The most intriguing women in history

The influence of the Queen Mothers of the Ottoman Empire has been covered by several studies. They attract great interest due to their influence on the imperial government, and thanks to the public buildings they constructed as benefactors.

Queen Mothers were second to the Sultan in terms of royal protocol. In fact, Sultanate of Women refers to a period in Ottoman history, beginning with the last years of Süleyman the Magnificent and lasting until Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s assignment as the Grand Vizier. This was when the Queen Mothers heavily influenced the imperial government. The period saw the most intriguing women of history, not only due to their influences on their royal husbands and sons, but also to their lives full of intrigue and conflict. Valide Sultan, (Queen Mother) was the title given to the mothers of Ottoman Sultans. A mother would gain this title upon her son’s enthronement and then would become the most powerful person in the harem.

Ottoman history is full of powerful mothers such as Nurbanu, Safiye, Mahpeyker Kösem, and Hürrem. They reigned because some of the sultans lacked sufficient authority to govern the empire, or sometimes because the sultans were merely too young to rule, thus handing their mothers the power.

In addition to their endeavours in the palace, they also had public buildings built for charity in a number of cities across the empire, and particularly in Istanbul. Shaping the cultural and social life of the Ottoman Empire, these sultans enriched Istanbul and Anatolia with monuments of immeasurable value. Mosques were the principal works of Queen Mothers, but their deeds involved many other beneficial structures as well. The first women’s hospital in the world, Haseki, was built by a Queen Mother, as well as the first women’s shelter.

The female touch in every corner of Istanbul

Even today, you can spot the work of a Queen Mother in almost every corner of Istanbul. Thousands of buildings constructed by the foundations they established are still worth visiting. It is remarkable that 1,400 of the nearly 26,000 identified foundations established during the reign of the empire were established by women. The Queen Mothers as well as the daughters of the sultans, the princesses, utilised their salaries and income to build public structures. This helped construct various hospitals, social complexes, hospices, fountains, libraries, clinics, bridges and mosques within the empire. These structures changed the social nature of the communities at the time of their construction. Let’s name a few of these Queen Mothers and their buildings. The first Queen Mother who was remembered for her charity was the mother of Murat I, Nilüfer Hatun. Queen Mothers maintained a dominant presence through the foundations they established, particularly by the mid-16th century. Hafsa, Hürrem, Safiye, and Nurbânu Sultan earned the public’s appreciation during the rise of the empire. Later, sultans such as Kösem, Hatice Turhan, and Bezm-i Âlem were commemorated for their generosity.

From the first women’s hospital to the first women’s shelter

Ordered by Hürrem Sultan for Sinan the Architect to construct, Haseki hospital takes its place in history as the first women’s health institution in the world. Wife of Selim II, Nurbânu Valide Sultan established the Atik Valide Complex, beginning the tradition of librarianship in the Ottoman Empire. Other Queen Mothers continued this tradition. Did you know that the first women’s shelter was also established by one of the Queen Mothers? Daughter of Mahmud II, Adile Sultan opened a shelter for women in need, a first in Ottoman history. Wife of Mahmud II and mother of Abdülmecit, Bezmiâlem Valide Sultan, who was one of the most influential of Queen Mothers, built the hospital in her name. It remains operational in Istanbul to this day. The cholera epidemic in 1826 and the smallpox epidemic in 1843 inspired the establishment of the hospital, which currently serves under the name of Bezmiâlem Foundation University Medicine Faculty Hospital. Another of Bezmiâlem Valide Sultan’s significant constructions is the Valide Mosque, which stands next to Dolmabahçe Palace. Mother of Sultan Abdülaziz, Pertevniyal Valide Sultan founded the school, which is still an educational institution today. Mihrimah Sultan had two mosques built in Istanbul, one in Edirnekapı and the other in Üsküdar. The buildings mentioned above are the relatively monumental structures, but tens of other mosques and thousands of fountains should be mentioned as well. If you have ever visited Istanbul, you will remember the grand mosque across the street from the Golden Horn. This mosque, known as Yeni Camii, was built by another Queen Mother, Hatice Turhan Sultan.