Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus by Ayse Osmanoglu - Book Blitz


The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus

Brothers bound by blood but fated to be enemies. Can their Empire survive or will it crumble into myth?

Istanbul, 1903.

Since his younger brother usurped the Imperial throne, Sultan Murad V has been imprisoned with his family for nearly thirty years.

The new century heralds immense change. Anarchy and revolution threaten the established order. Powerful enemies plot the fall of the once mighty Ottoman Empire. Only death will bring freedom to the enlightened former sultan. But the waters of the Bosphorus run deep: assassins lurk in shadows, intrigue abounds, and scandal in the family threatens to bring destruction of all that he holds dear…

For over six hundred years the history of the Turks and their vast and powerful Empire has been inextricably linked to the Ottoman dynasty. Can this extraordinary family, and the Empire they built, survive into the new century?

Set against the magnificent backdrop of Imperial Istanbul,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is a spellbinding tale of love, duty and sacrifice.

Evocative and utterly beguiling,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is perfect for fans of Colin Falconer, Kate Morton and Philippa Gregory.


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The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is the book that I always dreamed of writing. Ever since I was a little girl… Initially I did not intend to publish – it was written to encourage my children’s interest and sense of pride in their heritage, and to teach them forgotten customs and traditions. I wanted to record stories and memories that my grandfather shared with me of his unique life before they are lost forever, and I also hoped to discover more about the characters and personalities hidden behind faded family photographs… Then one day my father persuaded me that others might enjoy this personal story set during the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, so it was published and today celebrates its first birthday!

 In Ottoman tradition, many customs and ceremonies surround the birth of a child. This scene describes one such ceremony ­– my Great Grandmother’s Purification Ceremony that was held in the palace hammam at the end of her accouchement, forty days after giving birth to my beloved Grandfather:


Soon the Mistress of the Baths appeared, bowing low to everyone and inviting them to enter the hammam. The ladies now proceeded to the dressing area, where they removed their shoes and garments. The musicians and dancers, meanwhile, went into the cool room. The princesses put on loose-fitting silk bathing robes and towering high-heeled nalıns. These wooden bathing clogs were decorated with silver and gold filigree, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The leather straps that held their dainty feet in place were decorated both with silver and gold embroidery and with pearls and tiny silver bells that tinkled as they walked. The other ladies put on flowing robes made from fine cottons and linens. Their bathing clogs were less ornate, and lower: the heels of the various ladies’ nalıns varied in height according to their rank within the harem. Once Safiru had undressed, Mevhibe presented her with a set of elaborately-embroidered cream linen towels, which she wrapped about her naked body. The largest towel went around her hips, and the second largest across her shoulders; the smallest was tied in a turban on her head.

 “This is a small gift from me,” Mevhibe said. “After today, you will no longer be a loğusa, a new mother. May Allah bless you and your son!”

 Safiru kissed her hand and raised it to her forehead. “Thank you, Lady Mevhibe. They are absolutely beautiful.”

 Everyone admired Mevhibe’s gilded embroidery. Of all the ladies in the harem, she was the most accomplished at needlework; in recognition of this fact, Murad only wore shirts made by his First Consort. Reftarıdil then approached Safiru and presented her with a new pair of nalıns. Her name had been embroidered in gilded thread across the leather band, and the heels were decorated with small turquoise stones.

 “My dear Safiru, I have had these made especially for you. May Allah protect you and Vâsıb Efendi.” Reftarıdil kissed her grandson’s wife on the forehead. “Please remember me when you wear them,” she said, cupping Safiru’s face in her hands.

 “Lady Reftarıdil, they are exquisite. You have greatly honoured me. Thank you,” replied Safiru, putting on her new bathing clogs. Now ready for the ceremony, she was led into the hammam supported by two bathing attendants. Everyone followed – except for the wetnurse and Vâsıb, who remained in the cool room. Here, the musicians began to play soft, soothing music that was much more relaxed in mood than the lively tunes they had been playing earlier.

 The hammam at Çırağan was one of the jewels of the entire palace. Smoky grey veining of different shades ran through the glistening white marble that covered the floors, walls and ceilings. The rooms were flooded with natural light that streamed in through the large windows overlooking the Bosphorus and the lower terraces of the gardens of Yıldız, as well as from roof lanterns cut into the domes above each chamber. Yet more light filtered in through windows in the ceilings, each one shaped like an eight-pointed star. The raised relaxation areas running along each side of both chambers were separated from the lower level by a marble balustrade in an arabesque design, and were divided into sections by pairs of tall marble pillars. Set into the thick marble walls were ornate arched alcoves and recesses holding oil lamps and candles which flickered as they burned, creating dancing shadows behind them. Elaborate friezes with interlaced geometric patterns were carved into the architraves around each door and window, and every marble panel and niche was decorated with intricate floral motifs and symmetrical latticework. Tiered marble muqarnas projected out from beneath the ceilings, giving the impression that honeycomb was dripping down onto those below. The constant sound of water flowing from the bronze taps into the marble basins soothed the ear, ensuring a harmonious and relaxing atmosphere.

 Safiru willingly submitted to the firm but skilful hands of the Mistress of the Baths. She sat on a wooden stool while warm water was poured over her head and body from silver bathing bowls engraved with prayers and floral designs. The olive oil soap, scented with rosemary and laurel, was repeatedly lathered into her ivory-smooth skin with a silk bath glove until it ran off her onto the floor like foam on the surface of the sea. After being rinsed, Safiru felt a coarse palm-root mitt being rubbed vigorously over her skin, and her body began to tingle. It was as if she could feel her soul being purged while her body was purified. Once this was done, Safiru shut her eyes and surrendered herself to the pleasure of being washed and massaged again. Oblivious to the whispering voices of the princesses and the Imperial consorts, wives and Gözdes in the hammam, she drifted into an unexplored realm that lay somewhere between consciousness and sleep.

Author Bio –  Ayşe Osmanoğlu is a member of the Imperial Ottoman family, being descended from Sultan Murad V through her grandfather and from Sultan Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad) through her grandmother. After reading History and Politics at the University of Exeter, she then obtained an M.A. in Turkish Studies at SOAS, University of London, specialising in Ottoman History. She lives in the UK with her husband and five children.


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