Harem at Istanbul's Topkapı Palace in perilous state, expert says
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 3/20/2011 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU
Officials are planning to restore the most famous section of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace, the harem, but its decrepit nature is much worse than initially believed. At present, the harem’s priceless hand-carved tiles and ceiling slabs are severely damaged, architect and restoration expert Fatma Sedes says. The room is currently very fragile, she says
Hit TV shows like “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century) have reawakened interest in Turkey’s Ottoman past, yet this popularity has failed to prevent the empire’s most famous landmark from becoming increasingly decrepit, according to experts.
Istanbul’s iconic Topkapı Palace, the former seat of the Ottoman sultans and their retinues, receives the highest government funding while also bringing in the most visitor revenues, yet even it is in a perilous state, according to Fatma Sedes, an architect and restoration expert at Istanbul Aydın University and a member of the Foundation for the Protection of Historical Heritage.
“Despite that big a budget, the palace does not receive enough attention. Also, the fact that people touch [artifacts] during daily visits causes permanent damage to the palace,” she recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
Already one of the most popular sections of Topkapı, the harem has received even more attention due to “Muhteşem Yüzyıl,” which dramatizes the life of Süleyman the Magnificent and the intrigues in his harem.
Sedes, who is currently conducting appraisals of the harem in preparation for a planned restoration, said section was in a perilous state. “The problem could become bigger in the future, as it is a fragile place.”
Moreover, national and international film directors are increasingly starting to use the palace and the harem as a film set, further causing damage to the centuries-old buildings. “Building a film set [in the harem] means giving structures that have been carrying years of weariness their deathblow,” Sedes said.
At present, the harem’s priceless hand-carved tiles and ceiling slabs are severely damaged, Sedes said.
[HH] Rest of complex also in danger
Topkapı Palace and its harem are not the only parts of the complex that are falling into ruin, according to Topkapı Palace Director Professor İlber Ortaylı. At the moment, the palace’s walls overlooking Seraglio Point and home to priceless artifacts like the Kaşıkçı Diamond are at risk of collapse, he told the Daily News in a previous interview.
In the 1950s the Topkapı Palace underwent a serious restoration, conducted by one of Turkey’s first female architects, Mualla Eyüboğlu-Anheger.
The palace has survived until today thanks to the extensive restoration conducted by Eyüboğlu-Anheger, Sedes said.
“Despite our technology advantages today, it is impossible to carry out the same extensive work that she did in the past. She not only carried out restorations, but also archaeological excavations in the sections called the İkballer Apartment and Şimşirlik [Boxwood] Garden and revealed reservoirs,” she said.
Asked about the connection between the reservoirs beneath the site and the buildings’ decrepit nature, Sedes said: “The reservoirs are all in a dry state. Also, contrary to what is supposed, the reservoirs give stability in the event of a possible earthquake. This was scientifically proven by geophysics engineers.”
Sedes also said it was important to have a fully authorized restoration team in all national palaces, as is the case in foreign countries.
At the moment, however, only Beşiktaş’s Dolmabahçe Palace has such a team, Sedes said.
[HH] ‘Sultan’s tomb in terrible state’
Sedes has also been carrying out restoration work on the tombs of Süleyman the Magnificent and his wife, the famous Hürrem Sultan, which were constructed by the architect Sinan behind Fatih’s Süleymaniye Mosque.
“The tombs, which are decorated with various stones and marble from around the country and unique İznik tiles, are in a terrible state,” she said, adding that there were also serious problems with the roof and the marble.