Weddings: A lavish affairs under the Ottomans

Weddings: A lavish affairs under the Ottomans

NIKI GAMM Hürriyet Daily News
Weddings: A lavish affairs under the Ottomans

The closest wedding ceremony to the Ottoman wedding is the one being offered by the Çırağan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul.

The fashion these days is supposed to be Ottoman weddings, but it’s hard to think that anyone would go for the pomp and circumstance such a ceremony would entail. Probably the closest is the one being offered by the Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, which of course has a venue that’s hard to beat – a real Ottoman palace.

Imperial weddings weren’t just a few hours in duration; some of them lasted for weeks and were unbelievably lavish. Only the circumcision ceremonies for the sultan’s sons surpassed them in displaying the wealth and power of the imperial family. The audience included the general public as well as the people of the court and we are fortunate in having descriptions of these events.

The brides in these imperial weddings were the daughters and sisters of the reigning sultan. Although many were not married off until they had had their first period, they were at times used as pawns in the various intrigues around the courts. They could even still be children when they were married to a potential grand vizier, thus ensuring that man’s loyalty to the throne.

Fatma Sultan was only 5 when her father, Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-1730), married her to Silahdar Ali Paşa, who was 42 years old at the time. He was killed in battle seven years later, although their marriage had still not been consummated; two years later, she was married to İbrahim Paşa, who was her father’s closest friend. Did she have a choice? Obviously not the first time around, but the second time? Maybe. It was rumored that she was intensely jealous of him so perhaps she loved him even though he was in his 50s when they married. On the other hand, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the wife of the British ambassador, wrote in one of her letters that Fatma Sultan had been attached to Silahdar Ali Paşa and burst into tears when she saw her new husband.

We do know that some of the women who were widowed refused to remarry, including Esma Sultan, to whom a mansion in Ortaköy was given as a wedding gift. And toward the end of the empire, the imperial daughters would be offered a list of eligible candidates and told to choose one.

Expecting a dowry

Preparations for an imperial wedding began long before any decision was made because a dowry was expected. Such a dowry would consist of valuable carpets and beautiful embroideries, magnificent clothing and fabulous jewels and, to top everything off, a palace or mansion would be provided. Professor Nurhan Atasoy says in her book, “Harem,” that the sultan would order this place to be prepared one week before the wedding; however, in the case of Fatma Sultan, her husband-to-be Silahdar Ali Paşa had such a palace built for her. And at the same time, the bride’s dowry would be put on display in a ceremonial hall where members of the family would be able to see it.

The men and the women were kept separate and the bridal couple would be represented by proxies at the wedding ceremony. A large banquet would be given by the sultan for the groom and high officials of the Ottoman government. Following the ceremony, a reception would be held at the bride’s new home which included all of the members of the harem. The chief black eunuch and the groom would then escort the bride to her room. After distributing gold pieces around, a lavish feast would be prepared and, after that, the groom would enter his wife’s room where he would pray. Then the eunuch would close the door and the guests would depart.

The wedding of Hatice Sultan to Muhasip Mustafa Paşa at the palace in Edirne in 1675 lasted 18 days in June and started with parades and ceremonies of various sorts. Of particular interest were the “nahıl” or festoons (a fake tree made of wax with leaves of silver), each one of which was different with some tall and some small while each was made of silver or even candy. The tallest measured 25 meters and might be as wide as five meters; it was pulled by 200 slaves from the shipyards. Houses that got in the way would just be destroyed. There would be shows and athletic contests, music and fireworks, dancing, wrestling and theater performances. Naturally, prayers would be said in the mosques – in this case in Edirne where the court was. It is amusing to note that rope was hung between the minarets of the Selimiye Mosque and high-wire acrobats performed on it.

Extraordinary gifts were given to the bride. There are lists and lists, including what type and from whom. As one would expect, the sultan, her father Mehmed IV, gave the most. Trays, water jugs, salt dishes, candelabras, food dishes, glasses, saltcellars and so on made from gold and silver or glass with jewels. Copperware, embroidered coverings, curtains, velvet materials, lanterns, pillows and hundreds of jewels, mostly diamonds. The lists that other people gave could go on and on as well. One gets the feeling that the sultan was cleaning house of unwanted odds and ends.

Everyday a feast and entertainment

Gifts would be given to everybody who had helped with the wedding festivities which included not just moving a vast amount of goods in parade form to the palace of the son-in-law-to-be. Everyday the sultan or one of the leading officials in the government such as the grand vizier would provide feasts and entertainment.

At the same time, the son-in-law would send gifts back to his prospective bride and the prominent members of the harem from the Valide Sultan (sultan’s mother) and other members of the sultan’s harem all the way down to Hatice Sultan’s servants, who were helping with the preparations. At almost the same time, the circumcision ceremonies for the sultan’s two sons, Mustafa (later Sultan Mustafa II) and Ahmed (later Sultan Ahmed III) overlapped with the wedding preparations. The confusion must have been incredible.

The weddings of lesser mortals among the Ottomans were hardly so elaborate but would have been patterned after those of the sultans.