Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taboo Bear

Are you sitting down? - we finally made it to Istanbul! Seven weeks we've been in Turkey, and what with false starts, bad weather and "insufficient" funds, I finally managed to organize a day trip for my bipedal attendants. Being that Istanbul is the largest city in Europe, there are thousands of things to see, so for today, I'm going to talk about our visit to the city's historic Topkapı Palace - but more specifically, the Royal Harem.

Now, what with all my years as an International Fashion Model, sharing changing rooms (and sometimes curling irons)
with the world's Super Models (Naomi was such a pill ...), I'm pretty comfortable in restricted women's quarters and - since everyone recognizes me immediately - it wasn't too difficult for me to get permission to enter the harem.

The harem at Topkapı Palace, which dates from the end of the 16th century, was the home of the Ottoman Empire's Sultans' mother, wives, concubines - concubines, not porcupines like I first thought - children and their servants.

the various buildings and corridors and hallways are nestled at least 100 rooms. I couldn't visit all of them but I was able to peek in a few, although my bipedals let me know in no uncertain terms that I was inconveniencing them. Jealousy just doesn't become those two.

The women were guarded by eunuchs - castrated (ouch!) male slaves - and most of their rooms opened up onto the courtyard (right) - which is now known as the Courtyard of the Eunuchs. They were answerable to the Chief Harem Eunuch, who also controlled the princes. The princes' apartments were known as "the cage" - in fact, the harem itself was called "the golden cage" - and they stayed there until they were released to become sultans or executed. It was common for a new sultan to execute his brothers in order to eliminate any and all rivals from the throne. That's a dysfunctional family for you ... talk about putting the fun in dysfunctional!

The largest and best situated of all the apartments (upper left) in the harem belonged to the sultan's mother. Her
apartments included a dining room, audience & receptions rooms, a music room, prayer room and bedroom.

Of course, no Turkish bathroom would be complete without a toilet - naturally a Turkish one - and a sumptuous bath of gold and marble. We bears love a nice hot bubbly bath.
The Queen Mother had a double bath and consisted of a caldarium (for a hot soak) tepidarium (for a warm soak) and frigidarium (for a soak worthy of a polar bear). Her bathtub was even protected by a golden lattice-work screen to protect her from murders! What a swell Mother's Day gift that must have been.

Interestingly, the word harem comes into English from the Turkish word harem (duh!) which comes into Turkish from the Arabic ḥaram. The word ḥaram was eventually used to refer to the women's quarters but it originally means "forbidden". It's the same word that's used to describe forbidden things in Islam, like pork and lizards. Why would anyone want to eat a lizard anyway? Or a pig for that matter?

I feel badly that for hundreds and hundreds of years, women were hidden behind walls - even beautiful walls like the ones in the Royal Harem - for most of their lives. Poor women! But in a small way, I think I know how they must have felt. A few years ago, a cleric from the Islamic University of Islam said:

"Oh believers! v
erily is the cotton of the teddy bear haram [forbidden]. Enjoin yourselves to keep your names clean from its defilement. Let he or she who associates a teddy bear with Allah or His Prophet be subject to the lash, one each for the days of Ramadan."

A teddy bear! A bear! Honestly - sometimes I just don't understand you people at all.


Snowflake said...

I bet the eunuch thing made your male bipedal attendent squirm...

Grey Bear said...

It's funny you should say that ...

Anonymous said...

You must be happy that you were born a beautiful grey bear and not a beautiful young Turkish girl.