Nurbanu Sultan

Nurbanu Sultan (Ottoman Turkish: نور بانو سلطان‎; c. 1525[1] – 7 December 1583) was Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as the principal consort of Sultan Selim II (reign 1566–1574), his legal wife, as well as Valide Sultan as the mother of Sultan Murad III (reign 1574–1583). She was one of the most prominent figures during the time of the Sultanate of Women. Conflicting theories ascribe her a Venetian, Jewish[2] or Greek[3] origin. Her birth name may have been Cecilia Venier-Baffo,[4] Rachel[5] or Kalē Kartanou.[6]

Nurbanu Sultan
Valide Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Tenure15 December 1574 – 7 December 1583
Haseki Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
(Imperial Consort)
Tenure7 September 1566 – 15 December 1574
BornCecilia Venier-Baffo or Rachel or Kalē Kartanou
c. 1525
Paros, Cyclades Islands, or Corfu, Republic of Venice?
Died7 December 1583(1583-12-07) (aged 57–58)
Bahçi Palace, Istanbul, Ottoman Empire
SpouseSelim II
Turkish: Nurbanu Sultan
Ottoman Turkish: نوربانو سلطان
ReligionIslam, previously Roman Catholic or Jewish or Greek Orthodox

Theories about her originEdit

There are several theories about the ethnic roots of Nurbanu, none of which is generally accepted:[7]

Jewish originEdit

Turkish historian Ahmet Refik believed she was of Jewish descent,[8] followed by some Turkish historians.[1]

Cecilia Venier-BaffoEdit

In 1900, Emilio Spagni claimed that she was a Venetian patrician, daughter of Nicolò Venier and Violanta Baffo, abducted on Paros when it was captured by Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa in the Third Ottoman-Venetian War. The Sultana, herself, would often say she was of Venetian patrician descent, but never named her family.[6] The opinion that Nurbanu Sultan was Cecilia Venier-Baffo has been followed by Franz Babinger in his article about Nurbanu Sultan for Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani.[9]

Kalē KartanouEdit

In 1992, B. Arbel challenged the view that she was really of Venetian descent. For him, the most plausible theory is that she was a Greek from Corfu named Kale Kartanou.[6]

Early lifeEdit

Nurbanu who was said to be prominent in the palace with her beauty and extraordinary intelligence, was sent to Konya as one of the girls of the harem of Şehzade Selim in 1543, in 1544 she gave birth to her first child, a daughter Şah Sultan, in 1545 she gave birth to her second child Ismihan Sultan and on 4 July 1546 she gave birth to her third child, her only son Şehzade Murad who would later become the Sultan of the Empire.[7]

Haseki SultanEdit

Nurbanu's husband Selim

Nurbanu became the most favored consort of Şehzade Selim (who became Ottoman Sultan as Selim II in 1566), and the mother of Şehzade Murad (the future Murad III, born 1546).

While her spouse Selim was still a şehzade, Nurbanu had been the head of his princely harem at Manisa.

Once he became sultan, Selim let his favorite wife, the haseki Nurbanu, remain at the Topkapı Palace throughout his reign, as his predecessor (Suleiman the Magnificent) had done.[10]

Even after Selim began to take other concubines, Nurbanu persisted as a favorite for her beauty and intelligence. As the mother of the heir-apparent, she acted as an advisor to her husband. Although it was far from normal at the time, Selim II would often ask Nurbanu for her advice on various subjects because of his respect for her good judgment. The Venetian ambassador Jacopo Soranzor reported:

"The Haseki is said to be extremely well-loved and honored by His Majesty both for her great beauty and for being unusually intelligent."[11]

She became a formidable figure with far-reaching influence during this time. According to some sources (mostly Venetian accounts), her influence was such that Nurbanu Sultan effectively ran the government alongside the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. The Ottoman Empire was far from stable at the top, and clashes over the imperial throne were common. It was also not unusual for the loser in such contests to have his entire family massacred along with him to prevent any future challenges. Nurbanu Sultan was determined, however, that when the time came for her son to succeed his father, nothing would interfere with that.

When Selim II's reign ended in 1574, the haseki Nurbanu received 1,100 aspers a day, while Selim's other consorts, each the mother of a son, received only 40 aspers.[12]

Valide SultanEdit

Murad III, to whom Nurbanu was a valide sultan during 1574–1583.

