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The question ''what was a Harem like?'' heas been answered for centuries by western artists on their semi-erotic artworks and paintings. Some historians tried to answer this question with the same way under the light of what they have been told to themselves.
İt is clear that, neither the artists nor the historians have ever been in such a place before, considering the truth that it was the most preserved and prohibited part of the palaces.  
First of all, it must be explained that, the concept of ''Harem'' was being used as a religious custom. At he elder times, during the period of governing with the rules of sharia,  whether it was in the city or village, every Turkish home used to include two sections: a "harem" and a "salam." The harem was the portion of a house reserved for women, and only male relatives were allowed in. The selamlık, on the other hand, was the place where male guests were hosted. The word "harem" is derived from the Arabic words "hurmet" and "haram" which  means "the place that is  forbidden by religion to outsiders." The harem of the Ottoman palace feat was the residence of the sultans along with the shahzades (princes), their mothers, wives and children. Similar to harems in every house, there were jariyahs (ladies-in-waiting) in the imperial harem to serve the residents.

Watch the video of the same  article at our youtube channel in English narration or in Spanish Narration.

The jariyahs (Slave women) were used to be brought brought to the palace after being captured by pirates or as the shares after the invasions. They were all non-muslim women and it was forbidden by religion to take a Muslim Women into the harem without a religious wedding. They were generally given colorful Persian names aand were forced to change their religions.
The Jariahs could be asked for a sexual affair with the the Sultan as their possessor, But that doesn't mean that all the women in the harem were walking around nude or half-naked hysterically to be requested by the Sultan, as it was depicted in the paintings of the western artists. Just as we wrote before, many of the women in the harem have never got the chance to see the sultan from a distence closer to 10 metres. We use the word ''Chance'', because it was really a chance for them in order to be able to give birth to a Royal son of the Sultan, to be preferred for a religious wedding and to become the first lady of the Empire. 
Those who were not preferred by the Sultan would still stay in the Harem and they were provided a thorough and disciplined education . They were taught how to be a proper lady, how to read and write, basic math and embroidery as well as religion.. Although it was not a systematic institution like the Enderun, where intelligent and gifted young men were trained to become statesmen, the harem was a type of school for girls. 
Whether the girls that were brought to the palace were suitable to palace life or not was revealed in the harem as well. The phrase: "A person who cannot be disciplined in the palace cannot be disciplined anywhere else," is famous. Girls who refused to behave in a disciplined way were not allowed to stay in the palace and were married off to a statesman or somebody who is out of the palace. Manners and principles were the most important things in the harem and a person who lacked manners or failed in speech and religious practices could not stay in palace.

gyula tornai & his world-famous work In

Other imaginary paintings about harem by  western Orientalist artists which are away from depicting the truth. (Above & Below)

Young women of harem who completed their education used to serve in various chambers or places in the palace, such as the treasury, kitchen, cellar, laundry room, bath, coffee house and infirmary. There were senior jariyahs in each of these chambers and they were called as master or forewoman.

Although jariyahs were slaves, they were all paid wages. Moreover, jariyahs were presented gifts regularly at certain times, but many of them saved the presents and gave them in charities as they did not have any expenses. Once they reach to a certain age and level of education, they used to be let to marry off to young men who were assigned an occupation following their graduation from the Enderun School. These men were also the converted christians who were requested from Christian families when they were young boys, educted and finally assigned in various important layers of the empire.  

In the early periods of the Ottoman Empire, jariyahs were mostly descendant of Balkan region, but then the number of Ukrainian descendants increased over the years. These girls were a part of the sultan's share of the booty and spoils of war or they were presented to the sultan as gifts by foreign rulers. During the period when conquests were in decline, jariyahs captured by the Crimean khan were sent to Istanbul and taken to the Ottoman palace. When conquests completely stopped, jariyahs began to be taken from slave traders.


The Reality (Above & Below)


In the 19th century, most jariyahs in the imperial palace were taken from the Caucasus. After Sultan Abdülmecid banned the slave trade, the number of jariyahs radically decreased. Instead, young girls from Caucasian families who has migrated to Anatolia were taken to the palace and trained in the harem.

Not only the imperial harem, but also the harems of the sultan's daughters used to have well-trained jariyahs and were designed like a school. 


Harem Women Feeding Pigeons in a Courtyard Jean-Leon-Gerome 


John frederick lewis reception in harem 1873

Harem Guards;

,Many orientalist painters have tried to depict the harem life and also the Harem Guards. In the paintings, these men were depicted as Well shaped, wild looking, stronge men. The fact is they were just the normal guards protecting the main entrances. In the harem there used to be male servants who were sexually incapable or intentionally castrated. They were generally converted & castrated black men from northern Africa.

The Harem Guard by Jean Discart.jpg
Harem Guard Rudolf Ernst.jpg
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