The Palace Complex: A Device of Sovereign Association
Soon after the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmet II initiated the construction of great monumental centers on prominent hilltop locations within the city. By the end of his reign (1451–81), a palace complex and a mosque complex, by virtue of their immensity, the numbers of their personnel, and the extravagance of their budgets, had completely transformed the city from a Byzantine into an Ottoman capital. Each of the two sites had a dual purpose, both organizational and representational. They were centers for implementing a new ruling institution based on radical measures of centralized government, and at the same time, they were also theaters for displaying this ruling institution in splendor and grandeur. The palace complex and the mosque complex were therefore instruments of edification as well as of government, and as such, designed to confound and enthrall, if not intimidate and terrify.
Two hundred years or so after the time of Mehmet II, as the imperial system slipped into a period of decentralization, the counterparts of these great imperial complexes began to appear in many parts of the eastern coastal region. Aghas residing in government mansions and hodjas teaching in mosque academies were in effect rural versions of the great monumental sites of Istanbul. However, these rural replicas of imperial models mimicked their originals more perfectly at the level of interpersonal association than at the level of ceremony and architecture. Neither the aghas nor the hodjas intended to emulate the courts, domes, ceremony, and protocol of the palace and mosque complex. Rather, they drew upon the ethical underpinnings of the imperial project: the exercise of sovereign power through a discipline of interpersonal association.
Since the great monumental centers were designed as much for "showing" as for "ruling," their ceremony and architecture can be deciphered to expose these ethical underpinnings. I shall consider each of the two centers in turn, but devoting more attention to the palace than the mosque complex. The relationship of power and religion during the classical imperial period justifies this treatment. As we shall see, the foundation of the imperial project, sovereign power through interpersonal association, required that the palace hold Islam captive.
The Palace Machine
By its placement and appearance, the palace complex is contrived to manifest sovereignty and invincibility, but by a peculiar logic. Two striking architectural features, clearly visible from afar, suggest a coordination of seeing with ruling. The residential quarters of the sovereign are set on a promontory overlooking two continents, Europe to the west and Asia to the east. This vantage point is set behind and above a high fortress wall that surrounds the entire palace complex. So the sight of the sovereign is represented by an overlook from within an interior. And the association of a personal gaze with a ruling power, already implicit in its elevated perspective, is explicitly represented by a high fortress wall adorned with watch towers and gun emplacements.
The physical structure of the palace complex announces the relationship of gaze and rule not once or twice, but over and over again. Apertures, gratings, and windows are repeatedly coordinated with balconies, overlooks, and towers. Each instance of the relationship symbolizes the sovereign situated within an interior space overlooking an external space occupied by subjects. All these instances of an elevated oversight articulate the personal presence of the unobserved sovereign as the foundation of a world ruling institution.
But exactly how is gaze translated into rule? What is the quality of vision as cause and how is it related to the quality of power as effect? Does the relationship of gaze and rule perhaps have some kinship with the panopticon, as invented by Jeremy Bentham and analyzed by Michel Foucault? Or should we not anticipate that the articulation of peculiar elements—eye, interior, oversight, rule, exterior—points to a specific language of authority and obedience? The verses of an Ottoman poet, cited in Necipoğlu's definitive study of the architecture and ceremony of the palace, seem to have been composed as an answer to this very question. Cafer Çelebi said:
What is each window, but an eye opening to the whole world, to watch ceremonies and spectacles? What is each tower, but from head to foot a tongue to praise and eulogize the just shah?
The verses of the poet refer to the basic elements of the overall placement and appearance of the palace complex: A personal presence, symbolized by windowed interiors set in tower overlooks, bespeaks of sovereign power. But now the poet composes these elements to articulate a somewhat strange message.