Şehzade Murad had been sent to serve as Governor of Manisa on the Aegean coast and was there when Sultan Selim II died in 1574.[13] This would have been the perfect opportunity for someone to seize power with the Sultan dead and his son away from the capital. Nurbanu realized this as much, if not more, than anyone and took quick action. Security and privacy in the harem were the most strict anywhere and no one knew when Selim II had actually died. Nurbanu told no one and hid the dead body of her husband in an icebox and sent to Manisa for her son to come to Constantinople immediately. All the while no one was the wiser that Selim had died. It was not made known publicly until twelve days later when Murad arrived and Nurbanu delivered up Selim's body. Her son became sultan and Nurbanu became valide sultan, the highest position a woman could hold in the Ottoman Empire. Nurbanu enjoyed absolute power between 1574 and 1583, although she was apparently not resident in the Palace after Selim II's death. She was revered as Valide-i Atik Sultan ("the first strong mother of the reigning sultan") during her son's reign until her death.

Nurbanu, with all her influence over her son, was involved in governing, and the Sultan himself did not seem to have a say in his rule. Under the influence of Nurbanu on the harem, her son Murad's great respect and devotion for her also played a role. In this way, the valide became a high status and became an important and powerful position of the dynasty. Nurbanu's pocket money, which reached high amounts among both dynastic members and high level officials, is considered as an indicator of this power. As valide sultan she was allocated 2000 coins daily.[7]

Nurbanu had the ultimate power, and she became a formidable figure with far-reaching influence. Canfeda Hatun, Raziye Hatun, and Hubbi Hatun ladies-in-waiting to Murad and Nurbanu also appear to have been very powerful and influential during his reign.[14][15]

Nurbanu Sultan became famous in her old age with her relations with her son's wife Safiye Sultan. As Safiye Sultan said, "I saw Nurbanu for the first time in her mid-forties, but despite her advanced age, she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." [16]

Foreign politicsEdit

After Nurbanu became the valide sultan to her son Murad III, she effectively managed the government together with the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who acted as co-regent with the sultan during the Sultanate of Women.[citation needed]

Her intermediary to the world outside the harem was her "Kira", Esther Handali. She corresponded with the queen Catherine de' Medici of France.

It is understood that Nurbanu Sultan used Kira Ester Handali of Jewish origin for her own personal affairs and had a financial relationship with Duke of Naxos Joseph Nassi. Perhaps, due to this network of relationships, the rumor has spread that she was of Jewish origin. Among her close men are Bâbüssaâde Ağası Gazanfer Ağa, the priest Şemsi Pasha, the strong figures of the harem that have been with her since Manisa, Canfeda Hatun and Raziye Hatun.[7] Extensive information is available in the envoy reports about Nurbânû Sultan's close political diplomatic contact with the Venetians. In 1583, the Venice senate agreed to send her a gift worth 2000 Venetian gold for her useful services. According to another report, she prevented the possible Ottoman attack on Crete and warned Captain Ali Pasha about not opening a war on Venice.[7]

Venetian accounts are the most prolific in describing Nurbanu Sultan as a woman who never forgot her Venetian origins. Reportedly, she kept in contact with Venice through her lady-in-waiting Chirana, who kept in regular contact with the Council of Ten in Venice, from whom she (Chirana) received an allowance as a Venetian Agent.[17]

During her nine years of regency (1574–1583), her politics were so pro-Venetian that she was hated by the Republic of Genoa. Some have even suggested that she was poisoned by a Genoese agent. In any case, she died at the palace in the Yenikapı Quarter, Istanbul on 7 December 1583.

Patroness of architectureEdit

Atik Valide Mosque constructed by Nurbanu Sultan

This mosque complex was constructed by Mimar Sinan on a vast area. The component buildings in the complex were established on a number of successive and stepped flat levels. Buildings were constructed as the mosque, medresse, school, and the dervish lodge on two separate plains. To the west of these, on a lower flat level were erected the complex of buildings designed to meet social functions such as charity. The public bath is in the south.[18]

The Darüşşifa (hospital), which constitutes the major concern of the present study, is an integral part of the mosque complex constructed by Mimar Sinan, the great Ottoman architect, under the auspices of Nurbanu Sultan between 1570 and 1579. The landed properties that Nurbanu Sultan devoted to the darüşşifa in her mosque complex are scattered over many corners of Istanbul, Rumelia, and Anatolia. Through the revenues remitted from these resources the treatments and needs of patients admitted to the darüşşifa were sponsored. A section specialized in the administration of revenues was also included in the darüşşifa premises.[19]

During her nine years of regency, Nurbanu ordered the renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan to build the Atik Valide Mosque and its surrounding külliye at the district of Üsküdar in Istanbul, where previously a "Jewish bath" was located. The construction of the külliye was completed and put in commission at the end of 1583, just before the demise of Nurbanu on 7 December 1583.

