The Audience Chamber (Arz Odası) The Audience Chamber was where the grand vizier would come to present the sultan with the decrees adopted by the Imperial Council. It was first built on the order of Sultan Mehmed II in the 15th century as a place for formal audience. Its basic current appearance dates back to the 16th century, when it was repaired by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after having been destroyed in the earthquake of 1509. The Audience Chamber underwent numerous other restorations through the centuries, until, in the time of Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839-61), it was severely burnt in a fire with only the divan and the bronze-plated fireplace surviving. Subsequent restorations, including the radical changes introduced in 1946, have resulted in space whose decorations are a far cry from their former grandeur. While the Audience Chamber was where the sultan and the grand vizier would deliberate over the decisions of the Imperial Council, it was also a space for the reception of state officials, ambassadors, and religious scholars. The Audience Chamber has three doors: two open towards the Gate of Felicity, while the third opens onto the Inner Palace Courtyard. These were termed the Door of Petitions (Marûzât Kapısı), the Door of Offering (Pîşkeş Kapısı), and the Door of the Sovereign (Hükümdâr Kapısı). Anyone who wished to make a petition to the sultan would enter through the Door of Petitions. Between this door and the Door of Offering is The Third Courtyard (The Enderûn Courtyard) situated a large window; any gifts brought by foreign ambassadors would be left before this window, later to be taken into the Audience Chamber through the Door of Offering. While the Door of Petitions and the Door of Offering are flush with the ground, the Door of the Sovereign at the back of the structure has steps leading down to the Inner Palace Courtyard. The Gate of Felicity is situated at the highest point of the Sarayburnu area. The façade of the Audience Chamber is decorated with magnificent ceramic tile panels. The chamber’s interior is conspicuous for its numerous elements demonstrating the absolute authority of the sultan. Directly opposite the two front entrances stands the sultan’s baldachin-style throne, beside which is a fireplace. There is also a fountain inside the Audience Chamber, mirroring the one that stands outside. The throne, with its four wreathed columns, dates back to the time of Sultan Mehmed III (r. 1595-1603). The splendid dome supported by these columns is decorated with lacquered animal and floral motifs, in the interstices of which are inlaid precious stones.
RECEIVING AMBASSADORS IN THE AUDIENCE CHAMBER
The Audience Chamber, where the sultans were notified of the decisions of the Imperial Council when they had not attended its meetings was, for nearly four centuries, witness to the governing of the Ottoman state. On certain days of the week, members of the council would be received by the sultan following council meetings. At the start of meetings in the Audience Chamber, the fountains inside and outside the building would be turned on and the sweet splash of the running water would prevent anyone outside from overhearing what was being said within. Ambassadors would typically be received in the Audience Chamber on the same day that the Janissaries received their pay; in this way, it was hoped, the majesty of the empire would be proven to both friend and foe. The arriving ambassador would first be ushered into the Chamber of the Gatekeeper at the Gate of Salutation where he would receive refreshments in accordance with Ottoman Empire custom. Then, accompanied by the Imperial Council’s guardians, he would be led to the Domed Chamber. Though normally three tables were set for the council, five tables would be set on the days when an ambassador was received and the ambassador would dine at the same table as the grand vizier. If the sultan was so magnanimous as to deign to receive the ambassador, the chief gatekeepers would take the ambassador’s arms (both for security reasons and as a show of respect) and lead him into the presence of the sultan. After entering into the sultan’s presence, they would salute him from three different points. The sultan was constrained to respect certain rules of protocol: seated in the Throne of State (Serîr-i Saltanat), the sultan would listen to the ambassador through an interpreter, typically a Greek citizen of the empire. Those received into the sultan’s presence would not look him in the eye, but rather would remain immobile, holding their hands folded before them, lowering their head, and keeping their eyes cast downward. In addition to members of the Imperial Council and ambassadors, visiting kings, the khans of the Crimea, and foreign princes would be received in the Audience Chamber as well.