A Postcard From The Harem


The theme of Topkapi is seclusion. A graduating depth of shadows. Deeper shades of obscuring darkness. Privacy nestled within privacy like Russian dolls, visible in the layers of courtyards and iridescent tiled chambers. Each layer of rooms contained its own household of secrets that transcended and included the rooms that surrounded it. Only those at the centre knew all.

The innermost rooms were places of decadence concealed behind walls and pleasure gardens, shrouded in the speculations of those outside. A surfeit of opulence as symbolized by the ornate visual overload of the tiles, and as realized in the women of the harem: specimens of pleasure from every nationality and every race of the empire. Istanbul retains this pleasure orientation even today.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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