Highlights of the Ottoman Crown Jewels

The Ottoman Empire is famed for it’s beautiful jewelled creations but this is a slight trick question as there is no set collection of crown jewels that was passed down between the rulers of the empire known as a Sultan. Instead, there is a collection of mysterious jewels and ancient treasures that are associated with the Ottoman Empire including mysterious diamonds, gilded swords, elaborate battle and ceremonial clothing, and emerald encrusted daggers.  These treasures are considered to not only have an economic value, but they contain, of course, a historical value, and, perhaps surprisingly, spiritual value.

Why a spiritual value?  Well, the Sultan was also considered to have Islamic religious authority.  He was given the Islamic title of “Caliph”. The Ottoman Empire claimed this authority beginning in the year 1517.  In layman terms, this meant that the Sultan in power was the religious successor to the Prophet Mohammed. In terms of the contribution to the Ottoman crown treasures, there are many stunning objects that were presented to the various Sultans that are of a religious significance.

While there are objects that originated from all corners of the Earth, there are also many gifts that were given to the Sultans from local Ottoman Empire artisans, particularly jewelers.  The other important thing to remember about the Ottoman Empire was the fact that it was comprised of a rich, multi-ethnic empire. Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Assyrians, and more all lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors.  The Sultans relied on these minority groups for their banking needs, as chief architects, and, most importantly for this subject, their artistic prowess. In a time where even battle armor was bejeweled, minority artists of the Ottoman Empire handcrafted extraordinary creations. Let’s take a more indepth look at some of the standout pieces in the collection of the former Ottoman Empire Sultans and their families housed at the Topkapi Palace’s collection.

The Sword of Osman

First of all, we need to clarify something.  When we hear the phrase “crown jewels” we’re instantly picturing a crown, but unlike other European dynasties, like the House of Windsor, the Ottomans didn’t use a crown to coronate their rulers. Don’t get too disappointed!  They merely had a different tradition. Instead, there was one special object past down from Sultan to Sultan that was used in the Ottoman enthroning ceremony. Can you guess? That’s right. A sword. The Sword of Osman is a golden sword named after the Founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman I. He considered his father-in-law Sheikh Edebali to be his mentor and Sheikh Edebali gifted Osman the infamous sword. There is even a Sherlock Holmes mystery named after this particular sword! Importantly, as far as jewelry is concerned is that the work on the sword highlights a technique called in Turkish “Murassa”.  Murassa is the art of basically bejeweling an object.  The sword has elaborate metal work and jewels on it. Subsequent swords and other weapons in the Ottoman Empire got even more elaborate with time as we will see with our next highlight from the palace.

The Emerald Topkapi Dagger

Originally, this dagger was one of several valuable gifts sent by Sultan Mahmud I to the Iranian Iranian conqueror Nadir Shah. This dagger never completed it’s journey to Iran as just as the embassy of the Sultan Mahmud crossed into Iran, Nadir Shah was assassinated. The dagger and other gifts were returned back to the Topkapi Palace where it is one of the most celebrated exhibitions on show today.

One side of the dagger is set with three Colombian emeralds of outstanding colour, size and clarity. It’s for these three emeralds where the dagger gets its name. Two of the three emeralds are pear cut stones and the central one is a rectangular cushion cut emerald. These emeralds comprise the handle of the dagger whilst the sheath is set with 31 white diamonds set in a symmetrical pattern which, brings us to the subject of diamonds!  What about them???

The Spoonmaker’s Diamond

One special piece of jewellery that is still on display today at the Topkapi Palace is the Spoonmaker’s Diamond. Despite the clarity of the Spoonmaker’s diamond, it is shrouded in mystery and secret as today its origins are still unknown no one knows how it came to Istanbul’s old city and who was the person who took it there. This magnificent diamond is 86 carats and cut into a pear shape set into solid silver and surrounded by a halo of old cut diamonds. The Spoonmaker’s Diamond is a must-see for anybody visiting Istanbul and is probably the one piece from the palace that will live in your memories.

