The Ottoman Empire was one of the grandest and most powerful in the world, and the Topkapi Palace was a testament to its influence, size and power. Separated into two main parts, the main palace housed the Imperial Council, Treasury, libraries, schools, courtyards, mosques, and gardens, while the Harem was the private residence of an extensive royal family where the Queen Mother (the Valide Sultan) reigned. She, in many ways, was the most powerful of them all, influencing her son in politics while also regulating important relationships within the royal family.
The palace functioned like a mini city, where the royal family lived in general seclusion rarely ever stepping outside its grounds.
In the Harem, hundreds of concubines, hand picked as the most beautiful and talented women in the world, entered the royal palace at a young age. They were educated music, art, dance and royal manners, in their preparation to become Guzdas, or the future wives of the Sultan.
Black Enuchs, who delivered messages and carried out royal orders, held considerable power, with the Chief Black Enuch being the fourth most powerful in the political hierarchy, closely attending to the Sultan and involving himself in daily affairs both in and outside the palace.
I soon realize that the royal family, palace, practices and hierarchies of the Ottoman Empire closely paralleled those of the Imperial Dynasties of China. The Sultan was 皇上, the Valide Sultan 皇太后, the Harem 后宫, the concubines 佳人, and the eunuchs 公公, all of which had nearly identical roles, traditions and relationships within the royal family.
As I looked out from the palace, I couldn't help but wonder how two distinct civilizations on earth could independently produce such extraordinarily similar customs, values and traditions. This, for me, was history’s attestation that despite human nature's perpetual need to differentiate “us” from “others”, all of us, regardless of race, origin or religion, will forever be more similar than we will ever be different.