Cimill, a 'Keeper of the Harem' at Topkapi Palace Museum sums it up well:
"As visitors enter the door of Topkapi Palace Harem their sense of anticipation is tangible. Even today they envisage the possibility of meeting an odalisque, her long skirt trailing on the ground as she walks. The word harem originates from the Arabic harîm, comprising the concepts of secrecy, inviolability and sacrosanctness that pervade the very walls of this place and marked life here over the centuries that it was a closed book to strangers."
The Harem is intriguing. It suggests the hidden, the secluded and the sensual. But also myth and misunderstanding. The Harem refers generally to the private quarters the Sultan himself, princes and of the women of the palace including the wives of the Sultan, his mother, his children, many other female relatives, maidservants, slaves and also to the eunuchs.
Visitors are asked to remain quiet, preserving the sacrosanct atmosphere. I felt like a voyeur, sneaking down forbidden passageways, peeking around corners and through windows. If there had been curtains I would have wanted to hide behind them and watch the secret life of the Royal Court.
Instead there were helpful guards, ropes, signs and other tourists taking snapshots. I suppose some things are best left to the imagination.