Ramadan in The Topkapı Palace

In the Ottoman Palace the month of Ramadan began officially with the spotting of the new moon at the end of the month of Shaban and with a decree by the Chief Judge of Istanbul.

Officials in both the palace and state offices celebrated the beginning of Ramadan by extending each other congratulations. When foreign ambassadors learned that Ramadan had begun, they would join this collective joy by sending written messages of congratulations to the sultan, first of all, and to state officials they dealt with. Ramadan was met with great elation in Enderun and the Harem, and iftar (breaking of the fast) dinners would be given for guests every evening until the Night of Qadr.

Once Ramadan began, Huzur Lessons would begin in which religious topics would be debated and discussed in the presence of the sultan. It would not be incorrect to define Huzur Lessons as a series of conferences on religious topics chaired by the sultan. Held in a place determined by the sultan, they could take place under the porticos facing the Mermer Sofa of the Holy Mantle, in the Şadırvanlı Sofa or in the Balıkhane Mabeyin-i Hümayun. Generally the subjects of Quranic exegesis, grammar and syntax, and logic were discussed in the Huzur Lessons. It was recorded in the memoirs of Hafız Hızır İlyas Ağa that once it was explained that the whole ummah of Muhammad would enter heaven and that all who listened were happy.

On the 12th or 13th of Ramadan, called Pars, the Room of the Holy Mantle would be cleaned with great respect and with the participation of the sultan. Also the sacred trusts would be moved from the Throne Room to the Revan Kiosk on Pars Day which was participated in by the chief officials of the Treasury, Pantry and Mobilized Wards as well as the private royal rooms. Like the other aghas, the sultan would perform a duty during this transfer and he would personally carry the sacred trusts. Then the Throne Room/Holy Mantle Room would be cleaned with sponges dipped in rosewater and incense water.

The Holy Mantle was visited every year on the 15th of Ramadan with the participation of state functionaries with a ceremony that was formerly traditional and made official in the later periods. After the sultan determined the day and hour of the visit to the Holy Mantle, invitations would be sent by the protocol office to those who had the rank to participate in the ceremony. Called invitation certificates, these documents also indicated on what date and at which hour the invited person should come to the Topkapı Place and which uniform and medals he should wear.

Coming to the Room of the Holy Mantle at the time of the noon prayer, the sultan would rest there for a while. Then he would command that the ceremony begin. As ordered, the royal attendants, taking the Holy Mantle’s golden chest from its silver stand, would place it on gold thread cushions stacked on one another. The chief of the royal chambers who carried the keys of the Holy Mantle’s first chest opened the chest and green atlas bundles. The two-winged pure gold drawer was opened by the sultan. Just as in holiday and ascension ceremonies, first the crown prince and then the other princes in order of their age visited the Holy Mantle and received a special handkerchief, then passed to the left of the sultan and remained there for the duration of the ceremony.

After that the grand vizier, sheikulislam and other ministers made their visits in order of their rank, and they passed to the right of the sultan. The chief of the royal chambers, the chief black eunuch, the sword-bearer of the sultan, the chief footman, the chief syrup holder and the chief officer of the wardrobe along with the chiefs of the treasury, pantry and mobilized wards all stood behind the sultan.
After each visitor bowed before the Holy Mantle and kissed it, the sultan would hand each of them a handkerchief. After this visit, the pages from the Treasury, Pantry, Falconers, and Mobilized Wards came to visit the Throne Room with their official uniforms; however, the chiefs from the large and small chambers did not make a visit.

After the visit of the state functionaries, the door of the Room of the Holy Mantle facing Enderun would be closed and the iron door close to the Harem would be opened. Upon invitation the wives of the sultan, his favorites, his sisters and his daughters, covering their heads with prayer scarves, would each visit in ceremony. They would leave the room after receiving a special handkerchief from the sultan. After the ceremony was finished, the sultan would talk with his guests and reward them.

The Night of Qadr was celebrated with great enthusiasm at the royal palace and in Ottoman states. A lantern event would be arranged on the Night of Qadr at the Tophane Square, and everywhere would be illuminated with lanterns of various shapes and colors. After the Night of Qadr iftar dinners would not be given for guests at either the palace or in large homes; preparations for the holiday would begin.

After press became widespread the handkerchiefs were prepared by the Enderun aghas. Assigned to the preparation of the handkerchiefs, the pages would cut the muslin, stamp it and then, after washing it in the sea, they would dry it. Washed one more time, the handkerchiefs would be starched and ironed, folded and placed in a basket. Because the handkerchiefs (destimaller) were preserved in the Inner Chamber Ward during the final periods, the ward was given the name Destimal Room.