According to the conceit, the palace complex works like a machine that mediates between the eye of its resident and the imperium beyond its walls. Its overlooking windows (set in towers) are telescopes that expose the whole world to his sight. Its elevated towers (pierced by windows) are megaphones that speak to the whole world of his rule. So by this combination of mechanisms, seeing is most certainly linked with ruling. The structures that expose the world to the person of the sovereign are also the structures that represent the person of the sovereign to the world as legitimate ruler. Moreover, the verses also point to the specific qualities of seeing and ruling. The windows are an eye that brings the world into view, but not as a landscape of fields, waterways, mountains, and lakes. The world appears in the form of the subjects of an imperium, engaged in ceremonies and spectacles, and so not engaged, by contrary example, in commerce and warfare. The sovereign therefore sees, or rather oversees, normative performances. The windows, as instruments of the palace machine, bring a kind of world into view, a world of propriety and sociability, pleasing in form and delightful to experience. So the sight of the sovereign, as mediated by the palace machine, has worked to compose the world it brings into view by sponsoring and supporting normative performances. The palace machine is both organizational and representational. Cafer spoke both brilliantly and succinctly as he put the spirit and logic of the palace complex into a score of words.
By the anachronistic terms "telescopes" and "megaphones," I have emphasized how the poet images the palace as an instrument of sovereignty. On the other hand, Cafer's tropes are more anthropomorphic than mechanical. He likens the palace windows to an eye and the palace towers to a tongue. Since these figures clearly do not refer to the sovereign himself, the poet is suggesting that the palace is an instrument of sovereignty that works through anthropomorphic rather than technical media, such as the scripts and documents of a centralized bureaucracy. As we shall see, the palace was indeed an instrument for extending and amplifying the personal presence of the sovereign by means of loyal and obedient officials who were something more than a centralized bureaucracy. This feature of the palace is indicated by another coordinated repetition of structures and functions, one that determined the overall layout of the palace complex (see fig. 7).
Figure 7. Schematic of Mehmet II's palace complex.
A succession of three gates, leading to three courts, organized the grounds of the palace complex. The outer gate led to the outer court, from which the middle gate led to the middle court, from which the inner gate led to the inner court. This arrangement defined a series of thresholds leading to interiors, each standing in relationship to one another as "further out" or "further in" by reference to the person of the sovereign. At the same time, each instance of a threshold and interior was also associated with apertures and overlooks representing the personal presence of the sovereign, seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. In this respect, the successive interiors defined by the gates and courts had the status of assembly spaces that were correlated with the increasing nearness, and hence intensity, of sovereign oversight. As the visitor to the palace complex moved through them, he experienced the progressive loss of his own will and purpose as he became more and more subject to ceremony and protocol. In this way, the visitor experienced his approach to the sovereign as an approach to a locus of normative regulations that otherwise radiated outward. The series of thresholds and interiors therefore indicated the personal presence of the sovereign as a focal point of a world imperium. So an architecture of windows and towers was coordinated with an architecture of gates and courts.
An Omnipresent Personal Oversight
Following the lead of Cafer, let us begin with the Tower of Justice (köşk-i 'adl), a structure he may have had in mind when he composed his verses. The base of the Tower of Justice was situated in the residential quarters of the sovereign located beyond the north corner of the middle court. The upper section of the Tower of Justice, fitted with a latticed window, rose above the rooftops of the other buildings so that it could be seen from afar. The sovereign was therefore able to mount the Tower of Justice and view the two continents of his imperium from the seclusion of his residential quarters. By its architectural prominence, this symbol of sovereign oversight, only one example of many, dominated the entire palace complex.
A Council Hall (divan) was situated before the Tower of Justice in the forward section of the middle court (see fig. 7). Here, the highest officials of the ruling institution deliberated state affairs, reached administrative decisions, received petitions from subjects, and heard law cases. At the base of the Tower of Justice, a little room was equipped with a curtained window that opened out into the upper wall of the Council Hall. The sovereign could access the little room from the seclusion of his residential quarters and sit behind the curtained window. For all those present in the Council Hall, he was then always present, even when absent. Before the curtained window itself, hanging from the domed ceiling of the meeting room, a gilded globe represented the earth. Round about the meeting room, large grilled openings at the entrances symbolized the availability of justice to all subjects.
