|"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|
The site explores the imagined world of the Near East, especially of Ottoman Turkey and Egypt, created by mostly western painters and writers and centered on the figure of the odalisque, and views this imagined world within the context of BDSM, especially D/s, M/s, and O&P.
The wider geographical extent of the Near East covers the greatest size of the Ottoman Empire, including modern day North Africa, Arabia, and Turkey; and we also include some material from Persia and the Islamic empires of northern India.
We concentrate on the 19th century, but also include material between the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 and the abolition of the sultanate in 1922.
In simplest terms, an odalisque was a female slave in a harem, trained to serve her master's pleasure, and assigned to sexual rather than domestic duties. In practice, not all odalisques were sexual partners of their owners, but they were trained and owned with this purpose in mind. Younger odalisques also served as companions and attendants of older women, in a similar way to the aristocratic ladies-in-waiting of a queen in western monarchies.
The term is a French word which entered English, and is derived from the Turkish word "odalik" originally meaning a chamber maid or handmaiden. It is not true to say that odalisques were domestic servants or menials, as is sometimes asserted.
A harem is both the female members of a traditional Islamic household of the Near East, and the physical section of the building which they occupied. The practice of purdah kept these women secluded from men other than the master of the house and his immediate male relatives. Grand harems containing hundreds of women were kept by the Ottoman sultans, but more modest harems were kept by men of the middle classes. Edward Lane in his "Modern Egyptians" described these harem owners of Cairo in the 1840s:
"Often he retires to recline in the hareem; where a wife or female slave watches over his repose, or rubs the soles of his feet with her hands. On such occasions, and at other times when he wishes to enjoy privacy, every person who comes to pay him a visit is told, by the servant, that he is in the hareem; and no friend expects him to be called thence, unless on very urgent business. ... The wives, as well as the female slaves, are not only often debarred from the privilege of eating with the master of the family, but also required to wait upon him when he dines or sups, or even takes his pipe and coffee, in the hareem. They frequently serve him as menials; fill and light his pipe, make coffee for him, and prepare his food, or, at least, certain dainty dishes ... The wives of men of the higher and middle classes make a great study of pleasing and fascinating their husbands by unremitted attentions, and by various arts."The harem rooms of normal houses were not just spaces reserved for women, but a place where women could be enjoyed.
Some Orientalist painting and writing provides important historical records of these societies, but many works were moulded by Western biases and preconceptions. In the most interesting cases they were deep and penetrating reflections of often unacknowledged desires in Western audiences connecting sex, power and sensual pleasures.
It's very common for the paintings to show European looking women, and this broadly reflects the tastes of the real societies that the paintings only imperfectly reflect (as well as the tastes of the Europeans buying the paintings.)
Most of the slaves imported as odalisques into Turkey, Egypt etc were originally from what is now southern Russia and countries like Georgia near the Black Sea and the Caucasus. These women look very European and the region was believed to be where Europeans originally came from (hence "Caucasians").
Orientalist paintings frequently depict almehs, the professional female dancers of Egypt, whose art eventually developed into the modern Belly Dance or Middle Eastern Dance which is performed in cafes and cabaret shows in the region, and is a growing recreational dance in the west.
Edward Lane's Modern Egyptians from 1836 explained the "nalin" clogs or pattens:
Few of the ladies of Egypt wear stockings or socks but many of them wear "mezz" (or inner shoes), of yellow or red morocco, sometimes embroidered with gold: over these, whenever they step off the matted or carpeted part of the floor, they put on "baboog" (or slippers) of yellow morocco, with high, pointed toes; or use high wooden clogs or pattens, generally from four to nine inches in height, and usually ornamented with mother-of-pearl, or silver, etc. These are always used in the bath by men and women but not by many ladies at home: some ladies wear them merely to keep their skirts from trailing on the ground: others, to make them- selves appear tall. Such is the dress which is worn by the Egyptian ladies in the house.
Higher nalin indicated higher status. The wives and odalisques of wealthier men would wear taller clogs, and differences in status between ladies and their servants would be visible in height and ornamentation.
Having a room in your house with a harem flavour is a wonderful luxury, and a place to enjoy odalisquian themes within a relationship. Bedrooms are a good starting point, as beds can be turned into divan sofas and furnishings can easily be added (or temporarily removed if the room is needed for vanilla guests.) Rugs, carpets, blankets, throws, and cushions can quickly change the feel of a room.
Searches with Google, Amazon, and eBay can turn up individual items and relevant retailers. Small items like brass coffee pots and Turkish delight bowls are sold by some belly dance suppliers. Larger items, such as boxes, tables, mirrors, and lamp shades can often be found in "ethnic" and alternative gift shops that are often found in major cities. For greater authenticity, dedicated shops selling products imported from North African and Near Eastern countries also exist. Morocco seems to be particularly well represented. Cosmopolitan cities frequently have districts with businesses catering to immigrants from these countries and are a good place to explore. Some lateral thinking can help: for example, in the UK, areas with shops catering to groups originally from the Indian subcontinent sell shisha pipes from Egypt and Turkish style slippers.
The Code d'Odalisque is a document originally dating from to 2003-2004 which describes itself as:
"Code d'Odalisque is an adult real-life role-playing game in which consenting adults engage in a simulated, institutionalized and formal female sex slavery for their mutual enjoyment."
The Code is only indirectly related to Odalisques.com, although parts of it were clearly inspired by some of the writing now on this site. The original creators produced three versions of the document, and its creation and subsequent history are outlined in my blog post The Code d'Odalisque Myth.