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Title: Seraglio  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Harem, Namak Haram Deorhi, Köçek, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Serail
Collection: Buildings and Structures of the Ottoman Empire, Harem, Ottoman Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The gate of a seraglio. (Topkapı Palace, Istanbul)
An illustration of the women's quarters in a seraglio, by John Frederick Lewis
Main entrance to a hall in a seraglio.
Sultan Selim III holding an audience in front of the Gate of Felicity. Courtiers are assembled in a strict protocol, by Konstantin Kapıdağlı (Topkapı Palace, Istanbul).

A seraglio ( or ) or serail is the sequestered living quarters used by wives and concubines in an Ottoman household. The term harem refers to the women themselves, but has also come to be used to refer to these sequestered living quarters.


  • Etymology 1
  • In Ottoman culture 2
  • In Italy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The etymology of this Italian word is unclear. The Italian Treccani dictionary gives two derivations:[1] one from Turkish saray,[2][3] from Persian saraʾi (سرای‎),[4] meaning palace, or the enclosed courts for the wives and concubines of the harem of a house or palace, the other (in the sense of enclosure for wild animals) from Late Latin: serraculum, derived from serare, to close, which comes from sera,[5] a door-bar.[6]

In Ottoman culture

In the context of the turquerie fashion, the seraglio became the subject of works of art, the most famous perhaps being Mozart's Singspiel, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). In Montesquieu's Persian Letters, one of the main characters, a Persian from the city of Isfahan, is described as an occupant of a seraglio.

"The Seraglio" may refer specifically to the Topkapı Palace, the residence of the former Ottoman Sultans in Istanbul. The term can also refer to other traditional Turkish palaces—every imperial prince had his own—and other grand houses built around courtyards.

In Italy

In modern Italian the word is spelled serraglio. It may refer to a wall or structure for containment, for example of caged wild animals; or for defence, such as the Serraglio of Villafranca di Verona, a defensive wall built by the Scaligeri.[7] The ghettoes established in many Italian cities following the promulgation by Pope Paul IV in 1555 of the papal bull Cum nimis absurdum were initially called serraglio degli ebrei, "enclosure of the Jews".[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Serraglio", in Treccani: Vocabolario on line. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. (in Italian) Accessed May 2013.
  2. ^ Sarah Fielding. "". Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  3. ^ "TheFreeDictionary". TheFreeDictionary. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "seraglio".  
  5. ^ "sĕra", entry from Lewis & Short. Latin Word Study Tool, Perseus. Accessed May 2013.
  6. ^ Macdonald, A.M. (ed.) (1972) Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary London: Chambers ISBN 055010206X
  7. ^ "Serraglio1", in Treccani: Vocabolario on line. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. (in Italian) Accessed May 2013.
  8. ^ Debenedetti-Stow, Sandra (1992). "The Etymology of "Ghetto": New Evidence from Rome". Jewish History 6 (1/2), The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume: 79-85 (subscription required)

External links

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