The benevolent haseki (sultan’s favourite woman) of Ottoman Sultan Selim II (B. 1525, Paros – D. December 6th, 1587, Istanbul). Her real name was Cecilia Venier-Baffo. She was the main wife of Selim II and the mother of Murad III. In some of the Ottoman sources, she was described as being a daughter of a Jewish family; on the other hand, some historians suggest that she was from Venice. According to this claim, she was the daughter, whose name was Rachel or Cecilia, of Violanta Baffo and her husband Nicolò Venier, who was one of the lords of Paros Island of The Cyclades, and brother of Sebastiano Venier, the duke of Venice. It is assumed that she was brought to Istanbul around 1545, and bought in a slave market set up in Pera, in order to be raised for the palace services, and after a while, she was sent to the harem of the prince Selim, who was the governor of Manisa at that time. In some Turkish and foreign sources, Nurbanu Sultan is confused with Safiye Sultan, the haseki (favorite lady of the padishah among the courtesans) of Murad III. During the reign of Selim II (1566-74), she attracted attention with her characteristics such as her beauty and intelligence. After Murad III came to the throne (1574), she became the “sultana” and her prestige in the court increased. It was said that the sultan respected her so much, and consulted her before taking important decisions. Some historians admit that she had influence on establishing peace in the relations between Turkey-Venice, and Egypt-Venice.
Nurbanu Sultan, who found herself in the palace at a very young age, was trained like the other servants in the palace. During one of these trainings, she caught the eye of Haseki Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana), the wife of Süleyman the Magnificent, who was the sultan of the time. This thin girl impressed Hürrem Sultan with her intelligence, and she was sent to the Manisa Sanjak (T.N. district) for training. Hürrem Sultan had the thought of marrying Nurbanu to one of her sons on her mind. Hürrem Sultan was so certain about that girl’s future that she gave her the name “Afife Nurbanu”. Afife means ‘virtuous’, and Nurbanu means ‘the queen who scatters the light of God’.
Naturally, what Hürrem Sultan thought came into reality; Nurbanu was married off to Hürrem Sultan’s son, prince Selim. Selim attached himself to Nurbanu with a great love. The poems which Selim wrote for Nurbanu are seen as the most beautiful examples of Divan Literature. As Selim said for Nurbanu, “When you pull ahead of me, the places you step on turn into a rose garden, and when you look at me after I call you, it feels as if the time stops.”
When the prince Selim came to the throne, Nurbanu Sultan assumed the title of “sultana” for the first time in Ottoman history, and both during the reign of her husband and the reign of her son, she had a great influence in the court.
In the coming years, many women came into the life of Selim the Blond (Selim II), but none of them could impress him as much as Nurbanu Sultan did. After the death of Selim II, the son of Selim and Nurbanu, Murad, succeeded to the throne, and Nurbanu Sultan continued living as the “sultana”. Thus, like Hürrem Sultan, she governed the state behind the closed doors. In her old age, she struggled for dominance of the harem with her son’s wife, Safiye Sultan. Safiye Sultan pointed out that “I saw Nurbanu in her mid-forties, and in spite of her old age, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my entire life.”
Nurbanu Sultan, who had a great fortune, left a great number of pious foundations. The most important ones are the Eski Valide Mosque and its complex, in Üsküdar, Toptaşı. This complex was put into service in 1583. In order to yield money for this complex, she built the Yeşil Direkli Hamam (big Turkish bath) near Cedid Valide Mosque, Çemberlitaş Hamamı (Çifte Hamam) in Divanyolu, and Havuzlu Hamam in Langa. She had water collected with the name of Eski Valide Suyu, and got that water drained from the fountains of Atik Valide Mosque and its complex, and fountains near Semih Paşa, Tunusbağı, At Pazarı and Körbakkal, and received the blessing of the people.
During the reign of her son, Nurbanu Sultan died in 1583. After the funeral in which the sultan, grand vizier, and Shaykh al-Islām participated, she was buried in the mausoleum of Selim II with the funeral prayer performed in the Fatih Mosque.
REFERENCE: E. J. Brill / First Encyclopaedia of Islam (1913-36), Martijn Theodoor / Houtsma (1987), Yeni Rehber Ansiklopedisi (1993), Meydan Larousse Ansiklopedisi (1969-73), Godfrey Goodwin - Saqi Book / The Private World of Ottoman Women (s.128, 2001), Cultures in Colors / Valeria Heuberger - Geneviève Humbert - Geneviève Humbert-Knitel - Elisabeth Vyslonzil (s. 68, 2001), İhsan Işık / Ünlü Kadınlar (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 6, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013).