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.