The Atik Valide Complex comprises a mosque, medrese, primary school, convent for mystics, schools for Qur’an recitation and hadith scholars, soup kitchen, hospital, and bathhouse. Mimar Sinan conceived of his major mosques as finely tuned instruments meant to sound the Qur’an as a text-as-event, in a reenactment of the original revelation. He even integrated sounding vessels in the domes to ensure a beautiful performance of the holy text. Based on the endowment deed (vakfiye), one can reconstruct the soundscape Nurbanu created through her patronage.[20]

Nurbanu Sultan has also constructed imaret and bathhouse, which she built in Mercan, Alemdağ and Langa, in Istanbul, she was the first Ottoman woman to built a library in this complex. The stone needed during the construction of this mosque and complex was obtained from places close to Istanbul such as Iznik and Gallipoli, wooden Sapanca and Iznik.[7]

She was buried at the mausoleum of her husband Selim II located inside the Hagia Sophia (then a mosque) at Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey.


Nurbanu Sultan's Ṣalāt al-Janāzah and her Islamic burial (Shahan-Shah-Namah-i Lokhmann)

Nurbanu died at Istanbul on 7 December 1583, during the reign of her son Murad III.[21] She was buried next to Selim II in his türbe (mausoleum) in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia, thus becoming the first wife of a Sultan to receive the honor of being laid to rest next to her spouse.[22]

Nurbanu Sultan attracted great respect not only during her life but also after her death. As against the norm that sultans remained in the palace during the funeral procession, Murad III accompanied his mother's corpse, both walking and crying, up to the Fatih mosque where her burial service was to be read. The farthest sultanic mosque from the imperial palace, i.e., the Fatih Mosque, was assigned for the funeral rite. This choice not only enabled as many people as possible to give their blessing to the soul of Nurbanu Sultan but also maintained the extensive appreciation of this religious respect paid to her by the residents of the imperial capital. [18]

Preceding Nurbanu's death, the Venetian ambassador in the Ottoman palace, Paolo Contarini had stated

"All goods and evils are coming from the mother queen." [18]

When Nurbanu died in December 1583, the successor of Contarini reported the following:

"The death of this woman upset some according to their vested interests while contented others. The great authority she enjoyed with her son had gained many people important profits, while on the contrary had eliminated the hopes of some for realizing their wishes. Nevertheless, everybody admits in general that she was an excessively good, courageous and erudite woman"[18]


With Selim, Nurbanu is confirmed to have had at least three children, including:

  • Şah Sultan (1544, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 3 November 1577, Istanbul, buried in Zal Mahmud Paşa Mausoleum, Eyüp), married firstly in 1562 to Damat Hasan Agha, married secondly to Damat Zal Mahmud Pasha.[23]
  • Ismihan Sultan (1545, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 8 August 1585, Istanbul, buried in Selim II Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia Mosque), married firstly in 1562 to Damat Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, married secondly in 1584 to Damat Kalaylıkoz Ali Pasha.[23]
  • Murad III (4 July 1546, Manisa Palace, Manisa – 16 January 1595, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, buried in Murad III Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia)

Though the claim remains disputed,[13] several sources also mention her as the mother of:

