Become a Subscriber

Become a Contributor
Shop for Books by Our Contributors

Also Recommended

Global Adventure with Judith Fein and Paul Ross

Support This Site
Powered by Squarespace
25 Van Ness 25-word essays 40 State 40 Days 99cent store Adventure Travel Africa Aging Air Saftey air travel Airline fiasco Airline Passenger Bill of Rights airline safety Airplane airplane seat selection airport fiasco Alaska all-inclusive resort American Airlines American ignorance Amish Amsterdam Amtrak anger Arab Arabia architecture Argentina Arizona arm chair travel Art Asia Authentic Travel awards Backpack travel bad day baggage Bahamas Bali Balloon Festival ban whale watching Bangkok Barcelona beach being arrested Being authentic Belize Bellingham Washington belly dancing Belmont University Bhutan bicycling bike tour bikes bikes as therapy Billy the Kid bioluminescence Bird watching Birding birthday book contest Boycott Brattany Brazil Breaking news British Columbia Budget travel Buenos Aires Burma bus travel Cahokia Mounds Cairo California Cambodia Camino de Santiago Camping Canada Canadian Geese Cancer car travel Caribbean Caribbean rainforest Carnac Carnival Caving Central America Ceramics change your life Cheap travel Cheap trips cherish life Chetumal children China Christmas Christmas Day Bomber Claridges Class trip Classic Hotels claustrophobic flyer climate change coffee Colombia color contest continental airlines controversy Cook Islands Copenhagen Costa Rica courage cowboy culture Creative travel creative writing crisis Croatia Crop Circles cruise travel cruising Cuba cuisine Culinary travel Cultural travel Culture Cusco CVS cycling Czech Republic dance Death Death Valley National Park Denmark dining dining guide divorce Dominican Republic Dordogne Dubai Earthquake Easter Eco Travel eco-tourism eco-travel Ecuador Egypt elephant seal emergency preparedness England environmental commentary environmental problems Ethiopia Europe European Union excellence in travel writing expat living expats Faith falling family family resort family travel family vacation Fat Tuesday fear festival fiesta Filipino restaurant finances fitnees flight Florida Food forgetfulness forgiveness France French Camp Friendship frustrated flyer frustration gadgets Galapagos Garifuna Gaspe Peninsula Genealogy Germany Ghana gift guide Girona giveaway Glastonbury Festival global curiosity Global eating habits global nomad global warming good day Gorilla Trek Government GPS Grand Canyon grandparents Greece grief guys getaway Haiti happiness Hawaii healing healing journey hearing loss Helicopter tours hiking Historical travel Holiday Celebrations Home Honduras honeymoon horseback riding hotels How to how-to humor Hurricanes i do not love Venice i need a vacation Iceland Volcano Incas independenc India Indonesia inn reviews Inner Child Internal Reflection international marriage introvert iPhone app Ireland Islam isolation Israel Istanbul Italy Jack London Jamaica Japan JetBlue Jewish journaling Judith Fein Jules Older Kansas Karl Rove Kenya kindness of strangers land Language Las Vegas Latin America learning vacations Leukemia Library life lessons life transformation literature living abroad living like a local London Los Angeles loss Louvre at night love luxury hotels luxury travel Maine Malta Manatee Mardi Gras marriage Masonic Temple Massage Maui Maya meditation Mexico Michigan Middle East Military wedding Minnesota Missouri Molokai money Montana Monterey Moose Morocco mother's day mother-son travel motorcycle travel multigenerational vacation Music Musings Myanmar Namibia Nancy King National Prayer Day Native America nature Nepal Nevada New Mexico New Orleans New Year New York New Zealand Newfoundland Nicaragua Nigeria NNew Mexico noise Northwest Airlines Pilots Norway Nova Scotia Ohio Older parents Olive Oil Olympic Peninsula Washington orcas Oregon Orkney Islands outdoors ownership Pacific Northwest Parent's love Paris Partners Passover Paul Ross Pennsylvania personal essay Peru Pets Philippines photography contest Pilots Plane plastic plastic bags Poem Poetry police Politics Portugal postcards Pottery poverty Prague Prayer procrastination pueblo culture Puerto Rico Q&A Quebec Quito ranch vacation random acts of kindness rap song reading reasons to travel recession rejuvenation relaxation Religion Religious holidays remembering mothers Responsible travel. Sustainable travel restaurant reviews revolution River Rafting Road trip roadtrip romance romantic travel Rosemary Beach runway delay Russia Sacred Places sadness Safari sailing Samba music San Andrés de Teixido San Francisco Santa Fe Sardinia Saudi Arabia Scotland sea kayaking Sedona self discovery senior travel Serbia Shakespeare Shamanism shame Shopping short stories Sicily Siena silence Sisters ski vacation skiing Slow travel Slum Tourism Slumdog Millionaire small-group travel Soaking tub Sociology Songwriting South America South Dakota Southeast Asia soviet satellite Spa Spain spirituality Springtime SSan Francisco St. Louis St. Petersburg Standing Stones Steinbeck stress stuff happens Sumatra Summer cottage surfing surviving disaster Sushine Coast Switzerland Tacoma Taiwan Tanzania Taos Taxi Taxi Driver Tbex Texas Thailand The Netherlands the writing life Tokyo Tourism train trip Transformative travel transportation trash travel travel advice travel agents Travel Blogging travel commentary travel confession travel contest travel essay travel gear travel hassles travel humor Travel interrupted travel musings travel opinion travel photography Travel Reviews travel safe travel safety travel security travel technology travel traditions travel trends travel videos Travel with Kids Travel Writing traveling alone traveling with kids traveling with teens trekking trip to the dentist truffles TSA complaints Ttrain trip Tunisia turbulence Turkey Tuscany typhoon UFOs Uganda uncensored travel opinion UNESCO World Heritage Site Union Station United Arab Emirates United Kingdom Upstate New York Utah vacation vacation rental vacation tips Valentine's Day Vancouver Venezuela Venice Venice California Vermont Veterans Day Vietnam Vinayaka Chaturthi virtual vacation Wales Walking Washington Washington D.C. water project waves we don't care airlines weather wedding White Oaks Pottery White Sands National Monument why I fly why not to cruise why travel wildlife spotting wine Women travel workout World Festivals world peace World War I World War II writer's block Writing Yoga Yucatan Peninsula zombie boot camp
« An Alien Universe | Main | Today’s Learning Objective: Kill a Goat »

