The Golden Cradle in the Topkapi Palace

Among the works of greatest artistic and material value in the Treasury of Topkapi Palace are examples of Ottoman wood carving and inlay. They include thrones, chests of drawers, and chairs, decorated with gold, silver and precious stones. Among these is the golden cradle in the Second Room of the Treasury.

The Golden Cradle is a masterpiece of the arts of jewellery and inlaying, which was made in the 16th century for an unknown Ottoman prince. Although experts say it dates from the time of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent it is not known which prince it was made for Was it the cradle of the unfortunate Prince Mustafa who was cruelly killed when he entered the tent to kiss the hand of his father Sultan Suleyman in the Aktepe Meadows of Eregli near Konya? Or that of Prince Cihangir who died the same year in Aleppo unable to bear having seen his brother murdered before his eyes? Or that of Prince Beyazid the son of Sultan Suleyman's favourite, Hurrem Sultan, who fell out with his brother Prince Selim during his father's lifetime and escaped to Iran where he was killed in 1561? Or is it that of Prince Selim the Blond who took over his father's throne having killed off all his brothers one by one? Or was it none of these, but the cradle of one of the sultan's daughters? Historians have been unable to answer this question.

The Golden Cradle is 103 cm. long and 54 cm. high. Its frame is of walnut wood, outer surface covered with gold gilding, lined with purple velvet. It is decorated with 1475 diamonds, 1210 rubies and 520 emeralds. The emeralds and diamonds on the sides are huge and clear. The two knobs and handle at the ends of the cradle are also decorated with precious stones, the knobs having eight diamonds, five rubies and fifteen emeralds each. The pink and white silk cloth on the cradle is covered with too many pearls to count, may be thousands, tens of thousands. There are also eigh sticks used in swaddling babies, which are decorated with 140 diamonds, 132 rubies and 842 emeralds. Altogether the cradle is equivalent to a treasury in itself. But to have such a cradle made to be carried in the Cradle Ceremony should not be considered as overspending for a state which had reached the gates of Vienna, had kings kneel before them, and possessed the greatest treasures in the world. In Ottoman palaces, a traditional ceremony called the Cradle Ceremony was always held for the children of the sultan. The ceremony was as follows:

As soon as a child of the sultan was born, five animals were sacrificed if it was a boy and three if it was a girl. Then five rounds of canon fire was ordered to notify the populace of Istanbul of the event, signifying the start of festivities in the palace and the city. While military bands played gay tunes, entertainments were organised in the streets and squares. Then notes would be sent from the palace informing the Sheikh-ul Islam (head of the Moslem religion in the Ottoman Empire), the viziers, the minister of finance, the head of the Janissaries, all important men of state and the judges of every city in the nation, while special invitations were sent to the wives of important men of state and women of the royal family living outside the palace, to come and congratulate the woman who had given birth. While she wept tears of joy the guests would be presented with scented sherbets. The presents which they had brought would be displayed in a corner. The new born child would be at the foot of the bed in the arms of a wet nurse waiting for its cradle.

Usually the sultan's mother would prepare the cradle and covers. Orders would be given to the Treasurer, who would immediately have the gilded and jewelled cradle made ready. Then it would be carried from the Old Palace to the New Palace with a procession of palace officials headed by the Treasurer, The Cradle Ceremony was one of the most colourful ceremonies in Istanbul, and thousands of citizens used to come to watch it. The Cradle would be taken to the harem and handed over to the Chief Agha and the Harem Agha who would take it to childbed room with prayers.

Sometimes the cradle would be sent by Grand Viziers. In that case the Cradle would be carried in procession from Pasakapi to Topkapi Palace. If the child was a boy an aigrette would the placed on the Cradle. The tradition of holding a Cradle Ceremony went on for many years, but only a few of the cradles which must have been made for it have survived until the present day, the rest having been dismantled and the precious stones removed. It is thought that the Golden Cradle, which was used in the Cradle Ceremony of a newly born prince was carefully looked after in the Treasury because of its great value.