The window above, which overlooked two continents, was therefore punctuated by another window below, which overlooked the dispensation of justice by state officials. In the early years of his reign, and continuing for sometime thereafter but ever more rarely, Mehmet II had joined state officials in the Council Hall and participated himself in their deliberations. This practice, which was abandoned as the palace complex reached completion, points to the derivative and evolutionary character of the ruling institution. Once upon a time, it would seem, the sovereign had been more directly and routinely involved in the day-to-day matters of administration and adjudication. At a certain moment of dynastic history, one could presume, the device of the windowed overlook had begun to substitute for the personal presence of the sovereign.
The sovereign had ruled by his personal presence in accordance with a kind of justice that was interpersonal in character rather than abstract and technical. With the extension of his domains, however, the sovereign came to rely on his officials as stand-ins for his personal presence so that their eyes, tongues, heads, and feet were his representatives. And then with the further extension of his domains, his officials multiplied, so that they numbered in the thousands rather than the hundreds. The windowed overlook had then been adopted as a device for extending the personal presence of the sultan. Thus, the ruling institution retained its character as an interpersonal association even as it evolved into a world system. This had come about by a resort to an architectural instrument that preserved a founding principle but enabled its imperial amplification.
This "just so story" suggests that the Council Hall had first been fitted with a curtained window, and then a Tower of Justice with a latticed window had been added to the Council Hall. The windowed overlook would have been first adopted as a device for supervising the ruling institution and then only later become a symbol of the ruling institution to be seen from afar.
A Spectacle of Interpersonal Association
In fact, the Tower of Justice also served as an internal device of the ruling institution as well as its external symbol. Its latticed window had been specifically constructed to provide a view of the core mediating segment of the palace complex, the middle court. From the seclusion of his residential quarters, the sovereign was able to mount the Tower of Justice, position himself before this latticed window, and observe an extraordinary scene of "ceremonies and spectacles" consisting of "praises and eulogies." Down below in the middle court, he could observe thousands of loyal officials who had assembled to show themselves to their sovereign, greeting and honoring him as they did so. In all probability, Cafer had these occasions in mind when he composed his verses describing the palace. He had sought to capture the wonder of a novel architectural structure by which personal oversight of normative performances had been translated into a world imperium.
In the early years of his reign, before the palace complex was completely finished, Mehmet II had not always mounted the Tower of Justice to view the assemblies down below. He had regularly joined his officials and troops in the middle court, appearing before them and hosting a meal. Necipoğlu, relying on the description of a Genoese merchant, gives the following account of these gatherings, which occurred early each day at the break of dawn:
The derivative and evolutionary character of the palace complex has once again come into view. Once upon a time, the sovereign had been more routinely present at the assembly of his officials, not only as they dispensed justice, but also as they congregated as a sovereign association. The windowed overlooks of the palace complex therefore appear as architectural replacements of the once-present sovereign.
On these occasions the courtyard was filled with eight thousand officials wearing "vests of brocade and silk of every color and type." The sultan appeared in glory under a magnificent portico (lobia) in front of the gate that led to the residential court. The ceremony lasted for a quarter of an hour, during which time servants offered food to the sultan on a gold tray and to those assembled on silver and copper trays, according to their rank. At the end of this banquet, at which not a word was spoken, the courtiers loudly acclaimed their ruler, extolling, praising, and glorifying his name. . . . Ambassadors were made to watch this ceremony of imperial glorification, after which they were conducted . . . to the sultan's seat. After bowing and kissing his hand, they were made to sit . . . until he rose to return to his private quarters. As soon as he stood he was again loudly acclaimed by the soldiers; then he sat and rose a second time to hear another acclamation, before entering his private apartment. After the soldiers left, the dignitaries of the [Council Hall] ate. Only then did [they] listen to the cases presented, which they subsequently reported to the sultan inside the private courtyard.
At a certain moment, it would seem, Mehmet II had chosen to absent himself from his officials, substituting his participation in a sovereign association with the device of a windowed overlook. The intention of carrying out such a replacement can therefore be more or less precisely dated to Mehmet II's decision to build a new palace. It did not immediately follow the conquest of the Byzantine capital. Mehmet II had first built another palace complex in Istanbul, later to be known as the "old palace" (eski saray). It was only after he had decided to launch an imperial project some years later that he undertook to build what would become formally known as the New Imperial Palace (sarây-ıı cedîd-i 'âmire).