The Throne of Ahmed I

As far as a piece of jewelry goes, the spoonmaker’s diamond is huge at 86 carats, but the biggest bejeweled pieces at the palace are the thrones of the Sultans, in particular, the notable throne of Ahmed I. Mimar Sinan, an Imperial Architect of Armenian origin, is considered the preeminent Ottoman Empire architect.  He designed bridges, mosques, and more. His apprentice, Mehmed Ağa, is the architect of the Blue Mosque not far from the gates of Topkapi Palace.  Mehmed Ağa is the designer of Ahmed I’s throne.  It is considered one of the best examples of 17th century Ottoman Art.  It highlights the techniques of Sedefkâr”, which is the technique of inlaying mother of pearl and a lacquering technique called “Edirnekari”.  It also contains gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, jades, and turquoises (among others).  All of these techniques and gemstones have been fashioned together in an intricate and magnificent floral and vegetation adorned domed throne.  It is truly a piece you must see in person to fully appreciate.

 

When you visit Topkapi palace, you will probably be struck with the amount of men’s brooches, elaborate medals, and pieces called a “sorguç” in Turkish.  Basically, these are pendants for a turban. A Sultan of the Ottoman Empire would even be buried with these pieces. They would wear up to three at a time on their turbans and are spectacular.  But wait! Where are the women’s jewelry? The Sultans each had a harem of women, meaning a special area separate from the other parts of Topkapi Palace. In the harem lived the wives and concubines of the Sultan, their servants, and the female members of the Sultan’s family.  Didn’t they receive gifts of jewelry? The short answer? Obviously. So where are the majority of these pieces of Ottoman women’s jewelry you ask?

Well, when the Sultan would marry off a daughter of his, she would be allowed to take many valuable pieces with her, including jewelry and murassa decorated objects.  This means that 1. We can find gifts that, at one time, were in the Sultans’ treasury in various museums’ collections around the world 2.  Unlike the women, the men receivers of the Sultans’ gifts like state officials had to give back their gifts at their time of death, which is why the palace’s collection contains so many of them 3.  The contents of the Sultans’ treasury during the time of the Ottoman Empire were constantly in a state of being restocked and restored,making it necessary for the Sultan to support a vast network of artisans constantly creating new and innovative designs making it lucky for us today!

While the history of jewelry in Anatolia goes back over 5,000 years, the collection of Topkapi Palace is a reminder of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire in the art of jewelry.  We have the Ottoman Imperial Family and their patronage of the multicultural artisans of their empire to thank for elevating Turkish Jewelry today.

With a story as intriguing as the next, it’s hard to pick a favourite out of these four masterpieces and will we ever know the origins of the Spoonmaker’s Diamond or what happened to Süleyman the Magnificent’s Venetian helmet?

Istanbul’s Top 5 Visited Museums

Istanbul has a very rich history as a result of being a capital of empires and having a perfect geographical location. Hereby there are lots of museums to find in this big city.

Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Istanbul Modern Art Museum, shortly Istanbul Modern, is a contemporary art museum and  was opened on December 11, 2004. The museum is located in Beyoglu, Istanbul on the sea coast. This museum is ran  by the Eczacibasi family, who are a very wealthy, Turkish ancestry. The building consists of two floors. The temporary exhibitions of works by Turkish painters and artists take place on the lower floor (some non-Turkish artists’ works are also exhibited). On the top floor there is a shop and restaurant. The museum is open except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm and on thursdays it is free for all Turkish citizens. Entrance for children under 12 is also free.

 

The Pera Museum

Pera Museum is an art museum and it is especially about Orientalism in the 19th century. There are paintings from the famous painters Osman Hamdi Bey and Jan-Baptiste van Mour . The most famous one is ‘The Tortoise Trainer’ by Osman Hamdi Bey. There are not only paintings but also ceramics from Kutahya, a province in Turkey famous for its ceramics. The museum was founded in 2005 by the Suna & Kirac Foundation. The building itself is interesting because it is a former hotel.  

