Daily life in the palace has always been a topic of great curiosity. What sultans did in their private lives, what they used for personal grooming, what they did when they became ill, what dishes the palace kitchens cooked and how the food was kept -- these are just some of the questions people often ask about daily life in the palace.
Until now, the answers to these questions have really only been available in books and guides. But now we will finally have a chance to see for ourselves many of the dimensions to the daily lives of Ottoman rulers and their families, as the National Palaces Directorate of the Turkish Parliament will soon be opening an exhibition filled with objects from 19th century Ottoman palace life. The exhibition boasts 5,000 items from a total 45,000 archived since the start of the Turkish Republic, with the objects originating from palace life at the Dolmabahçe, Beylerbeyi and Yıldız palaces, as well as the Aynalıkavak, Küçüksu, Ihlamur and Maslak summer palaces.
A new exhibition at the Saray Koleksiyonları Müzesi, or Palace Collections Museum, in İstanbul’s Beşiktaş district is set to open to visitors next week and will give the public a chance to view what appears to be slices of daily life from Sultan Abdülmecid and the six Ottoman rulers who followed him. There are objects from the palace kitchens, working rooms, hamams and toilets, as well as objects used for daily cleaning, heating and lighting. These objects are displayed in a 1,000-square-meter space, with different sections for viewing ease. These are objects that will be seeing the light of day for the first time in decades, and many are extremely important from the perspective of understanding technological and sociological development in the 19th century. For example, the most basic versions of some of the electronic objects that entered our lives along with the Industrial Revolution are some of the most important objects on display at this museum, with regards to illuminating this era. Some other very notable objects on display here are also the dinnerware sets, some very fancy for guests, and others more for everyday use. Here are some of the most interesting objects you might encounter on touring this new exhibition.
Sultan Abdülhamid II’s shaving kit: A shaving kit thought to have belonged to Sultan Abdülhamid II is made from wood of the linden tree and sits on a dressing table with a large mirror. Included in this special 41-piece kit are a shaving bowl, a powder brush, a razor, nail scissors, a hair-hat and dress brushes. Each piece is plated in silver, engraved with Sultan Abdülhamid’s initials.
Knife cleaning tool: This object was used in the palace kitchens and is a great example of primary kitchen technology. Dating from the era of Sultan Abdülmecid II, it comes from a British company called “J.PICKIN.”
Massage tool: Another example of basic technology that entered the lives of the Ottoman rulers along with the Industrial Revolution. This massage tool is thought to have originated from the 1920s and works with electricity and is intended for the face and neck.
Generator: Nineteenth century Ottoman palaces did not lack for medical items intended to boost health. One company, Hugo Avellis, which operated in the Pera district of Istanbul, procured a generator that worked with lead and lead dioxide and was used in the treatment of illnesses connected to rheumatism. This particular item was used around 1910 by Sultan Mehmet Reşat V.
Pharmaceutical kit: Another notable piece on display is a pharmaceutical kit that is thought to date back to the rule of Sultan Abdülhamit II. The kit has three layers, with 40 jars that contain various chemical compounds and herbs used in treating illnesses. The labels to these jars are written in both Latinate and Ottoman lettering. The top layer of the kit has a locked section, with materials used to treat deadly illnesses (rabies, for example) apparently kept under lock and key in that section. The second layer of the kit has a wooden section with a top and little dividers that contain chamomile and flax seeds which have been carefully preserved to the present day.
Cream machine: This machine, which was introduced in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, is an American product that dates from 1883 but was chosen for use in the kitchen of an Ottoman palace.
A refrigerator that works with ice: This refrigerator, which bears the label “Bazar Allemand Proprietaire, 308 Grand Rue de Pera, Constantinople 1880,” was one of the central kitchen implements of the Ottoman palace. With foods and drinks kept fresh in this refrigerator, this kitchen tool worked not with electricity, but by way of an ice-filled box at the top.
A 6,000-piece porcelain dinnerware set: This exhibit is one of the most important in the general palace collection. Ordered by Sultan Mahmut II for use when entertaining guests, the set comprises 6,000 pieces with gold plate over silver.
Coffee cup set: Dating from 1903, this coffee cup set was one of the important guest pieces from Dolmabahçe Palace. Purple and yellow flower motifs in the naturalist style are set onto a turquoise background on these cups. The undersides of the cups bear the words “Osmanlı Toprağı, Tharet” (Ottoman soil, Tharet), after Pierre Tharet, an engineer at a porcelain manufacturing plant that supplied the Ottoman Palace.
Perfume bottle set: Though no one knows exactly to whom these bottles belonged, the bottles carry the “Moser” label and are part of the more prestigious objects on display. One of the bottles has a pump spray. There are also four bottles with tops, a soap holder and a brush.
Toilet paper: This toilet paper is thought to have been brought to the Ottoman palaces from France.
Dental care: Sultan Mehmet Reşat V saw to it that a dental care unit was created around 1910 at Dolmabahçe Palace. He brought in all the necessary tools from Europe, which are now on display.