Source: Antika; The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, August 1985, Issue: 5

By Mehmet Onder

Nadir Shah Throne

Nadir Shah, a commander of the Afsar Turks known in history as Nadir Shah-i Afshari was indeed powerful when he overthrew the Iranian ruler Shah Abbas the Third in 1736 and assumed the throne. He possessed a great army with which he might have conquered all Asia. He made ready a great campaign against India, which at that time was ruled by Indian rulers of the Babur line and was one of the richest countries in Asia. Its dazzling palaces were the subjects of thousand and one stories, and the countless diamonds, emeralds, and rubies in its treasuries were legendary. With the dream of possessing the riches of India. Nadir Shah set out on his campaign against this fairy-tale country. When he overcame the Indian ruler Muhammed Shah and took Delhi, he realised that his dreams had come true. The treasuries of Delhi were overflowing with gold and precious stones. Among them was the Peacock Throne, made of pure gold decorated with huge pearls, green emeralds, and blood-red rubies which was indescribably invaluable. He had the treasures of India carried to Iran in caravan after caravan of camels and elephants. The Indian campaign was a success, and Nadir Shah's fame increased even more.

At this point he considered a campaign against the Ottomans and arrived as far as Kars in Eastern Anatolia, but subsequently felt it was more in keeping with his interest to remain on good terms with them. With the Treaty of Kasri Sirin in 1746 a satisfactory and friendly peace was made, for the celebration of which each side decided to send the other valuable gifts. Nadir Shah entrusted the famous Peacock Throne which he had captured among the treasures of Delhi during the course of the Indian Campaign along with a great number of other gifts to his most trusted men Mehmed Mahdi Han and Sanli Mustafa Han and sent them to the Ottoman Padishah, Mahmud I. The caravan loaded down with crates full of riches set out for Istanbul

Sultan Mahmud for his part had had a dagger decorated with huge emeralds and rubies made for Nadir Shah, and in addition put together a few loads of riches from the treasury and sent them to Iran under the command of Ahmet Pasha. The ambassadors of the two sides and their gifts met on 30 Mays 1747 near Baghdad. During a special ceremony each viewed the gifts of the others and after a few days separated each going his own way. About the time the Ottoman embassy reached the city of Hamedan, a great rebellion broke out in Iran. Nadir Shah was killed by his own men during his flight from his headquarters in Fethabad. The only thing for the Ottoman ambassadors to do under the circumstances was to return immediately to Istanbul with the gifts. With great difficulty indeed they reached the Ottoman lands and having saved the treasuries from being looted surrendered them undiminished to the Ottoman treasury.

As for the Iranian ambassadors, they learned of the rebellion and Nadir Shah's condition at Baghdad. Mehmet Mehdi Han was Nadir Shah's right-hand man, and his return to Iran would have meant knowingly going to his death. He requested asylum from the Ottoman government and an order sent from Istanbul to the governor of Baghdad ensured the security of the gifts and granted asylum to the ambassadors. Some time later orders were given for the transport to Istanbul of the treasures belonging to Nadir Shah and which were under special guard in Baghdad. Thus a great number of value articles, primary among them the Peacock Throne, reached Istanbul.

Among the masterpieces on display in the third salon of the Treasury of Topkapi Palace Istanbul is a dazzling throne of Indian origin. This throne, known for years as the Throne of Shah Ismail, is nothing less than the Peacock Throne sent in 1747 as a gift from Nadir Shah to the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud I. It is only in recent years that serious research has been conducted on the documents related to the throne. Thus it has become clear that this throne, which was previously thought to have been taken by Sultan Selim the Grim from Shah Ismail during the course of the Battle of Caldiran, in fact belonged to Nadir Shah, and was brought to the Treasury in 1758.

The throne is a masterpiece of the art of Indian craftsmen. It is in the form of a high-edged table resting on four legs. At the front is a low stool on which the feet were to be paced. The throne is covered with a cushion decorated with gold braid and pearls. The entire surface of the throne is covered with gold, with a red and green enamel wash and decorated with rubies, emeralds, and pearls.

There are a great number of other thrones in the Treasury of Topkapi Museum, among these being the Arife Throne of Sultan Ahmed I, made of mother of pearl and decorated with precious stones the Bayram Throne, made of pure gold in the 18th century and decorated with 955 topazes, the Sava_ Throne from the 16th century decorated with ivory and mother of pearl, and the gold Kubbeli Throne in the Audience Hall which is a work of the 16th century. But all eyes are drawn to the Throne of Nadir Shah, which is without parallel in the world.

Thousands of visitors every day are incapable to conceal their amazement which confronted by this master piece.

Source: Antika; The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, June 1985, Issue: 3

By Mehmet Onder