 

Istanbul Archaeology Museums

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are three archaeological museums, which are; Archaeological Museum,Museum of the Ancient Orient, Museum of Islamic Art. The most visited and well known one is the Archaeological Museum. The founder of the museums is the famous archaeologist and artist Osman Hamdi Bey. They were founded in 1881 and you can visit there after you see the Topkapi Palace, because these museums are next to the palace.

 

Rahmi M. Koc Museum

As you can understand from the name, the museum was built by the Koc Family, the wealthiest family in Turkey. This museum shows the industrial history of Turkey and was founded in 1991 by Rahmi Mustafa Koc, son of the founder of the Koc Holding, Vehbi Koc. Rahmi Koc was inspired by the Henry Ford Museum he visited in Michigan. Most of the items in the museum are his private properties. If you are interested in vintage cars and locomotives and vessels you will love this museum.

 

Santral Istanbul

SantralIstanbul, also called Energy Museum was the Silahtaraga Power Plant from the Ottoman Empire, which was the first urban power plant of that time. The museum was founded as a project of the Bilgi University and for that reason counted as a modern art museum. Don’t think that you can’t have fun in a museum full of engines. I went there expecting nothing, but when I saw the inside I said: WOW. It seems more interesting once you enter the  building. You will feel like you are visiting the old and historical version of the CERN laboratory. The visit is free for everyone and the museum is open everyday from 9am to 6 pm except the public or religious holidays. You can arrange tours that last 40 minutes if you want and it costs only 25 Liras for adults. For the university students the price is even lower: 15 Liras

 

Conclusion  

There are many museums I can offer you. There are even some museums that will attract your interest more than these museums above but these were the most visited ones for the tourists. If you like to visit museums and have time here are the museums I suggest:

  • SALT Galata
  • Museum of Innocence ( Museum of the Nobel Prize Winner Turkish Novelist Orhan Pamuk)
  • Sakip Sabanci Museum
  • Rezan Has Museum ( Kadir Has Foundation)
  • and  -of course- city itself is like a museum, when you take a ten minute walk in the city you can see that all the buildings are like a historical reminders of the city; Rumeli Hisari, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Yildiz Palace, Hagia Sophia and many more.

Hurrem Sultan: One of the Most Powerful Women of Ottoman Times

The story of Hurrem Sultan or Roxelana is one which still captures the imagination of millions of people around the world today.  How could it not?

Born around 1500 in what is now western Ukraine, her father a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Hurrem was captured by Crimean Tatars in the 1520s.  She was sent with other slaves to Istanbul, having been selected for the Sultan’s Harem.

Sultans at the time adhered to the practice of keeping a Harem of women and, thus, did not marry.  Several dozen women – some sultans kept close to 300 – were housed in this special area of the palace.  The Sultan’s mother, sisters, children (boys up to the age of 16), and their servants all lived in the Harem.

Hurrem soon attracted the attention of the Sultan of the time, Suleiman the Magnificent.  While he already had had one son with Mahidevran Sultan, with Hurrem he ultimately had four sons that lived to adulthood.  In the process, he also freed Hurrem and made her his legal wife. He wrote poetry about her and Hurrem also acted as Suleiman’s advisor on matters of state – both at home and abroad.  Many people in the city were astonished at this.  The ring Suleiman gave to Hurrem is currently popular throughout the world.  Looking at these events today, it is like a Turkish version of the Cinderella story in a way.

Hurrem was a very charitable women.  She built a mosque, two Koranic schools (madrassa), a fountain, and a women’s hospital near the women’s slave market (Avret Pazary) in Istanbul, as well as the bath, the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, to serve the community of worshippers in the nearby Hagia Sophia.    

Hurrem has inspired not only her husband Suleiman, but many other beautiful pieces of jewelry, books, paintings, ballets, music, an opera, and more.  The immensely popular television show, “The Magnificent Century” or Muhteşem Yüzyıl in Turkish has been broadcast around the world and has made Hurrem’s story well-known to millions in the modern age.  Click on the link to watch a clip from the show: The Magnificent Century

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