The Dynastic Court Tradition
Given its derivative and evolutionary character, the New Imperial Palace can be best understood in terms of its place in the history of the Ottoman dynasty. I shall here tell a second "just so story."
Osman, founder of the Ottoman dynasty, had been a chieftain of a Turcoman tribe of pastoral nomads in northwestern Anatolia. But during the course of his reign (1280–1324), he had also become a leader with followers in the marchlands between the Byzantines and the Seljuks. As such, he was the principal figure of a warrior association composed of individuals who came from many places and spoke many languages. This warrior association eventually came to represent a ruling institution legitimized by the extension of the lands of Islam at the expense of the lands of Christianity. So Osman was something other than a chieftain, and his associates were something other than tribesmen. But still, during this early period, they had participated in communal banquets more or less in accordance with the steppe traditions of the Turcomans.
As successive Ottoman dynasts had fitfully risen in power and stature, these communal banquets continued as part of the dynastic court tradition. However, they gradually lost their tribal character and acquired a more Islamic character. The banquets therefore shifted from an occasion that reinforced tribal customs and habits to an occasion that celebrated the ruling institution as a normative association underwritten by the sacred law of Islam. These banquets were then not mere expressions of royal hospitality and sociability that supplemented the otherwise separate business of implementing policy and applying justice. On these occasions, the leader appeared as the personal guarantor of an interpersonal association underwritten by the sacred law of Islam. So the banquets of the dynastic court tradition became at the same time disciplinary exercises and legitimacy performances. The leader and his follower composed a ruling institution of Islam legitimized by the extension of the lands of Islam.
Accordingly, the holding of formal banquets prepared in the royal kitchens eventually determined the design of the grounds and buildings of royal palaces, just as they had also determined the layout of the royal tents during military campaigns. So long before the time of Mehmet II, the Ottoman dynast and Ottoman officials had joined in formal banquets in order to enact the normative performances of an interpersonal association. And long before Mehmet II, such occasions had featured ceremony and protocol for the purpose of impressing, if not astonishing, subjects, participants, and competitors. The palace complexes that preceded the New Imperial Palace were then likewise governmental residences that provided for a theater of state. They had also included assembly grounds, massive kitchens, and large staffs for this very purpose.
At this point, let us return to the middle court to consider what became of these formal banquets as the New Imperial Palace reached completion.
An Uncanny Discipline
During the later years of his reign, as the palace and mosque complexes were reaching completion, Mehmet II adopted new state regulations (kanunname) that decisively transformed his state system into an imperial system. Afterwards, he entered the middle court to appear before the personnel of the ruling institution only twice each year, on the occasion of the two major Islamic festivals. Otherwise, he never again joined his officials to host them with food prepared in his royal kitchens. And yet the dynastic court tradition of the formal banquet still continued, but in a new "disarticulated" form.
After the adoption of the new state regulations the sovereign was still the focal point of the ruling institution, but the sovereign himself was more than ever inaccessible, even invisible. He retreated to his residential quarters within the palace, distancing himself even from the members of the official class. Meanwhile, the representatives of his ruling institution became more than ever a centralized and exclusive official class. The highest state officials were more and more often of "slave" status, individuals who had been separated from their families to be raised and trained within the palace. Correspondingly, the dynastic court tradition changed in character to reflect the logic and sense of the new imperial project. The loyal and obedient officials now presented themselves before a sovereign who had come to resemble a divinity, seeing but unseen, hearing but unheard. Four times each week, thousands of officials came to the middle court to manifest the ruling institution as a normative interpersonal association through a display of ceremony and protocol. Necipoğlu summarizes the intent of these so-called "Victory Councils" (galebe divanıı) in the following terms:
A fragment of the old dynastic court tradition, a warrior leader hosting warrior followers, had been elevated to the level of an imperial project. But in the quote, which tells us a great deal, Necipoğlu has also uncharacteristically slipped past the most important point, which her study otherwise fully documents.
