Imperial Council - Dîvan-i Hümâyûn / Kubbealtı

On the edge of the Second Courtyard stands the Domed Chamber which in a sense represents the universal nature of the Ottoman Empire. The rather modest three-dome space of the current Domed Chamber, from which the empire was governed for a good portion of its history, was constructed in the 16th century on the order of Suleiman the Magnificent as a replacement for the wooden council chamber that had been built together with the original palace. The building was seriously damaged in the Harem fire of 1665, and as a result it had to be rebuilt almost entirely. It was rebuilt during the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV (r. 164887). Inscriptions on the Domed Chamber’s outer façade state that the building underwent various restorations in later times as well.

The face of the Domed Chamber looks onto the courtyard and is surrounded by a wide portico consisting of eleven columns of green porphyry and white marble. The portico’s arches support a wooden roof adorned with splendid engraved decorations. Meetings of the Imperial Council would occur four times a week at the Domed Chamber located beneath the Tower of Justice (Kasr-ı Adl).

The adjacent domed space served as the office of the Imperial Council’s secretary, while the last room served as the Imperial Archives (Defterhâne). Though an Imperial Council under the leadership of the Ottoman sovereign had met ever since the empire was established, sultans ceased to chair the council’s meetings personally in the time of Sultan Mehmed II. Instead, they would simply follow the proceedings by sitting in a small room separated from the meeting chamber by a grille. They would, however, signal when the proceedings were at an end, either by striking the grille with their scepter or, more rarely, by means of an oral announcement. The resolutions made by the Imperial Council were recorded in the Registries of Important Events (Mühimme Defterleri). The place of referral for the Imperial Council was the Audience Chamber (Arz Odası), located just inside the Gate of Felicity. On days appointed for the reception of petitions, after the meeting in the Domed Chamber had concluded, the viziers would come here at appointed times and present formal written proposals (lâyiha) to the grand vizier.