In literature and popular cultureEdit

  • A fictionalized version of the life and death of Nurbanu Sultan appeared in Marina Fiorato's the Venetian Contract, in which she was depicted as the niece of Doge Sebastiano Venier and the mother of Feyra, who is the protagonist in the novel.[26]
  • Nurbanu Sultan is the protagonist in The Mapmaker's Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes, which takes the form of Nurbanu Sultan's memoirs.[27]
  • She was portrayed by Turkish actress Merve Boluğur in television series Muhteşem Yüzyıl.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b A.H. de Groot, s.v. in Encyclopaedia of Islam vol.8 p.124
  2. ^ Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Volume 1, p. 178, at Google Books
  3. ^ Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?
  4. ^ Godfrey Goodwin, The Private World of Ottoman Women, Saqi Book, ISBN 0-86356-745-2, ISBN 3-631-36808-9, 2001. page 128,
  5. ^ Valeria Heuberger, Geneviève Humbert, Geneviève Humbert-Knitel, Elisabeth Vyslonzil, Cultures in Colors, page 68. ISBN 3-631-36808-9, 2001
  6. ^ a b c Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?, Turcica, 24 (1992), pp. 241-259.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "NURBÂNÛ SULTAN (ö. 991/1583) III. Murad'ın annesi, vâlide sultan". İslam Ansiklopedisi. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  8. ^ Çağatay Uluçay, Padişahların Kadınları ve Kızları p.68, citing Kadınlar Saltanatı I p.95
  9. ^ "BAFFO, Cecilia in "Dizionario Biografico"".
  10. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 121.
  11. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 228.
  12. ^ Peirce 1993, pp. 108, 129.
  13. ^ a b Peirce 1993, p. 92.
  14. ^ Maria Pia Pedani Fabris; Alessio Bombaci (2010). Inventory of the Lettere E Scritture Turchesche in the Venetian State Archives. BRILL. p. 26. ISBN 978-9-004-17918-9.
  15. ^ Petruccioli, Attilio (1997). Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires: Theory and Design. E. J. Brill. p. 50. ISBN 978-9-004-10723-6.
  16. ^ "Nurbanu Sultan Haseki Sultan, Hayırsever, Valide Sultan". Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  17. ^ Ioanna Iordanou, Venice's Secret Service: Organizing Intelligence in the Renaissance
  18. ^ a b c d Düzbakar 2006, p. 14.
  19. ^ Düzbakar 2006, p. 15.
  20. ^ Ergin 2014, p. 100.
  21. ^ "Death in the Topkapı Harem - TASTE OF THE PAST". Hürriyet Daily News | LEADING NEWS SOURCE FOR TURKEY AND THE REGION. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  22. ^ Peirce 1993, p. 189.
  23. ^ a b c Tezcan, Baki (2001). Searching For Osman: A Reassessment Of The Deposition Of Ottoman Sultan Osman II (1618-1622). unpublished Ph.D. thesis. pp. 327 n. 16.
  24. ^ Uluçay 1985, p. 43.
  25. ^ Freely 1999.
  26. ^ "The Venetian Contract".
  27. ^ "The Mapmaker's Daughter".
  28. ^ "Merve Boluğur kimdir? Nurbanu Sultan nasıl öldü?". (in Turkish). Retrieved 2017-10-21.


  • Arbel, Benjamin, Nur Banu (c. 1530-1583): A Venetian Sultana?, Turcica, 24 (1992), pp. 241–259.
  • Peirce, Leslie Penn (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Studies in Middle Eastern History. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507673-8.
  • A.D. Alderson, The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1956.
  • Almanach de Gotha: annuaire généalogique, diplomatique et statistique, Justes Perthes, Gotha, 1880–1944.
  • Düzbakar, Ömer (2006). Charitable Women And Their Pious Foundations In The Ottoman Empire: The Hospital of The Senior Mother, Nurbanu Valide Sultan.
  • Burke's Royal Families of the World, Volume II: Africa & The Middle East, Burke's Peerage Ltd., London, 1980.
  • A.H. de Groot, s.v. in Encyclopaedia of Islam vol.8 p. 124
  • Yılmaz Öztuna, Devletler ve Hanedanlar, Turkiye 1074-1990, Ankara, 1989.
  • Osman Selâheddin Osmanoğlu, Osmanli Devleti'nin Kuruluşunun 700. Yılında Osmanlı Hanedanı, Islâm Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Vakfı (ISAR), Istanbul, 1999.
  • Emine Fuat Tugay, Three Centuries: Family Chronicles of Turkey and Egypt, Oxford, 1963.
  • Ergin, Nina (2014). Ottoman Royal Women's Spaces: The Acoustic Dimension. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Uluçay, Mustafa Çağatay (1985). Padışahların kadınları ve kızları. Türk Tarihi Kurumu Yayınları.
  • Freely, John (1999). Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans in Istanbul. Viking. ISBN 978-0140270563.

External linksEdit

Ottoman royalty
Preceded by
Hürrem Sultan
Haseki Sultan
7 September 1566 – 15 December 1574
Succeeded by
Safiye Sultan
Preceded by
Hafsa Sultan
Valide Sultan
15 December 1574 – 7 December 1583