Ceremonial [of the middle court] served to create a visual diagram of this hierarchically organized military state that was immediately graspable at a glance. This diagram accentuated the omnipotence of the sultan together with the transformation of the centralized state into a bureaucracy and a great army at the personal service of the sultan.
The perpetuation of ceremonial communicated a message of timeless order and stability, bestowing permanence and legitimacy on an arbitrary social construct. Its power lay in constant repetition, enacted in an eery silence, as if time had been temporarily suspended by an endless recurrence. It froze time in an eternal present and created the illusion of an order transcending mere human experience. [Italics mine]
The imaginary potential of the displays in the middle court did not arise from the suspension of time through constant repetition. The witnesses of the ceremonies of the middle court, both insiders and outsiders, had an experience of repetition, but in the register of the uncanny, rather than the eternal. The imperial theater of the middle court had distilled an interpersonal association, rooted in the dynastic court tradition, into its disciplinary essence. The ceremonial rested on an arbitrary social construct, but only in the sense that it revealed thousands and thousands of individuals whose being had seemingly been seized and compelled by such a construction. It was this conscious display of the unconscious that had lain behind the poet's image of the place complex in terms of body parts, eye (çeşm), head (ser), foot (kadem), and tongue (dil). The display of a sovereign association had acquired the quality of an "order transcending human experience." The movements of its participants seemed governed by divine ordinances, by their reduction to figures of loyalty and obedience. Such an imperial theater would not have been effective had it been arbitrarily staged and performed by casting directors and professional actors. Its power to seize and compel its witness relied on effects that could have only been induced by radical procedures of recruitment and training.
One did not have to "know" the meaning of the imperial theater in order to be impressed. Both foreign observers and official participants were struck by its representations. Fresne-Canaye, who witnessed one of the Victory Councils in the company of the French ambassador in 1573, noted its disciplinary essence, even as he could not conclude whether the sight was pleasurable, frightening, monastic, natural, civilized, or savage. The Frenchmen had first passed through the outer gate into the outer court where they dismounted from their horses. They then passed through the threshold of the middle gate to enter into the open square of the middle court. Fresne-Canaye describes what they then saw:
The Frenchmen were then taken to the Council Hall in the forward section of the middle court where they were "courteously received" by the grand vizier and governors. Following this reception, they were then taken elsewhere in the middle court, where they were provided a generous dinner laid out under a portico. As they dined, they observed the officials and troops assembled in the middle court:
At the right hand was seated the Agha of the Janissaries [a high officer of the central army], very near the gate, and next to him some of the highest grandees of the court. The Ambassador saluted them with his head and they got up from their seats and bowed to him. And at a given moment all the Janissaries and other soldiers who had been standing upright and without weapons along the wall of that court did the same, in such a way that seeing so many turbans incline together was like observing a vast field of ripe corn moving gently under the light puff of Zephyr.
This representative of a country distant from the Ottoman Empire was both enchanted and frightened, but the nearer neighbors of the Ottomans came away with less ambivalent impressions. When the Safavid prince visited the palace complex in 1591, for example, his attendants were "exhausted" and "weakened" by what they saw in the middle court.
We looked with great pleasure and even greater admiration at this frightful number of Janissaries and other soldiers standing all along the walls of this court, with hands joined in front in the manner of monks, in such silence that it seemed we were not looking at men but statues. And they remained immobile in that way more than seven hours, without talking or moving. Certainly it is almost impossible tocomprehend this discipline and this obedience when one has not seen it. . . . After leaving this court, we mounted our horses where we had dismounted upon arrival [in the outer court]. . . . Standing near the wall beyond the path we saw pass all these thousands of Janissaries and other soldiers who in the court had resembled a palisade of statues, now transformed not into men but into famished wild beasts or unchained dogs.
According to the witnesses of this imperial theater, the crowds of officials did not behave as crowds at all. By the gravity of their movements and the silence they imposed on themselves, they took on the appearance of an exalted assembly under the governance of divine ordinances. The personal oversight of the sovereign was coupled with the enactment of a discipline of interpersonal association. The result was the manifestation of the ethical underpinnings of the ruling institution in the form of a body of loyal and obedient servants.
