is dappled as if through leafy trees.
In the fourth courtyard is the Circumcision Room.
The colonnade around the Circumcision Room – with marble floors.
The entry into the Circumcision Room.
Stained glass is above with tiled walls and floors.
Beautiful tiles and shutters with the inlaid mother of pearl and tortoise shell.
Look at this ceiling – are these the most gorgeous tiles?
Various rooms with different designs and tiles.
I love these tiles in green!
A true patchwork.
The exterior of the Library.
Inside the Library.
Most books have been moved to be protected from the elements.
The Fourth Courtyard is built around a fountain.
In art, this area was highly romanticized showing the slaves and eunuchs. Of course the eunuchs were not allowed in the Harem. And of course the women were dressed, covered from head to toe in clothing.
These art works are not accurate portrayals of what would have gone on inside the harem. The only men allowed inside were the Sultan and his under aged sons. Even the eunuchs were not allowed inside.
In 2012, the Topkapi Museum staged a four part exhibition to dispel some of the misconceptions about the Ottoman harem.
“The harem was a center of education for concubines” is the message the Topkapi Museum wanted to stress. They state that the non Muslim women were brought to the palace as slaves to be educated and then married off to the Ottoman bureaucrats who were being educated at another palace. They wanted to stress that life in the Harem was not as spectacular as shown in fictional works. I”m sure this is true, but the facts remain that the girls were slaves as were the eunuchs. In the same time period, slavery was legal in the United States and throughout the world. We outlawed slavery 150 years before the Ottoman Empire did.
The exhibition further explained the hierarchy in the Harem, with the Sultan’s mother at the top and his daughters under his mother. The concubines were divided into three groups: unskilled, qualified and skilled. They each received a salary and were well dressed. But, of course they did have to spend all their time inside the Harem. The members of the Ottoman dynasty are critical of the fictionalized representation of sexuality in the Harem and welcomed the Topkapi exhibition that corrected the stereotypical stories.
No matter what the exhibit says, this is the reality – this photograph is from 1908 and shows the Harem slave girls guarded by two Eunuchs.
Along the shores of the Bosporus, the distinctive chimneys of the kitchen make the Topkapi Palace easily seen.
The kitchens were destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the 16th century.
The kitchens were restored a few years ago and are now reopen on the tour. Once, over 1000 people worked here to feed over 5000 people a day.
On display are the sets of china, some of which number over 10,000 pieces.
The celadon plates were important. The sultans believed the plates changed color if the food was poisoned.
Scattered around the Palace are the different buildings that house the museum relics. There is an extraordinary mixture of relics, including Moses’ rod, Abraham’s saucepan, John the Baptist’s hand and Mohammed’s footprint, one of his teeth and a selection of hairs from his beard!!!
The Costume Collection has all sorts of formal imperial robes worn by the sultans themselves. They date back to Mehmet II’s fur-lined kaftan, which is more than 500 years old, and include spectacular floral decorated silks from a couple of centuries later and western-style military tunics from the 19th century.
Sultan Mustafa III’s armor from the 18th century.
The Imperial Treasury is filled with a collection of gold and jewelry, the most important of which are the Topkapi Dagger, with a hilt of emeralds and a sheath of gold and diamonds and the diamond.
The incredible dagger.
The pride of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, and its most valuable single exhibit is the 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker Diamond, also known as the Kasikci. It is surrounded by a double-row of 49 Old Mine cut diamonds.
The Sultans swords on display.
A visitor wrote about the Harem:
“The sense of secrecy and imprisonment is felt when you walk into the Harem. The concubines were sheltered away from visitors and strangers. The entrance gate is hidden to the side. Once inside, there are no open, green courtyards. Instead, the Harem is a world of narrow corridors and interlinked rooms. There are over 300 tiny rooms where the slaves were held. It is impossible to keep any sense of direction and there are only glimpses of the outside world through tiny windows. The eunuchs kept watch over the corridors and there is a punishment cage on display. The Sultan lived right next to his mother and there is a corridor called the Golden Road that allowed him and his mother and the chief eunuch quick access to each other.”
The Golden Road – the Sultan’s Corridor that he used through the Harem.
“The Orientalist artist that romanticized the Harem always showed the rooms in dappled light through lattice screens. In reality, this is a fantasy. The Harem is a dark, closed off prison. And the bars were not just for the slaves, even the sultan and his sons lived behind bars that were there to protect them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the twin kiosk with the red divan. Until the 17th century, the Sultans typically killed all their male relatives to ensure the throne went to his favorite son. Mehmed III’s 19 brothers were all murdered at the order of his mother, while his father’s pregnant concubines were drowned at sea. It wasn’t until Selim II who in 1666 ended this brutality with a decree: Princes will now live, but will be locked away. Despite the slavery and the brutal nature of the Harem, it was a beautiful environment and filled with riches and untold opulence.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, freedom is the most beautiful thing in the world and it’s impossible to imagine living the life of a slave, here or anywhere.
