Odalisques blog

The Female Slave Market in Constantinople (1 Mar)
From the slave market to the sultan's bedchamber (17 Feb)
Buying a new slave for your harem (4 Feb)
Odalisquian books list now on Odalisques.com (29 Jan)
Edward Lane's descriptions and drawings of female clothing (27 Jan)
more posts...


"The Arab Scribe" by J.F. Lewis, 1852
"The Bath" by J.L. Gerome, in the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
"Odalisque" by Max Nonnenbruch
"By order of the sultan" by Antonio Fabres
"Idle Moments" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1875
more pictures...


more books...

© Tanos

The Female Slave Market in Constantinople

Posted by Tanos on Sat 1 Mar 14, 9:44 PM

When the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 they kept the city's ancient name, and it only changed to "Istanbul" during the Turkish republic in the 1920s. The Ottoman Empire was built on slavery in many ways, not only because the bureaucracy and professional army were staffed by male slaves conscripted in the provinces, but also because the Sultans themselves were the sons of slave concubines kept in the Imperial Harem.

The "Avret (or Aurut) Bazaar" was the female slave market, which is the "Women's Market" in Turkish. It appears to have been within sight of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, and is a real, identifiable place in modern day Istanbul. I've used some of my collection of slave market images to piece together some details about it.

One of the clearest images of the bazaar is in a series of engravings made by Thomas Allom for "Constantinople and the Scenery of Seven Churches of Asia" (1838) that includes descriptions by Dr Robert Walsh, who was chaplain to the British embassy. The mosque with its two minaret towers is visible on the right, along with the the buildings with balconies and overhanging upper stories that surround the central courtyard.

W.H. Barlett's engraving from 1839 and Ippolito Caffi's painting of 1843 clearly show the same place, with the same layout and the mosque on the right with its minarets to the left.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to explore this area of modern-day Istanbul myself, and took these three photos. The first shows the left side of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and is taken next to the Fortis Bank on the corner of Tavuk Pazari Sokak and C. Nuruosmaniye Caddesi. The second picture, showing the small square with trees, was taken at right angles to the first, down another side of the bank (it's the same silver car in the foreground in both.) This pretty much corresponds to the location implied by the position of the minarets in the engravings, although it could be somewhat closer or further away along the same line of sight. At the end of the square is a cream wall with an arch, and this is one of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar. The third photo was taken just inside the arch and shows how the covered bazaar was formed by roofing over many shopping streets, with buildings having slightly overhanging upper storeys.

Subsequently I was able to confirm this location using the "Plan of the Bazars" from Charles White's "Three Years in Constantinople, 1844. On the map, the slave market is visible on the left, which is to the south of the other bazaars given its sideways orientation. The slave market is also to the southwest of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque. The long street G-H-I-K is Kalpakcilar Caddesi, and the area of the slave market appears to be within a triangle with the west end of Tavuk Pazari Sokak as its apex, Bileyciler Sokak as its western boundary, Kurkculer Pazari Sokak on the eastern side, and with Yeniceriler Caddesi as its southern base.

Yeniceriler Caddesi is now a wide boulevard with trams, and the "Column of Constantine" or the "Burned Column" stands on its north side, due south of the mosque. This column, which was built by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330AD, is mentioned in descriptions of the slave trading and training business of the area:

There are another couple of general views of the slave market. First, William Allan painted a rather melodramatic version in 1838. Although again showing the same identifiable place, it seems likely that Allan swapped the orientation of the minarets to better balance the composition. Finally, J.F. Lewis made an unfinished and possibly hurried sketch during his stay in Constantinople in about 1840. This shows the balconies surrounding the courtyard more closely, and they appear to be arranged almost like cafes and were used for the sale of the more expensive merchandise. Some doubt has been expressed about whether Lewis' sketch in fact shows a slave market in Cairo, but when I had the opportunity to examine it in the V&A Museum it was clear from details such as the design of the minarets that it shows Istanbul's Nuruosmaniye Mosque.

Some of the slaves were exhibited sitting on rugs on the ground, attended by the merchants as shown in these two coloured engravings by Preziosi. Others, of higher value, were sold in the rooms in the buildings surrounding the courtyard, as another of Allom's monochrome engravings shows. During this period the value and role of female slaves was often decided along racial lines, both in the Ottoman Empire and its former province of Egypt. Darker women from south of the Sahara were only employed as servants; less dark slaves from the east coast of Africa, including modern day Somalia, were valued as concubines; and white-skinned Circassian women from southern Russia were only affordable to the rich. Walsh's account expands on this racial division in Islamic domestic slavery of the period: "In the front are platforms raised four or five feet from the ground, and ascended by steps, forming a kind of colonade, and in the rear are latticed windows. In the one, blacks and slaves of an inferior kind are kept and disposed of; in the other those of a choicer quality, who are guarded with a more jealous vigilance, and secluded from the public eye."


(The first version of this blog was posted in March 2011, before I was able to locate a copy of "Three Years In Constantinople" with the plan of the bazaars intact.)

Edited Wed 5 Mar 14, 11:58 AM