7 traces of Ottoman executions in Istanbul

Let’s go through some of the terrible tales surrounding Ottoman executions.

Cities such as London, Hamburg, and Amsterdam all have dungeon museums, which fascinate children and adults alike with their gruesome history. So it is no surprise that the Ottomans were also adept at inventing new methods of torture and execution. Thankfully, these practices are long dead, but their creepy stories linger, enmeshed in the city’s fabric.

Sultans’ fratricide

Ruling the empire from 1299 to 1922, the Ottomans were one of the longest-lasting imperial families in the world. Unfortunately, part of the secret to this was not so pleasant: when a new emperor came to the throne, his brothers were often killed or imprisoned. That way, there were no rivals to the emperor. However, it was taboo to spill royal blood, so the young brothers were strangled with a bowstring.

Heads of Grand Viziers

Strangling was also the preferred method for killing Grand Viziers, but afterward, the executioner cut the head off with a very sharp razor. These heads were stuffed with cotton and displayed at the entrance to the first courtyard of Topkapı Palace, in the niches of the Bab-ı Hümayun, or Gate of the Sultan.

The executioner’s fountain

Inside the first courtyard of Topkapı Palace is a white marble fountain with a stone pedestal in front. This is called the executioner’s fountain because it was here that he washed his bloody blade.


Just as harem women spent their lives behind closed doors, their deaths were also silent and unseen. The executioners found it more feminine to sew them into sacks and throw them into the Bosphorus from the palace. The 17th-century sultan İbrahim I, better known as “Mad İbrahim,” supposedly killed 280 of his concubines in this way.

The cannon

The lower classes had even less luck. In the 16th century, executioner Ferhad Ağa invented an interesting death for a soldier who had kidnapped an imam’s fiancée. First, he broke all the soldier’s joints with metal hammers, then he rolled him into a ball and wrapped him in greasy cloth. Finally, this human ball was pushed into the mouth of a cannon and then shot into a thousand pieces.

The unusual case of stoning

Despite general tolerance towards other faiths in the empire, Muslim citizens were required to follow the Ottoman interpretation of Islamic law. Historian Reşad Ekrem Koçu writes that only one known case of an Ottoman Muslim woman being stoned to death for relations with a Christian man. This sentence was carried out in the old hippodrome next to the Hagia Sophia in the 17th century.

The hooks

For pirates and bandits, a unique method took place on the shores of Eminönü. Criminals were brought to a large wooden frame with metal hooks attached to the top beam. First, the executioner tied the criminal’s hands and feet together behind his back. Then he used a rope to lift the criminal and drop him on the hooks, where he was left to die.