PORTE. Porte or, more precisely, the Sublime Porte (bab-i âli) is a term used for certain Ottoman institutions connected with the imperial palace and the offices of the grand vizier and the state secretary, later foreign minister (reisülküttab). Porte has also been used as a synonym for Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The term entered the English language sometime about 1600, via the French (la Porte Sublime) and, ultimately, the Italian (la Porta Sublima). The literal meaning of the term is "elevated gate" or "lofty gate," and "gate" here has deep symbolic and ideological meaning, mirroring the patrimonial character of the Ottoman state. It stands for household, sultanic or grand vizierial, and is the symbolic point of (non)acceptance, dividing the inner and outer worlds of particular households. To cross the threshold (der) of the house and to be allowed to enter the gate (bab, kapi) of the house were symbolic acts of someone's acceptance into Ottoman society. The same symbolism of the gate and threshold as terms for the ruler's palace and the main administrative office of the state is encountered in the Pharaonic Egypt, ancient Israel, Sasanian Iran, Mamluk Egypt, and medieval Japan.
FROM PALACE TO GRAND VIZIERIAL OFFICE
From the mid-fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, especially in the earlier part of that period, the Sublime Porte predominantly meant the imperial palace, and particularly its official section (divan-i hümayûn, bab-i hümayûn). Gradually, the sultan's role at meetings of the imperial council had changed. From being an active participant, the sultan became a spectator, and even later, his "spectator's booth," a small window overlooking the council chamber, was covered so that council members could never be sure whether or not the sultan was monitoring their deliberations.
In 1654, during the vizierate of Dervish Mehmed Pasha, a special building was assigned as a residence in which the grand vizier was to live and convene meetings of the imperial council. When Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, the founder of the mighty Köprülü vizierial family, was appointed vizier, this residence was given to him. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Ottomans had a clear notion of the office of the grand vizier as a space and institution independent of both the grand vizier's private household and the imperial residence. This institutional independence came into being due to the spatial separation of the private residence of the Grand Vizier from the High Porte offices which took place before 1700. The building was destroyed twice by fire, in 1755 and 1808, and was a victim of subsequent fires during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.
THE RISE OF THE OTTOMAN BUREAUCRACY
The rise of the Ottoman bureaucracy is a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of the preindustrial world, from Scandinavia to Japan. The number of documents the Ottoman scribes produced is truly impressive, even if one counts only those still extant, leaving out all that has perished through the ages. Thousands of archival records, for instance, carefully noted the consumption of chewing gum in the harem, to cite only one of the more bizarre cases of scribal diligence. Still, in the time of Bayezid II (ruled 1481–1512), the state and palace bureaucracies did not have a strong sense of forming a distinct social and intellectual stratum, nor were they numerically strong. In that era, there were not more than two dozen palace scribes, although there were, of course, additional ad hoc bureaucrats who came mostly from the ranks of religious scholars (ulema). However, by the end of the reign of Suleiman the Lawgiver (d. 1566), the court bureaucrats had become a large and defined body known as the "people of pen" (kalemiyye), who distinguished themselves from the military elites (seyfiyye) and religious intellectuals (ilmiyye). To become a bureaucrat, a boy needed to enter an apprenticeship between the ages of twelve and fourteen with one of the palace scribes and to work diligently on mastering Islamic calligraphy and the rules of a complicated Ottoman epistolography influenced by the Arab and Persian literary styles; he also needed to acquire specific clinical knowledge of certain subspecializations. Each scribal branch had its own trade secrets and peculiarities, including distinctive calligraphic codes. Some of the greatest Ottoman intellectuals before the Tanzimat reforms of the nineteenth century, such as polymaths Katib Çelebi (d. 1657) and Huseyn Hezarfenn Efendi (d. 1699), came from the scribal estate and not from that of the religious intellectuals.
The grand vizier would have under his auspices various chancelleries headed by high-ranking bureaucrats directly responsible to him. After the peace treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the office of one of them, Reisülküttab, grew in prominence, with many eighteenth-century grand viziers rising to their post from that office. Two of the most famous were Rami Mehmed Pasha and Koca Ragib Pasha, both of whom showed exceptional diplomatic gifts in days that were precarious for the empire. Rami Mehmed, together with the Ottoman Phanariote Grand Dragoman Alessandro Mavrocordato, brokered the treaty of Karlowitz, and Ragib succeeded in keeping the Ottoman Empire out of the Seven Years' War despite pressures from various European powers.
CONTACT WITH EUROPE AND EUROPEAN VIEWS OF THE SUBLIME PORTE
European attitudes toward the Sublime Porte as an institution began with an excessive admiration and ended in uncontrolled and ungrounded contempt. While Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian political philosopher, and the humanist Guillaume Postel had only admiration for the government of the Grand Turk, contempt was evident in the works of Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu and Edward Gibbon. The Sublime Porte considered all peaceful contacts with the European powers until 1699 as acts of Ottoman unilateral grace and saw war or truce—not peace or a diplomatic exchange based on equality—as a normal state of relations. This was mirrored in Ottoman ceremonies vis-à-vis European envoys. The Ottoman rulers' title had been considered an expression of world order, and the Ottomans were therefore determined to preserve the notion of the exclusivity of the sultan's title—Kayser-i Rum, or Caesar of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire—consistently denying the Habsburgs' right to the same title.
The situation began to change after 1699, when the Ottomans had to accept the European powers as equals, at least in diplomatic exchanges. Still, there were many subtle games in which the Ottomans tried to win at least the ceremonial upper hand. This gave rise to what were, in their time, serious diplomatic incidents. For example, the sultan would not communicate directly with foreign envoys; he would instead give instructions via sign language to the grand vizier, who would speak to the envoy. In 1700 Charles de Ferriol, the envoy of the Ottomans' long-time ally France, instigated a grave diplomatic and ceremonial incident when he refused to put aside his sword while in audience with Sultan Mustafa II. He finally had to leave the palace without completing the audience. The Ottoman chronicler Raşid called de Ferriol a "crazy envoy" (deli elci).
See also Austro-Ottoman Wars ; Gibbon, Edward ; Machiavelli, Niccolò ; Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de ; Ottoman Dynasty ; Ottoman Empire .
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"Porte." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/porte
"Porte." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/porte
"Porte." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/porte
"Porte." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/porte-0
"Porte." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/porte-0