Meeting the Sultan at Topkapi

by John Mole

Editor’s note: The following is by the oldest blogger we have ever published. Actually, he is more than 400 years old. Contributor, John Mole, was so taken by the diary of Thomas Dallam, who, at age 25 was charged with delivering the gift of a self-playing organ and clock from Queen Elizabeth to Sultan Mehmet III of Turkey, that he translated the work into modern English. This post, originally titled ‘The Sultan’s Organ” was written in 1599. It includes what is probably the first ever recoreded glimpse inside the Sultan’s harem by a foreigner. 


I set up the organ in the grandest pavilion of Topkapi palace. Inside was a little apartment. I have never seen the like for carving, gilding, paintwork and varnish. The Sultan had nineteen brothers put to death in there. It was built for the sole purpose of strangling them.

The main hall has two rows of marble pillars. The pedestals are made of brass and double gilt. The walls on three sides only go up to the eaves and the rest is open. But if there is a storm or a gale they can quickly lower cotton hangings that will keep out any kind of weather and just as quickly open them again. The fourth wall is made of porphyry so polished you can see yourself in it. On the floor are rich silk carpets. There are no chairs or tables or benches, only one royal divan. On one side is a pond full of different-coloured fish. 


The Sultan came over the water in his golden barge. I was ushered out of the room and the door locked behind me. I heard the Sultan arrive and the loud noise of his retinue. He sat down on his great throne and commanded silence. The Organ began to salute him.  First the clock struck the hour. Then a chime of sixteen bells played a four part melody. Two figures raised silver trumpets to their lips and blew a fanfare. Then the music started with a five part song played twice. At the top of the organ a holly bush full of blackbirds and thrushes sang and flapped their wings. Various other movements amazed the Sultan. He sat down in front of the keyboard and asked the Chief White Eunuch, the Kapi Aga, if he knew anyone who could play it. He said the man who brought it was outside the door. 

“Fetch him here,” said the Sultan.

The Kapi Aga came out and took me by the hand. I went through the door and was astonished by what I saw. The Sultan sat on a rich throne about sixteen paces away.. On his thumb was a diamond half an inch square, at his side a beautiful scimitar, a bow and a quiver of arrows. He was magnificently regal but nothing compared with the retinue that stood behind him, a vision that made me think I was in another world. There were two hundred principal pages, the youngest sixteen years old, the oldest about  thirty. They were dressed in calf length coats and matching caps of gold lamé, with long pieces of silk around the waist for a belt and knee-length red Cordovan leather boots. Their heads were shaved except for a lock of hair like a squirrel's tail behind the ear. They were clean shaven apart from moustaches. Another hundred were deaf-mutes and also dressed in rich gold lamé and Cordovan boots. Their caps were of violet velvet with the crown like a leather bottle and five peaked corners on the brims. Some of them had hawks on their fists. The remaining hundred were all dwarves, big bodied men but small. Every dwarf had a scimitar by his side and they were also dressed in gold lamé. I was most amazed by the deaf-mutes for they communicated perfectly with signs.

The Kapi Aga told me to go and play the organ. I refused because the Sultan sat so close to where I had to play that I could only do it by turning my back on him and touching his knee, which nobody was allowed to do, on pain of death. The Kapi Aga told me to pluck up courage and pushed me forwards.  I bowed my head down to my knees and turned my back on the Sultan. He could not see what I was doing and stood up so he could see my hands. He could not help nudging me, since he sat so close. I thought he was drawing his sword to cut off my head.

I stood there playing until the clock struck again. I bowed as low as I could and stepped away. The Kapi Aga told me to put the cover on the keyboard. I bowed and shuffled again and they all laughed. I saw the Sultan hold his hand out behind him full of gold, which the Kapi Aga took and gave to me. It was forty-five sequins, more than two hundred pounds. I was taken out the way I came, very pleased with my success.


My escort said that if I stayed in Constantinople for ever, I would have everything my heart desired. The Sultan would give me two wives, either two of his concubines or two of the most beautiful virgins I could find for myself. 

We crossed a little square courtyard paved with marble. He pointed to a grating in the wall. Through it I saw thirty of the Sultan's concubines playing ball in a courtyard. At first I thought they were young men but then I saw their hair hanging down their backs in plaits with tassels of little pearls, and other obvious signs, and I realised they were women and very pretty at that. They wore little gold lamé skull caps. Around their necks were pretty pearl necklaces and jewel pendants and jewel earrings. They had loose coats like a soldier's of red or blue satin tied with a cord of the opposite colour. You could see their thighs through the calf length cotton trousers, snow white and fine as muslin. Some of them wore Cordovan knee boots others had bare legs with a gold ankle bracelet and velvet platform shoes four or five inches high. My interpreter advised me not to talk about what I had seen, for if it got out it would mean death for the man who showed me. 


John Mole lives in London and Greece. He has written novels and travel memoirs about Greece and Russia. His latest novel is The Quest for Helen, a tale set in Ottoman Greece. To learn more, visit The Sultan’s Organ is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon and additional formats on


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

What a moving journal entry, this must have been an amazing experience.

July 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...