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The gate of a seraglio, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Imperial Gate Topkapi Istanbul 2007 002.jpg
The gate of a seraglio, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul
An illustration of the women's quarters in a seraglio, by John Frederick Lewis John frederick lewis-reception1873.jpg
An illustration of the women's quarters in a seraglio, by John Frederick Lewis
Main entrance to a hall in a seraglio Istanbul.Topkapi037.jpg
Main entrance to a hall in a seraglio
Sultan Selim III holding an audience in front of the Gate of Felicity, by Konstantin Kapidagli, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Ottoman Sultan Selim III (1789).jpg
Sultan Selim III holding an audience in front of the Gate of Felicity, by Konstantin Kapıdağlı, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul

A seraglio ( /səˈrælj/ sə-RAL-yoh or /səˈrɑːlj/ sə-RAHL-yoh) or serail is the sequestered living quarters used by wives and concubines in an Ottoman household. The term harem is a generic term for domestic spaces reserved for women in a Muslim family, which can also refer to the women themselves. The Ottoman Imperial Harem was known in Ottoman Turkish as Harem-i Hümâyûn.



The etymology of this Italian word is unclear. The Italian Treccani dictionary gives two derivations: [1] one from Turkish saray , [2] [3] from Persian saraʾi (سرای), [4] meaning palace, or the enclosed courts for the wives and concubines of the harem of a house or palace, the other (in the sense of enclosure for wild animals) from Late Latin: serraculum, derived from serare, to close, which comes from sera, [5] a door-bar. [6]

In Ottoman culture

In the context of the turquerie fashion, the seraglio became the subject of works of art, the most famous perhaps being Mozart's Singspiel, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). In Montesquieu's Persian Letters , one of the main characters, a Persian from the city of Isfahan, is described as an occupant of a seraglio.[ citation needed ]

"The Seraglio" may refer specifically to the Topkapı Palace, the residence of the former Ottoman sultans in Istanbul (known as "Constantinople in English at the time of Ottoman rule). The term can also refer to other traditional Turkish palaces—every imperial prince had his own—and other grand houses built around courtyards.[ citation needed ]

In Italy

In modern Italian the word is spelled serraglio. It may refer to a wall or structure for containment, for example of caged wild animals; or for defence, such as the Serraglio of Villafranca di Verona, a defensive wall built by the Scaligeri. [7] The ghettoes established in many Italian cities following the promulgation by Pope Paul IV in 1555 of the papal bull Cum nimis absurdum were initially called serraglio degli ebrei, "enclosure of the Jews". [8]

The Seraglio is also an artificial island on which Mantua is located.

See also

Related Research Articles

Selim II Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Selim II, also known as Sarı Selim or Sarhoş Selim, was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1566 until his death in 1574. He was a son of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Hurrem Sultan. Selim had been an unlikely candidate for the throne until his brother Mehmed died of smallpox, his half-brother Mustafa was strangled to death by the order of his father, his brother Cihangir died of grief at the news of this latter execution, and his brother Bayezid was killed on the order of his father after a rebellion against Selim.

<i>Die Entführung aus dem Serail</i>

Die Entführung aus dem Serail is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German libretto is by Gottlieb Stephanie, based on Christoph Friedrich Bretzner's Belmont und Constanze, oder Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The plot concerns the attempt of the hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of Pasha Selim. The work premiered on 16 July 1782 at the Vienna Burgtheater, with the composer conducting.

Topkapı Palace Palace museum in Istanbul, Turkey

The Topkapı Palace, or the Seraglio, is a large museum in the east of the Fatih district of Istanbul in Turkey. In the 15th and 16th centuries it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans.

Hurrem Sultan Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (c.1502-1558)

Hurrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana, was the chief consort and legal wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. She has become one of the most powerful and influential women in Ottoman history as well as a prominent and controversial figure during the era known as the Sultanate of Women.

Odalisque Female slave or concubine in an Ottoman seraglio

An odalisque was a chambermaid or a female attendant in a Turkish seraglio, particularly the court ladies in the household of the Ottoman sultan.

