The Sublime Porte
Grand Vizier was at the head of the civil administration of the empire, and corresponded broadly to the British premier. The grand vizier, different from the sheik-ul-Islam, was liable to be put to death by the sultan, but more frequently was banished, and oftener still is simply deprived of office. At times, the average duration of office was very short, there having been no fewer than twelve changes in the last four years, 1873-7. Still, while in office, he was the actual executive head of the nation, discharging his functions, however, in the name of his master, the sultan. He presided over the privy council in the absence of the sultan. The department comprises the ministry of executive acts (his own), ministery of the interior (his mustechar, or counselor's, and that of the reis effendi, or of foreign affairs.
The day-to-day conduct of government and the formulation of policy were in the hands of the divan, a relatively small council of ministers directed by the chief minister, the grand vizier. The entranceway to the public buildings in which the divan met--and which in the seventeenth century became the residence of the grand vizier--was called the Bab-i Ali (High Gate, or Sublime Porte). In diplomatic correspondence, the term Porte was synonymous with the Ottoman government, a usage that acknowledged the power wielded by the grand vizier.
From the remotest antiquity the affairs of the Oriental nations were discussed at the gate of the King's palace. Among the Turks, the whole organization of the State was regarded as that of a house, or rather tent. There were, therefore, various Portes. Thus the Court and Harem were called the Porte of Bliss, and the fourteen different corps of the army were called Portes. On entering office the Grand Vizier was invested with a magnificent dress and two caftans of gold-stuff. When he appeared in public he was accompanied by a splendid train of officials of different callings and capacities, according to the business that he was about.
As regards the title, "The Sublime Porte," this has a different origin. In the earlier days of Ottoman rule, the reigning sovereign, as was the case in some parts of the East, held courts of justice and levees at the entrance of his residence. The palace of the Sultan is always surrounded by a high wall, and not unfrequently defended by lofty towers and bastions. The chief entrance is an elevated portal, with some pretensions to magnificence and showy architecture. It is guarded by soldiers or door-keepers well armed ; it may also contain some apartments for certain officers, or even for the Sultan himself; its covering or roof, projecting beyond the walls, offers an agreeable shade, and in its external alcoves are sofas more or less rich or gaudy. Numerous loiterers are usually found lingering about the portal, applicants for justice; and there, in former times, when the Ottomans were 'ndeed Turks, scenes of injustice and cruelty if ere not unfrequently witnessed by the passer-by.
This lofty portal generally bears a distinct title. At Constantinople it had even grown into one which has given a name to the whole government of the Sultan. It is not improbable that it was usual with all the Sultans, who, at the head of their armies, seldom had any permanent fixed residence worthy of the name of palace. Mahomet the Second, who conquered Constantinople from the degenerate Greeks, may, for some time after his entrance into the city of Congtantine - still called in all the official documents, such as "Firmans" or "Royal Orders," Kostantinteh - have held his courts of justice and transacted business at the elevated portal of his temporary residence.
The term "Sublime Porte," in Turkish, is Deri Alieh, or the elevated and lofty door; the Saxon word door being derived from the Persian der, or dor, in common use, which is a strange mixture of Tartar, Persian, and Arabic. The French, or rather the Franks, in their earlier intercourse with Turkey, translated the title literally " La Sublime Porte," and this in English has been called, with similar inaccuracy, "The Sublime Porte."
Long since, the Ottoman Sultans ceased administering justice before their palaces, or indeed any where else, in person. The office was delegated to a deputy, who presides over the whole Ottoman government, with the title of Grand Vezir, or in Turkish, Veziri Azam, the Chief Vezir, whose official residence or place of business, once no doubt at the portal of his sovereign, is now in a splendid edifice in the midst of the capital. At Constantinople the Ottoman government is also called the "Sublime Government," Devlcti Alieh, a word closely bordering on that of superiority and pre-eminence claimed by the "Heavenly Government" of the empire of China.
The Sultan, in speaking of his government, calls it "My Sublime Porte." The Grand Vezir being an officer of the highest rank in the empire - a Pasha, of course, in fine, the Pasha - his official residence is known in Constantinople as that of the Pasha, Pasha Kapousce, i.e. the "Gate of the Pasha."
The chief entrance to the "seraglio" of the Sultans, erected on the tongue of land where once stood the republican city of Byzantium, called the "Imperial Gate," or the Babi Humayoon, is supposed by some to have given rise to the title of "The Sublime Porte;" but this is not correct. It may have once been used as a court of justice, certainly as a place where justice was wont to be executed, for not unfrequently criminals were decapitated there; and among others, the head of the brave but unfortunate Aali Pacha, of Yanina in Albania, the friend of Lord Byron, was exposed there for some days previous to its interment beyond the walls of the city.
The title of porte, or door, is used in Constantinople to designate other departments of the government. The bureau of the Minister of War is called the Seraskier Kapousce, or the Gate of the Serasker (head of the army); and those of the Ministers of Commerce and Police arc called, the one Tijaret Kapausce, and the other Zalitieh Kapousce. These, however are sufficient, without mentioning any other facts, to explain the origin and nature of the title of the Ottoman government, known as "The Sublime Porte."
Until the reign of the late Sultan, Mahmoud the Second, the Ottoman sovereigns had their residence in the " Seraglio" in the city of Constantinople. Its high walls were not, however, sufficiently strong to protect them against the violence of the Janizaries, and after their destruction the remembrance of the scenes of their cruelty induced the late and present Sultan to forsake it for the safer and more agreeable banks of the Bosphorus. The extensive and very picturesque buildings of the Seraglio are now left to decay; they offer only the spectacle of ihe " dark ages" of Turkey, gloomy in their aspect, as in their history, and yet occupying one of the most favored spots in the world.
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