The Palace as Panopticon
The palace machine does indeed recall the panopticon of Bentham and Foucault. The guarantor of the discipline enacted by loyal and obedient servants was not himself present in the middle court, but positioned instead in the Tower of Justice up above. From behind its latticed window, the sovereign observed the middle court down below. And so by the device of the Tower of Justice, the sovereign retained his officials under his surveillance, even though he might not even be present. The windowed overlook was then a device of omnipresent inspection and regulation serving to inculcate self-control in each servant. But in this regard, there is something odd about the Tower of Justice, Council Hall, and middle court, at least by the measure of the nineteenth-century western European panopticon.
There is no compartmentalization of those subjected to surveillance, one of the most distinctive features of the panopticon. On the contrary, regulation and inspection are invariably linked with assemblies and associations. The windowed overlook of the palace machine is therefore a device for internalizing a discipline that takes the form of an interpersonal ethic rather than a personal conscience. The eye of the sovereign up above is reinforced by others down below. Sovereign oversight therefore has no need of jails, workhouses, or barracks, because it is supported by the eyes and tongues of others. Sovereign oversight therefore takes the form of support and sponsorship of places of normative association, such as salons, coffeehouse, and mosques, rather than cells, exercise yards, and parade grounds.
The Tower of Justice, Council Hall, and middle court are not the panopticon of Bentham and Foucault because they refer oversight to "ethics" rather than "conscience." They are devices for instilling a discipline of interpersonal association, rather than a discipline of self-control by self-oversight. This is why apertures and overlooks indicate a person located within an interior, rather than a point of technical observation occupied by an anonymous warden. This is why the micro-forms of palace architecture are personalized, referring specifically to the location of the sovereign even in his absence. And this is why the personal presence of the sovereign can be projected through, and so has his counterpart in, the personal presence of others. And this is why the palace, insofar as it is imaged as machine, never escapes anthropomorphization. The windowed overlooks are insistently linked with the sovereign, precisely because he is not a machine, but a person who can be represented by the eyes, tongues, heads, and feet of others.
Disarticulation, Distribution, and Rearticulation
The architecture and ceremony of the palace complex would appear to have reduced the old dynastic court tradition to a disciplinary tactic of loyalty and obedience. The sovereign has left the banquet to become a figure of omnipresent surveillance. The servings of food have been removed, leaving nothing other than ceremony and protocol. The fellowship of the assembly has been transformed into a setting of individuals who have taken on the appearance of lifeless, marble statues. A windowed overlook is all that remained of the warrior leader who once hosted his warrior followers. But in fact, the totality of the old dynastic court tradition had remained in place in the palace complex. Mehmet II had not at all forsaken the old dynastic court tradition in the course of building his palace complex and launching his imperial project. He had rather disarticulated, distributed, and rearticulated it. The architecture and ceremony that supplemented the middle court illustrates this operation.
As we have seen, the layout of the palace complex consisted of a series of thresholds and interiors signaling an approach to the personal presence of the sovereign, but also by a reverse movement, the projection of the personal presence of the sovereign into world at large as an imperium. Tracing this double movement, we discover how the core mediating segment of the palace complex transformed the formal banquets of the old dynastic court tradition into a world empire. I shall start with the innermost approach and then conclude with its outermost projection.
The Inner Gate and Petition Room
When granted audiences with the sovereign, high officials and foreign ambassadors proceeded to the inner gate in order to enter the inner court. As they did so, they moved from the outer palace (birûn), a place that was subject to devices of sovereign oversight, to the inner palace (enderûn), a place that was subject to actual sovereign oversight. The difference appears in the official title of the inner gate: the Gate of Felicity (bâb üs-saâde). The approach to the sovereign is likened to an experience of happiness and delight. In this respect, an element of the scene of the warrior leader hosting his warrior followers—bountiful hospitality and engaging sociality—had been distilled into a figure of the pleasures of paradise.
