The Court of Eunuchs

Black Eunuchs also called Eunuchs of the Harem were mostly chosen from the Central African territories of the Empire and in particular among those of Abyssinian origin. They were taught the rules of the Palace and Harem and trained and educated in a strict discipline. Their main functions were to guard the gates and control access to the Harem, accompany the carriages and let no one from the outside enter the Harem.

The Head of the Black Eunuchs, Chief Harem Eunuch (Darü’s-saâde Ağası) also called the Girls’ Eunuch was the highest authority in charge of the Harem. In the protocol ranking, he was placed directly after the Grand Vizier and the Sheikh ul-lslam, the chief religious official in the Ottoman Empire, (Şeyhülislam).

Since the Chief Harem Eunuchs oversaw the Ottoman imperial foundations and the Harem endowments, they were handling substantial revenues and had a high income. Consequently, they have been able to erect numerous mosques, schools, fountains and kiosks built for the dispensing of free drinking water as an act of piety in Istanbul and elsewhere in the country.  On the other hand, they have been effective in state administration, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, since they were close to the Sultan and his family owing to the tasks they were fulfilling in the court.

It is thought that the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs and the buildings around it were probably erected during the institutionalization phase of the Harem in the mid-16th century. This was the first courtyard of the Harem. Many of the Black Eunuchs’ quarters, which were also an educational place, face this courtyard, since they also acted as guards under the command of the Chief Harem Eunuch. The spaces surrounding this courtyard were rebuilt after the great Harem fire of 1665. The complex includes the dormitory of the Harem eunuchs located on the left hand side behind the portico, the quarters of the Chief Harem Eunuch (Darü’s-saâde Ağası) and the School of Princes as well as the Gentlemen-in-Waiting of the Sultan (Musahipler Dairesi) and the sentry post next to it. The inscription on the façade of the dormitory includes the deeds of trust - established for the eunuchs-  of the Sultans Mustafa IV, Mahmut II and Abdülmecit I dating from the 19th century.