The Golden Horn:
The Golden Horn is the area where the Bosporus curves and the Topkapi Palace sits on the edge of its shores. Behind it are other famous Istanbul sights including the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
And here, looking at the “Golden Horn” of the Bosporus, you can see on the left – the large Topkapi Palace and – then further to the right – with the four large spires surrounding it – is the Hagia Sophia. Together, these two landmarks, along with a third, The Blue Mosque which is past the Hagia Sophia, make up three of the most important buildings in Istanbul.
A closer view of the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia romanticized in a Orientalism painting.
Against the setting sun.
The Hagia Sophia is considered one of the most important works of Byzantine Architecture still standing today. Its long history is marked with great religious strife. It was first built in 537 AD as a Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral, later, it was converted in 1453 to an Ottoman mosque until 1931 when it became a museum. Some want the Hagia Sophia turned back into a church, while others want it turned into a mosque. Recently, Pope Francis made remarks about the Armenian Massacre which many feel accelerated the path to it becoming a mosque. Apparently this summer, there were calls to prayer in the Hagia Sophia for the first time since 1931.
Here you can see the Hagia Sophia with its many domes and spires – and behind it, the Topkapi Palace. On the right – along the Bosporus – you can see the distinctive row of the palace kitchen chimneys.
Amazingly, in 1891, John Singer Sargent painted the interior of the Hagia Sophia.
Which brings us back to Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Bullard has had a long love for Istanbul and the Topkapi Palace. His first fabric collection for F. Schumacher was inspired by the Palace and he named several fabrics after it. He has been visiting Istanbul for 10 years – and has gone to the Topkapi Palace over 20 times at least. His new project is twofold. He has a new line of fabrics called the “Topkapi Collection” which will be available through the David Sutherland Showrooms. And, he has renovated and designed a new boutique hotel in Istanbul!
The hotel is located in a district sandwiched in between the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. The street is filled with historic wooden houses that were first built for Ottoman Ambassadors. Closed off to cars, the houses are now being renovated by Martyn – included are four restaurants – one which is actually an ancient cistern. Called the Hagia Sophia Mansions, it located in the historic Sultanahmet quarter.
The Hagia Sophia Mansions in front of the Hagia Sophia. The houses are all a bit different.
There are over 20 houses that make up the project – with a total of 39 rooms, 36 suites and one villa.
Since there are so many houses - it means that each hotel room is different from the next.
And more of the wooden houses, now totally renovated into a series of hotel rooms and suites by Martyn Lawrence Bullard.
Next to these houses is The Sophia – an ancient styled coffee bar. And take a look inside at the rooms!!!
The Hagia Sophia Mansion Hotel Rooms:
The rooms are wonderful!!! Wow!!! LOVE!!! Wood floors with blue and white striped rugs. The fabrics are all Martyn’s, of course. The bar is reminiscent of the wood shutters at the Topkapi Palace. He mixed local contemporary Ottoman art with more historical decorative motifs.
The sofa is designed like a Turkish Divan – no arms, with fringe and tufting.
Notice the book – Ottoman Chic!!!! The brass tray is another Ottoman decorative touch.
1881. Arthur Melville. Notice how Martyn used the same brass tray and cut out tables. His cabinets bring to mind these shutters.
The bedroom features more Martyn fabrics. Love the bed – he added the high upholstered piece for visual punch. I hope he laminated the fabric though. Notice the lanterns and the painted molding. Just beautiful!!!
The bathrooms are wonderful with the tiled floor and marble sinks. Not sure what that sink in the shower is for????? But most Turkish showers have them.
Close up of the marble countertop and sinks.
Besides the hotel rooms, Martyn also renovated the four restaurants associated with the hotel. This restaurant is located in the ancient Cistern. Called The Sarnic, it was designed in greens by Martyn – which pops against the stone walls of the cavernous 1,500-year-old water cistern. Amazing! Notice the art work on the walls. The chef came from the Miami Nobu!!
Next is the Yesil Ev or The Green House. This was built in the late 1800s by the Minister of the Ottoman Tobacco Monopoly. His family lived there until the 1970s when it was first restored and turned into a boutique hotel. The gardens across from the house served as the first Brasserie in Istanbul.
The brasserie. There is a glass conservatory for wintery days.
Here, you can see the Green House across the street from the Brasserie.
BRASSERIE TURC – with outside dining, you get direct views of the Hagia Sophia – which must be amazing.
Here Martyn Lawrence Bullard talks about his new hotel project in Istanbul. HERE.
To see the Hagia Sophia Mansion web site, go HERE.
And here is the new Martyn Lawrence Bullard “Topkapi Collection” of fabrics:
To buy the new Martyn book – just click on the picture above.
Click on the book above to order Turquerie.
And, Ottoman Chic by Serdar Gulgun, click above.
And, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this story. A big thank you to Martyn Lawrence Bullard for the inspiration!!!!