I remained on watch for the next hour whilst pretending to be very involved in a game of charades with the others in the main hall. There were now many of us as more carriages had arrived with the sultan’s wives. It seemed as if all of Topkapi was moving to Yildiz palace that night. The guards had returned almost two hours later and were dismayed to find Rana amongst us. She explained in her sultry voice which seemed to drive them mad with desire that she had, in fact, been feeling out of sorts and had merely retired to her chamber for a rest. The guards had been constrained because the private chambers of the sultan’s consorts were off limits to any man other than the sultan. Gurel, who was now once again one of them ,had joined the halbadiers (military guards ) in their quarters directly opposite the harem pavillion. Yildiz Palace was high up on a hill and surrounded by very high walls which may have been the reason for Hamid’s preference for it as a place to entertain guests away from the prying eyes of his servants and it would limit the possibilities of a seaside attack. We did not yet know that there were plans to make this palace our new home.
The palace overlooked two other palaces down the hill and close to the waters edge. ‘Dolmobache and Ciragen palaces were much grander but maybe not as safe as Yildiz and though the walls seemed to reach way up to the clouds there were gaps in the stone work from which we could glimpse the sea. There was also a bridge which connected the palace with Ciragen but this was off limits to us. Inside the walls there were manicured gardens weaved around pavillions. There were courtyards with pools,greenhouses and aviaries with rare birds such as the hoopoe, the blue parrott and the Hunkari, a frill pidgeon trained for racing. These caged birds symbolised believers eager to be liberated from their mortal coils. Setting these birds free would earn them points in heaven. Strange that these believers could not see the parallels between captured birds and captured women.
The servants quarters were separated by gates and passageways leading to other parts of the palace and maybe even down the hillside and through the valleys surrounding as this would be a the best way for the sultan to commute and remain unseen. The Sultan resided in the Sale kiosk which consisted of two floors and a basement.In the centre of this was the Sedefi salon covered in mother of pearl inlay. It’s ceiling adorned with painted landscapes and it’s reception chamber ,which we had visited prior to the opera company , guilded in gold with a coffered ceiling and large mirrors on the panelled walls. Other kiosks included the Cadir Kiosk where prisoners were held,including princes of the realm, and the grand ceremonial hall where Hamid conducted his official business with the palace beaurocracy. There was even a kiosk for the making of porcelain which resembled a Medievil castle. The Muayede Pavillion to the left was for guest accommodation and also housed the entrance to the harem. Adjoined to this was the lovely Yildiz theatre where we had just performed for the royal guests and where at least one captured bird had managed, for a short time, to shake her mortal coils and soar way into the heavens in a secret lovers tryst.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 31/5/2014