Back at the Janey II, they are still working on the foundation. So am I, which is not surprising. There is so-o-o-o-o much to research for Book Three. This week I’m drilling down into the depths of detail about the women’s quarters (the harem) in Topkapi Palace in the mid 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. About 90% of what I learn won’t be part of the story, but the other 10% will be vital.
Here’s the tricky part. Back in the 1500s, the harem was a very private part of the complex buildings, gardens, and courtyards that comprised Topkapi, sometimes called the Grand Seraglio. Most of the visitors to the palace were men, and I can tell you in great detail lots of guy things, from where the executioner stuck the heads of his victims to the life of captured boys in military training. These men rarely if ever got near the harem. Basically, the only men beside the sultan who had regular access to the hundreds of women in the harem were the black eunuchs (castrated men) who had their quarters next door. When it comes to the women of Topaki I have to drill, baby, drill, to find the color I want for Book Three.
So I drill. One resource is E.M. Penzer’s book The Harem: Inside the Grand Seraglio of the Turkish Sultans. The book was first published in 1936, and includes primary sources back through the 16th century. And there are books about Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana), who enthralled Suleiman for nearly 30 years. The biggest find so far is a connection I didn’t know existed until I started drilling. Some women of the harem got an allowance (it’s complicated), and they could buy and sell things in the outside world through intermediaries. The intermediaries (kiras) were sometimes Jewish widows who had taken over their husband’s business. As I research the lives of the kiras, I peek inside the harem. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.