But paradoxically, having become an almost god in an almost cosmic setting, the sovereign was now unfit to engage in any form of reciprocity even as he remained a symbol of hospitality and sociability. In the inner court, his servants, forbidden to speak out or to reveal themselves, communicated in signs and hid behind columns. His personal assistants, eunuchs, mutes, and dwarfs, featured physical disabilities. His personal companions—youths who were not men, men without social origins, mothers who could not be wives, wives who could not be mothers—featured status debilitations. The sovereign, as the fount and origin of an imperial normativeness, could not himself partake in horizontal social engagements, at least by the representations of official ceremony and protocols. The personal presence of a world ruler reduced every other being in his immediate environment to something less than fully human. No one "whole in being" was to be found close or near to him. The principle of sovereign oversight had in effect blasted away the imperial family. From the standpoint of ceremony and protocol, the sultan could not be a father, a son, a husband, a brother, a lover, a companion, or a friend. He could only be an ascendant or a descendant. The crossing from outer to inner palace was not a matter of entering a familial space and time, or a communal space and time. It was architecturally and ceremonially marked in order to symbolize the personal presence of the sovereign (see fig. 7).
As the visiting official or ambassador passed through the inner gate, he stood before the Petition Room (‘‘arz odasıı), where he would soon encounter the sovereign, but he was already under surveillance. The wall of the petition room was pierced by a large iron grating so that the threshold of the inner gate was exposed to the gaze of the sovereign. The visitor had therefore already come within the view of the sovereign sitting on his throne. The visitor was then brought into the Petition Room, where he was presented to the sovereign in a manner that varied with imperial fashions and policies. The occasion might involve an exchange between the visitor and the sovereign, a ritual greeting and welcoming, but this was not the usual formality. More commonly, it was an exchange without exchange, submission without recognition, supplication without acknowledgment, or sentence without trial. The official or ambassador entered a room whose walls and carpets were encrusted with gold and jewels, in accordance with a solemn ritual, conducted in "the very silence of death itself." The sovereign sat upon his throne, unflinching and immobile. The ambassador, with eunuchs gripping both his hands, was then taken down to the knees of the sovereign to kiss his robes at his feet. The official, standing before the sitting sovereign, might hear a clap of the hands, whereupon mutes might suddenly appear to carry out his execution outside the Petition Room before the grating.
And yet the personal presence of the sovereign, in whose vicinity no man could compose his own will and purpose, had to be the foundation of a sovereign association that could be projected as a world rule. This was precisely the role of the palace machine, a monster of heads, feet, eyes, and tongues constituting the person of the sovereign as a world imperium. By reversing direction, in order to move from Petition Room to the middle court, we can follow the path whereby personal presence was projected as world imperium.
The Petition Room is topped by a low roof in the imperial style, which extended beyond the walls of the structure itself. As in the instance of the coupling of an interior with an overlook, this feature of the roof symbolizes the projection of the sovereign's oversight of an interpersonal association into the world at large. The roof both covers an interior and extends beyond the limits of this interior. The symbolism is explicitly articulated by a feature of the overhanging roof that draws the Petition Room into a relationship with the middle court. On that side of the Petition Room facing the inner gate, the roof does not come to an end but penetrates the boundary wall in which the inner gate is placed. On the other side of the boundary wall, this same section of the overhanging roof reappears as a portico extending over and before the inner gate itself. Here, under a cupola set in the forward part of the projected roof, the sultan would sit on a throne to witness the ceremonies in the middle court on the occasion of the two annual Islamic festivals. Otherwise, the throne and cupola served as symbols of the sovereign on the occasions of the Victory Councils four times each week.
So the inner gate represented an approach to an interior overlook (room and grating) even as it also represented the projection of an interior overlook (court and cupola). The micro-forms of palace architecture—the room and grating and the cupola and court—had disarticulated the old dynastic court tradition, then rearticulated it to link a sovereign, who was absent rather than present, with a sovereign association. However, the palace machine has not yet completed its operations. The placing of the inner gate before the Petition Room has its counterpart and complement in the placing of the middle gate before the middle court.
The Middle Gate and Middle Court
More than any other architectural boundary within the palace complex, the middle gate represented a transition from outside to inside. As such, it revealed what was composed on the inside (an interpersonal association) and how this composition appeared on the outside (the sovereign power of a world ruler).
