Category Archives: Istanbul

Museum Secrets

Last year I did some filming with Kensington TV for a series called Museum Secrets, airing on Canada’s History Television channel.

Episode 14, Topkapi palace, is going out today.


Why were so many Sultans assassinated?

What would be the perfect way to murder a Sultan?

Topkapi Palace Museum is peaceful at night.  But when the Sultans lived here, it’s likely they had trouble sleeping.

A traitorous vizier, a jealous wife, or an ambitious son – many might have reasons to murder a Sultan.   During the Ottoman Empire, 19 Sultans were assassinated.

In the broadcast episode, we meet a man who is an expert in such matters.  His name is Jason Goodwin – a detective novelist who sets his stories in Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman Empire.

We follow Jason as he examines murderous possibilities in the Sultan’s bathroom, at Istanbul’s famed spice market, and as he returns to Topkapi to consider the homicidal potential of the Sultan’s kitchen.  Here Jason investigates if poison could be secreted into a Sultan’s food.

Is poison the best way to murder a Sultan?  Or are other nefarious methods more likely to succeed?

All is revealed in Museum Secrets: Inside Topkapi.

Further Questions

Jason’s detective novels, set in Topkapi Palace, are filled with mystery and history.  We invite you to check out a complete list of his works to date on



Many readers have written to me to say that Yashim’s exploits have inspired them to visit, or re-visit, Istanbul – where the official city guides, as it happens, recommend the Yashim series to prospective tourists, as a gentle introduction to the city’s long and tumultuous story. My thanks to them all.

If any further spur was required, then Cornucopia should provide it. Cornucopia describes itself as ‘the Magazine for Connoisseurs of Turkey’, and it is that and more. It is an astonishingly beautiful magazine, published quarterly, with features on everything from old Bosphorus interiors to nomads of the steppe, from attar of roses to neolithic Anatolia, very lavishly illustrated, as the brochures would say, and intelligently written.

One way to look at what it has to offer is via this link, which begins with a review of the Yashim books by Barnaby Rogerson, author and publisher at Eland Books – of whom, and of which, more in a later post.

A browse through the website to begin with is highly recommended!

Celebrating and chronicling all things Ottoman-inspired and influenced, Cornucopia is a cross between World of Interiors and National Geographic, with a gentle Turkic twist. Tyler Brülé, The Financial Times

Gentleman with – ouch!

A reader just wrote to me about her research into Turkish knives, especially the curved knives used for cutting up borek and baklava. She had prompted by visiting Aygun Bozdogan at Kalite Bicak, the little cutler’s shop between the Spice Bazaar and Rustem Pasha Mosque.

His collection is quite astonishing, from the tiniest shiny penknife that the Valide might wield to huge meat choppers for mincing lamb for a kebab. Obvious destination for a crime writer…

I did an interview with him a couple of years ago, with a reading from The Snake Stone:

Hope you enjoy this! ‘Like’ it and share it if you want…

Don’t get lost…

Last night I was invited to attend a book club which meets in the oldest continuously-inhabited house in Dorset. We gathered in the old hall, with three beautiful 13th century lancet windows overlooking the croquet lawn. It was our host’s great-grandmother, I think, who had that part of the moat filled in for croquet. How civilised! We drank Venetian wine and nibbled on baklava, and people talked about the Yashim books, politely.

Something that emerged from the talk was the glaring demand for a map to accompany the books, and maybe a cast-list for people who get lost among the unfamiliar names. Let me know what you think.

Here is a pretty clear map of Istanbul/Constantinople, showing some of the major landmarks.


As I wrote in Lords of the Horizons,  ‘Constantinople resembled the head of a dog, pointing east on a triangular peninsula. Over its nose the channel of the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus; its throat is caressed by the Sea of Marmara; and the land walls erected by Theodosius in the fifth century are slung across as a sort of huge loose collar from ear to chest…’

You can see the Phanariot Quarter – modern-day Fener – incorporating Balat, where Yashim lives. Pera, across the Golden Horn, was the ‘European’ quarter’, and Ambassador Palewski’s Residence stands a little inland from Tophane, among the foreign embassies.

