Friday 7 March 2014

Picture Dictionary: Sublime Porte

Sublime Porte [səˈblʌɪm pɔːt]
From the French 'Sublime Porte', translation of the Turkish Bab-i-Ali, 'grand door'.  Refers to the ceremonial gate to the palace of the Grand Vizier in Istanbul; also used to refer to the government/seat of government of the Ottoman Empire.Eithne's favourite example of metonymy (qv).

Metonymy [məˈtänəmē]
Metaphorical device where one object is substituted for another, related object.  Cf 'crown' for monarch, 'bench' for judiciary.

The Sublime Porte.  Where did my obsession come from?  I think it's probably related to the fact that I explored the delights of metonymy (and its close relation, synecdoche) in my first term at university, around the same time I was writing essays about competing Imperial interests in the run up to WWI.  The Sublime Porte seemed to me a glorious shorthand for the Ottoman Empire, much more exotic and interesting than the Court of St James, say.  (Or the more prosaic 'Berlin', 'Washington' and 'Brussels' we get today.)

So I was determined to track down the original, actual gate from which the term derived.  Easier said than done.  The gate now leads to the provincial governor's HQ and is not particularly on the Istanbul tourist trail - though it is in the Sultanahmet district, along with the Topkapi Palace.  In fact, we discovered the gate through sheer serendipity.  We were walking along Ankara Caddesi looking for a restaurant and I looked up - and recognised the distinctive canopy over the gate.

I went back to see it the next day: to the passers by, the trucks and cars and taxis, it's clearly just another gate in a city that's chockablock full of interesting sites.

But I know (and it knows) that it is the very definition of a Sublime Porte.  

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