The visitor arrived in the outer court crowded with the attendants and horses of all the officials and ambassadors who were to enter the middle gate and take part in the ceremonies of the middle court. Approaching the middle gate, he was presented with what appeared to be a medieval stronghold (see fig. 7). The entrance was flanked by two stone towers topped by parapets and surmounted by a crenellated wall that joined the flanking towers together. The threshold itself was staffed by military officers and soldiers of the central army and festooned with banners, weapons, and armor commemorating imperial victories.
The external facade of the middle gate therefore represented the fortress of a ruler, and, in so doing, repeated the statement made by the watchtowers and gun emplacements of the high stone wall that surrounded the entire palace complex. This restatement asserts the linkage between military force and victory on the outside with the discipline of interpersonal association on the inside. Accordingly, the threshold itself articulated the relationship force and ethics. It was the site of a court where two military judges (kazasker) tried military officers accused of malfeasance.
In effect, the external facade of the middle gate is a remainder of the old dynastic court tradition of a warrior leader hosting his warrior followers. Now, however, all the symbolism of military capacities and formations has been exiled from the middle court by the logic of a disarticulation, distribution, and rearticulation. So passing through the threshold of the middle gate into the interior of the middle court, the visitor would discover the ethical "substance" behind the military "facade." The official name of this entrance, the Gate of Greeting (bâb-üs-selâm), contrasted with the official name of the Gate of Felicity behind it. The warrior leader hosting his warrior followers had been broken into pieces, consisting of military force and power (middle gate), ethical discipline (middle court), and hospitality (inner gate).
After the visiting official or ambassador passed through the middle gate, he was received under a "stately portico with ten marble columns attached to the gate's inner facade." Before the portico itself, he saw a garden "paradise of peacocks and gazelles, cypress trees and other trees." The visitor had left behind the crowds of attendants and horses in the outer court. He had also left behind the representations of the military force and power of the ruling institution. He now found himself welcomed by an assembly of officials whose dress and movement were regulated by ceremony and protocol. The inner gate represented the personal presence of the sovereign as the guarantor of a discipline of interpersonal association. The middle gate represented the discipline of interpersonal association as an instrument of sovereign power in the world at large. The relationship of inner, middle, and outer courts was then a relationship of gaze, discipline, and rule.
The Never-Ending Banquet
And yet there would still seem to be one missing piece of the old dynastic tradition in the middle court. Mehmet II had seemingly suppressed the banquet itself, when the sovereign hosted his officials to food and drink. But this is not the case. The banquet had not disappeared at all, but it had rather become routine and perpetual.
I have already noted that the Tower of Justice rose prominently above the other buildings within the outer fortress wall. Similarly, twenty paired chimneys of the Imperial Kitchens had been designed as prominent marks on the skyline. To the left of inner gate, the Imperial Kitchens comprised the transverse border of the middle court. Here thousands of "graded" meals were prepared each day in "graded" kitchens, for the sovereign, the staff of the inner palace, high officials of the ruling institution, and, finally, military officers and regiments.
With the building of the palace complex, the warrior leader hosting warrior followers had become a master leader hosting slave followers, while the banquet had become an everyday routine but no less charged as a symbol of loyalty and obedience. On campaign, military regiments were brought to shame by the loss of their cooking pots to the enemy, not the loss of their flags and banners. And similarly, military officers and troops expressed their displeasure with the sovereign by overturning the soup cauldrons where their meals were regularly prepared.
The elements of the dynastic court tradition had remained in place, as a warrior leader of warrior followers became the early modern sultan of a world empire. The symbol of personal presence (window), a normative oversight (tower), an interpersonal association (kitchens), and invincible sovereignty (fortress wall) were all the tropes of palace architecture as seen from afar. Each consisted of a disarticulated micro-form of a warrior leader hosting warrior followers. The elements were enduring because they represented something more deeply rooted in thought and practice than ceremony and protocol.
We are now ready to accompany the sovereign on those occasions when he ventured from his residence in the company of his personnel. Where did they go and for what purpose?