History of Bâb-ı Âli - Sublime Porte

History of Bâb-ı Âli - Sublime Porte

Bâb-ı âli known as “Sublime Porte”, “High Porte” or “Ottoman Porte” was the residence of the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister of Ottoman Empire). As the concept developed in time the residence was also called as “Pasha Gate” or “Bâb-ı Âsafi”. After the “Alemdar Incident” it was rebuilt and began to be called as “Bâb-ı Adl” or “Bâb-ı Adli” referring to the ruling monarch of the period, Sultan Mahmud, who was also known as “Mahmud-ı Adli”.

In earlier times of the empire state affairs are being discussed in “Divan-ı Hümâyun” equalled to the cabinet of the time were the viziers met four days a week at the palace of sultan. Additionally an “Afternoon Divan” was convened in the residence of the Grand Vizier once a week.

In the last two centuries of the empire with the change of the governing processes the Afternoon Divans of the Grand Vizier took over the discussion of state affairs totally and a new meeting system was established. The registries, books and records of the “Divan-ı Hümâyun” were transferred to the Bâb-ı âli. Reisülküttap (meaning "chief of the scribes"; the president of bureaucrats or head clerk and later the minister of foreign affairs), the registries of the Divan, “Çavuşbası” (the chief usher of the palace) and his office and subordinates, “Teşrifatçıbaşı” (master of ceremonies) and others were all moved to Bâb-ı âli. Together with Kethüda (chamberlain) and Mektupçu (Chief Secretary) which were the subordinates of the Grand Vizier they were called as “Hademe-i Bâb-ı âli” (Servants of Bâb-ı âli).

The councils established after “Tanzimat” (political reforms in 1839) have played an important role in the organization of Bâb-ı âli. These supreme councils called as “Meclis-i Vâla-yı Ahkâm-ı Adliye” and “Dar-ı Şûra-yı Bâb-ı âli” brought a new dimension to the Ottoman bureaucracy.

The residences of the Grand Viziers were in different locations but all were located in the district called Cağaloğlu, in the neighbourhood of the palace. In the History of Naima (Ottoman official historian of the 17th century) it is noted that Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Efendi, the Grand Vizier during the period of Sultan İbrahim I, had his palace in the current location of Bâb-ı âli and the clerks convened at this place. But this site was inaugurated officially as Bâb-ı âli in 1756 by Sultan Osman III. Afterwards it became the residence of all Grand Viziers and the actual government centre of the Empire. After the fire in 1839 the building was rebuilt and used only as a government office and not as the residence of the Grand Vizier anymore.

Bâb-ı âli has experienced six conflagrations. All were major conflagrations of Istanbul and the wooden buildings of Istanbul are easily being burned down. But it is also important that most of these conflagrations were started by revolting janissaries (regular army of the Empire) by burning the residence of the Grand Vizier who was held responsible for the deterioration of the government.

These buildings were burned down and rebuilt again several times. The remaining buildings are the ones architected by Stefan Kalfa with unornamented façades in Empire Style. Opposite to the “Alay Köşkü” (regimental headquarters) which represents the power of the palace, the Bâb-ı âli gate with its image of an arch of triumph with the eaves, fringes and fountains in baroque style is the symbol of the executive power, but also as levelled below Alay Köşkü it also shows the hierarchy in architectural way. Bâb-ı âli is the first public building in the Ottoman Empire.

The new Bâb-ı âli building architected by Stefan Kalfa was different from its predecessors with its storey floorings and more important by being built with stones and bricks. Although it’s modified and rebuilt partly the original outline of the architecture still remains. But the inner structure is protected only in “Sadaret Dairesi” (Office of the Grand Vizier) which serves as the Governor’s Office today. The original building was composed of three anterooms surrounded by office rooms connected in the northwest -southeast direction. The complex was 220 metres in length and the middle part was higher than both ends. The lower end at northwest was the Office of the Grand Vizier and the other end at southeast was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The higher middle part between them was reserved for the offices of “Şura-yı Devlet” (Supreme Court).

Although the new Bâb-ı âli was different from its predecessor in architectural terms the main principles of the new government centre were linked closely with the traditional approach. For example since the classical times the financial and civil administrations were autonomous and separate with their massive bureaucratic forces. This formation is the evidence of a former existence of the principle of separation of powers.

The new Bâb-ı âli constructed in 1844 was a change of place and also a change in function concurrently. Afterwards the Topkapı Palace lost its significance and remained as an endorsement authority only. Therefore the gate opposite of the “Alay Köşkü” lost its importance and the south gate facing the Ankara Street near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came into prominence. Bâb-ı âli became the definition of the government of the Ottoman Empire. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gained importance the news-hungry journalists began to settle down in the neighbourhood and the Bâb-ı âli concept as the headquarters of Turkish Press was born.

In the following years two other buildings was constructed besides the above mentioned main unit. One is the archive building of the Ministry of Records (Hazine-i Evrak Nezareti) architected by the Swiss-Italian architect Gaspar Fossati. The walls of the Fossati’s building was constructed with bricks but the storey floorings, stairs and the features of windows and doors were made of cast iron manufactured in Istanbul Shipyard. This building is one of the rare examples of Terrazzo Style in Turkey.

The second building inside the Bâb-ı âli site is another small archive building from 1910 built in the 1. National Architecture Style. The main Bâb-ı âli building had been damaged two times in major conflagrations after its construction in 1844. In the first conflagration the middle part with the offices of the Supreme Court and a part of the southeast wing was damaged and renovated quickly afterwards. In the second conflagration the middle part of the building was burnt down completely and removed as it couldn’t be restored again. Thus remained there two independent buildings. This separation of the buildings disrupted the architecture representing the bureaucratic organization of Bâb-ı âli like Dolmabahçe Palace’s architecture which is vibrant but also expressing massive and functional integrity.

With the Republic the old Office of the Grand Vizier became the Governor’s Office, the façade ornaments in neoclassical style were removed and the façade was simply plastered. The Governor’s Office was renovated twice in the late 1980’s and in 1997 in order to regain the original appearance of the building.