The Galata Tower, one of the fire-fighter’s watch points in The Janissary Tree, is here labelled Christ Tower, and Topkapi palace, home of the sultans and their harems, is called the New Seraglio. The church of Hagia Sophia is just outside its walls. The Hippodrome, or Atmeidan, is the site of the Serpent Column in The Snake Stone.

Of the two bridges shown across the Golden Horn, only the more easterly Galata bridge existed in Yashim’s time: its construction features in An Evil Eye.

Tulipomania – (almost) too beautiful for words

A reader’s suggestion for putting tulips in the garden reminds me of this passage in my history of the Ottomans, Lords of the Horizons:

The tulip was the emblem of the Ottoman royal house, worked into textiles and inlay, and celebrated in poetry: the romantic tulip of Central Asia, that is, a lyre-shaped flower with pointed petals. For a brief period at the end of the seventeenth century the tulip’s sway in the Ottoman garden was challenged by melons and cucumbers; but under Ahmet III in the 1720s it came back into favour with a frenzy which recalled, in its less sordid aspects, the tulipomania of seventeenth-century Holland.

The Dutch mania had been a speculator’s bubble. In Turkey tulipomania came to symbolise the hedonism of the court. Sultan Ahmet III had so many children that with all the births, circumcisions and daughters’ weddings a permanent holiday atmosphere reigned in the Seraglio. ‘Let us laugh, let us play, let us enjoy the delights of the world to the full,’ wrote the court poet Nedim, a particular favourite of Sultan Ahmet’s. Grizzled old kapudan pashas stooped tenderly over the bulbs with little trowels; the head gardener laid his executioner’s tools aside, and dazzling were the nightly displays in the palace in the fleeting growing season. The French ambassador described such an evening at the house of Grand Vizier Damad Ibrahim Pasha in 1726:

When the tulips are in flower, and the Grand Vizier wishes to show them to the sultan, care is taken to fill the gaps where the tulips have come up blind, by flowers taken from other gardens and placed in bottles. Beside every fourth flower is stood a candle, level with the bloom, and along the alleys are hung cages filled with all kinds of birds. The trellises are all decorated with an enormous quantity of flowers of every sort, placed in bottles and lit by an infinite number of glass lamps of different colours. These lamps are also hung on the green branches of shrubs which are specially transplanted for the fete from neighbouring woods and placed behind the trellises. The effect of all these varied colours, and of the lights which are reflected by countless mirrors, is said to be magnificent. The illuminations, and the noisy consort of Turkish musical instruments which accompanies them, continue nightly so long as the tulips remain in flower, during which time the Grand Seigneur and his whole suite are lodged and fed at the expense of the Grand Vizier…

For ten years the whole of Constantinople gave itself over to illusions of fairyland. Giant turtles bearing flickering candelabra paddled through the Seraglio grounds. ‘Sometimes the court appears floating on the waters of the Bosphorus or the Golden Horn, in elegant caiques, covered with silken tents; sometimes it moves forward in a long cavalcade towards one or another of the pleasure palaces… These processions are made especially attractive by the beauty of the horses and the luxury of their caparisons; they progress, with golden or silver harnesses and plumed foreheads, their coverings resplendent with precious stones.’

At the back of it, though, lay policy desperate and inspired: it was all the handiwork of a single Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim Pasha, who feverishly worked the silken threads…

From Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire

Food food food

What is it about eating and writing? As George III didn’t say: ‘Gobble, gobble, gobble, Mr Gibbon.’

Maybe authors work too close to their kitchens to keep away? And cooking has to be the ultimate displacement activity…

In my case it’s also an element of the research I put into the Yashim stories.

Here’s a link to an interview I gave recently, on an interesting website called authors in the kitchen…

Morning Edition

Ivan Watson, the NPR correspondent based in Istanbul, has found time between tracking the hostilities in Georgia and South Ossetia to edit the result of our exploration of Yashim’s city. It’s cooking, walking, and a few readings from The Janissary Tree and The Snake Stone. My favourite is the opening of The Snake Stone – which I read, in an increasingly loud voice, in competition with the muezzins.