Turkish cafe - a place where heirs to the throne were raised in cages
Turkish cafe - a place where heirs to the throne were raised in cages

One of the attractions of Istanbul is Topkapi Palace. Until the middle of the 19th century, it was the main palace of the Ottoman Empire and therefore was built with all the pomp - with all the gardens and annexes, the territory of the palace occupies more than 700 thousand square meters. It was here that the sultan kept his harem, and it was here that the future sultans were raised. In cells.

Topkapi Palace

Most of the palace was assigned to the harem. There were numerous wives, concubines, their children and servants who served them all. Close to the harem, but behind a high wall, was the place where the princes grew up. It was a one-story building with a very beautiful and rich decoration inside - the walls were tiled, the ceilings were painted, the floors were carpeted, the windows were stained, and they overlook a beautiful terraced garden and pool.

Decoration in the cafe

Yes, only all this beauty was not built for aesthetic pleasure - princes who could claim the throne were locked in this building. So that under no circumstances would they be able to take power from the Sultan. The sons of the Sultan and other possible heirs to the throne fell into this colorful prison.

This building was named cafe - from Turkish this word is translated as "cell". Twelve pavilions were built in the cafe, each of which had several rooms. There was always someone to settle here, since the ruling dynasties then had the rule of succession to the throne by seniority, that is, even the younger brothers of the Sultan had a chance to take the throne.

Topkapi in Istanbul

Before the construction of the cafe, the sultans simply ordered to kill all rivals. This was the official law - whoever ascended the throne should kill all their brothers, uncles and cousins ​​to reduce the chances of a rebellion or civil war. In the 150 years since the announcement of this law, more than 80 members of the ruling dynasty of the Ottoman Empire have been killed.

Stained glass in the cafe

All younger brothers and unwanted sons often died in infancy. However, such a radical approach had its drawbacks - in the event of the sudden death of the Sultan, there was a chance that after him there simply would not be any relatives who could take his place, and this threatened the existence of the entire empire. It was for this purpose that the cafe was built. Potential heirs to the throne lived in luxury, but without freedom. And in the event of the death of the Sultan, the elder was released and enthroned.


The boys were transferred to a cafe at the age of eight. There they continued to be taught, they continued to look after them, they were even allowed to have concubines, but they were strictly forbidden to marry and have children. There was a small park surrounded by a high fence near the cafe, where the princes organized wrestling or archery competitions, sometimes evenings with music, dances and songs were organized, sometimes with theatrical performances. Princes often lived in such a "golden cage" until their death, never getting the opportunity to see the "big world". And the quality of this life was actually very doubtful - in addition to physical imprisonment, the princes often suffered from various mental disorders, as they lived in constant fear that they would be killed, if not by order of the Sultan, then at the initiative of the princes neighboring in the cafe.

A beautiful prison

One of these princes was Murad IV, who ascended the throne after the death of Mustafa I, who did not leave a son-heir. Murad IV first of all forbade drinking coffee throughout the empire, as well as using tobacco and alcohol.Anyone who disobeyed the prohibitions was severely punished, and for repeated offenses, they were executed. Sometimes the Sultan deliberately wrapped himself in a cloak and went to taverns, in search of those who nevertheless decided to drink coffee. Then he threw off his cloak and killed the "criminal" with his own hand. Sometimes Murad IV hid in a booth by the water at the palace and fired a bow at everyone who dared to sail "too close" to the palace in their boat. And sometimes the sultan did not even try to come up with a reason for his cruelty and simply ran out of the palace at night barefoot and chopped down with a sword everyone who came across him on the way, for no reason.

Murad IV

After the death of Murad, another pupil of the cafe, Ibrahim, ascended the throne. His mental state was even more distressing. Ibrahim lived in a cafe for 22 years, unable to communicate with other people - he was served by dumb and deaf eunuchs. Sitting in his cage, he saw how one or the other prince was executed, how his two brothers were also executed under the order of Murad himself. Ibrahim remained the last heir, and his fear was well founded. In fact, Murad really ordered to kill him, but the advisers were still able to dissuade him. So when they came to the cafe to declare him sultan to Ibrahim, Ibrahim got scared and barricaded himself in his room. No one could convince him that these were not the executioners, he did not even trust his own mother. I only believed it when the body of the deceased Murad was brought to the cafe.

Cafe at Topkapi Palace

Murad quickly fell under the influence of his advisers and after a while almost completely retired from running the empire. Ibrahim was called insane for his unpredictable behavior. Once in the harem, it became obvious that the sultan did not even suspect how to behave and how children are born. A teacher was hired for him - and soon Ibrahim left all management of the empire for the sake of endlessly spending time in the harem. Once Ibrahim first saw a cow, and was so delighted with her that he demanded to measure the size of the loin of the animal and find in the empire such a woman whose backside was the same size - and bring her to the harem.

Ibrahim I

Despite his irrepressible sexual appetites, once, in a fit of anger, Ibrahim demanded to execute all the women of the harem - and all 280 concubines were drowned. In another outburst of anger, he threw his baby son into the pool, where he hit his head against the wall. The boy was saved, but he had a scar on his head until his death.


The last Sultan Mehmed VI Vahidaddin spent almost his entire life within the walls of the luxurious prison of the cafe. He was already 56 years old when he finally ascended the throne. This was the last and longest imprisonment and the last tribute to the customs and laws of the sultanate. Mehmed VI remained sultan until the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I.

You can read about what other dark secrets the Ottoman Empire hid in See our article on this topic.

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