Saray or Seray is a word of Persian origin which means "palace". It may refer to:

Harem Womens quarters in the traditional house of a Muslim family

Harem properly refers to domestic spaces that are reserved for the women of the house in a Muslim family. This private space has been traditionally understood as serving the purposes of maintaining the modesty, privilege, and protection of women. A harem may house a man's wife or wives, their pre-pubescent male children, unmarried daughters, female domestic workers, and other unmarried female relatives. In royal harems of the past, concubines of the prince were also housed in the harem. In former times some harems were guarded by eunuchs who were allowed inside. The structure of the harem and the extent of monogamy or polygamy has varied depending on the family's personalities, socio-economic status, and local customs. Similar institutions have been common in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations, especially among royal and upper-class families, and the term is sometimes used in other contexts. In traditional Persian residential architecture the women's quarters were known as andaruni (Persian: اندرونی; meaning inside, and in the Indian subcontinent as zenana.

Ottoman Imperial Harem

The Imperial Harem of the Ottoman Empire was the Ottoman sultan's harem – composed of the wives, servants, female relatives and the sultan's concubines – occupying a secluded portion (seraglio) of the Ottoman imperial household. This institution played an important social function within the Ottoman court, and wielded considerable political authority in Ottoman affairs, especially during the long period known as the Sultanate of Women. Multiple historians claim that the sultan was frequently lobbied by harem members of different ethnic or religious backgrounds to influence the geography of the Ottoman wars of conquest. The utmost authority in the Imperial Harem, the valide sultan, ruled over the other women in the household; she was often of slave origin herself.

Kösem Sultan Valide Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Kösem Sultan – also known as Mahpeyker Sultan – was one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history. Kösem Sultan achieved power and influenced the politics of the Ottoman Empire when she became haseki sultan as favourite consort of Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I and valide sultan as mother of Murad IV and Ibrahim, and grandmother of Mehmed IV.


The selamlik or sélamlique was the portion of an Ottoman palace or house reserved for men; as contrasted with the seraglio, which is reserved for women and forbidden to men.

Ottoman court was the culture that evolved around the court of the Ottoman Empire.

Tirimüjgan Kadın was the second wife of Sultan Abdulmejid I, and the mother of Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire.

Gülcemal Kadın was the sixth wife of Sultan Abdulmejid I, and the mother of Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire.

Serail may refer to:

Saray (building)

In English, a saray, with the variant saraya or seraya (السرايا), is a castle, palace or government building which was considered to have particular administrative importance in various parts of the former Ottoman Empire, such as the Arab provinces, Cyprus, etc. Seray may also be spelt serail in English, via French influence, in which case the L is silent.

Mahidevran consort of Suleiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire

Mahidevran was the consort of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire and the mother of Şehzade Mustafa.

Ikbal was the title given to the imperial consort of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who came below the rank of Kadın.

Mughal Harem

The Mughal Harem was the harem of Mughal emperors of the Indian subcontinent. The term originated with the Near East, meaning a "forbidden place; sacrosanct, sanctum", and etymologically related to the Arabic حريم ḥarīm, "a sacred inviolable place; female members of the family" and حرام ḥarām, "forbidden; sacred". It has the same meaning as the Turkish word seraglio and the Persian word zenana. It is also similar to the Sanskrit word anthapura, meaning ‘the inner apartment’ of the household. It came to mean the sphere of women in what was usually a polygynous household and their segregated quarters which were forbidden to men.

The term Bargello derives from the medieval Latin barigildus, a term of Lombard origin. Its meaning is "fortified tower" or "castle".


  1. "Serraglio", in Treccani: Vocabolario on line. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. (in Italian) Accessed May 2013.
  2. Sarah Fielding. "". Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  3. "TheFreeDictionary". TheFreeDictionary. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  4. Harper, Douglas. "seraglio". Online Etymology Dictionary .
  5. "sĕra", entry from Lewis & Short. Latin Word Study Tool, Perseus. Accessed May 2013.
  6. Macdonald, A. M. (ed.) (1972) Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary London: Chambers ISBN   055010206X; p. 1235
  7. "Serraglio1", in Treccani: Vocabolario on line. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. (in Italian).
  8. Debenedetti-Stow, Sandra (1992). "The Etymology of "Ghetto": New Evidence from Rome". Jewish History6 (1/2), The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume: 79–85 (subscription required)