ISTANBUL - The second largest palace in Istanbul, Yıldız Palace, will have its harem rooms restored. For the past 20 years the rooms have only received minimal maintenance to protect from another natural decay.
Ahmet Selbesoğlu, a palace officer from the Tourism and Culture Ministry Istanbul Building Survey and Monument Directorate, said the harem rooms are composed of five buildings. The rooms were managed by the Department of Military Academies before being handed over to the tourism ministry in 1978.
For the last 20 years the rooms received minimal maintenance to protect from the natural decay because of a lack of funding. The roof, windows and doors were among the rare restored parts of the structures.
Unlike the Topkapı and Dolmabahçe palaces, the Yıldız Palace’s harem rooms were never opened for tourism. The Istanbul Special Provincial Administration is ready to take responsibility of the restoration. The restoration project will be opening to bids on March 3.
Selbesoğlu said the construction of the harem rooms and the room for women aghas started after Abdülhamid II moved into the palace.
The harem has a 150-meter path that connects one harem to the other. The construction was completed in 10 years and covers 10,000 square meters.
"The furniture was also ruined with the buildings. Some of them were given to establishments, some were taken by the Department of Military Academies and the rest were sold," Selbesoğlu said. "The Ottoman Empire’s treasury was kept at Yıldız Palace, the treasury was later moved to Dolmabahçe and Topkapı Palace. The furniture was sent to Ankara in 1924 to be used in a ball. Some of the sofas, chandeliers and carpets were moved with the Department of Military Academies. I know that there is also furniture at the North Sea Field Command center," Selbesoğlu said. The architecture of the harem rooms is important. Each of the rooms open to halls and all are built according to traditional Turkish architecture.
"The halls were where the concubines used to gather in the mornings and were tutored. They also met in the evenings, talked and sometimes organized activities in the halls. The rooms of the concubines opened to the halls but the room of the most important concubine was separate. The room had a bathroom and a servant room inside it, unlike other rooms," Selbesoğlu said.
He said harems are the most interesting place for visitors to see because it belongs to women. "With the restoration work we aim to revive the harems to give the visitors a feeling that they never were neglected," he said.
Before the restoration, the team who is in charge will visit historians, social anthropologists and physiologists to learn about life in the harems. Moreover they will research and study the education and clothes of concubines. With the research they will also reveal objects used inside the rooms, the style of the gas lambs, carpets, sofas, curtains and rugs, the design of the bathrooms and hamams, what they ate, and what kind of life they lived. All the information will be helpful in renovating the Yıldız Palace harem. By using mannequins inside the restored rooms they will display life in harems. There will be sofas designed for visitors to sit and relax. They will also be served coffee, tea, water and specialties of Ottoman cuisine. Posters will inform visitors about harems and without even having to leave the harem people will be able to visit all the divisions of the palace.
"There is a misunderstanding of concubines in the public. It is known that the Sultan picks a woman everyday from his harem and sleeps with her. The sultans do not marry all the women in his harem. In the museum we will show real life in an Ottoman harem. It is not a place that only had sexuality between men and women. It is an education place for the women. There were women who controlled sultans. The visitors will leave with true information on harems in the Ottoman Empire."
The restoration work is expected to finish in two years and in 2010, when Istanbul will be the European Capital of Culture, at least two parts of the harem will be complete and open to visitors.
In the early 1900s, electricity, railroads and heating systems were first used. The new systems that were brought to the palace will also be protected during the renovation work.
’No new equipment’
"There are no new doors or equipment used in the renovation we already made. Because there was an elegant artisanship, we overhauled the pieces and used them again. We removed the doors, windows and took them to the atelier, repaired them and put them back in their own places. No matter how battered the furniture was, we used the same materials. That’s what is important in a restoration project," Selbesoğlu said. He complained about the poor knowledge of restoration work done on historical artifacts around Turkey. "If the old is replaced with the new, it cannot be called restoration. The people who think they are restoring history can easily praise themselves even though the work they do ruins the history," he said.
Yıldız Palace to gain back it’s historic charm
Yıldız Palace is the second largest palace in Istanbul. It is a complex of pavilions and gardens scattered over a large area of hills and valleys. It overlooks the Bosphorus and is separated into various sections that cover 500,000 square meters. The first mansion was built in the early 19th century. After Sultan Abdulhamid II decided the Yıldız Palace was a secure place, the complex developed into its present form. The palace covers different courtyards containing pavilions, pools, greenhouses, aviaries and servants quarters. There are also two small and charming mosques outside the two main entrances of the palace.
The Yıldız Palace Museum, founded in 1994, displays carved and painted wooden artifacts, thrones, porcelain produced in the palace’s workshops.