The Gates Of İstanbul

İstanbul is a city that is contınuously growing and changing, and it’s not clear where it begins and where it ends.

At the same time, Istanbul is a city that still preserves its historical identity and magnificent skyline. Capital of two empires, it was one of the world’s major urban centers for more than a thousand years. A melting pot of cultures, a gateway joining the civilizations of East and West.

A City Called Gate

Perhaps this is why the word gate (der) was so important in the city’s official names: Dersaadet (Gate of Felicity), Derâliye (The Great Gate), Der-i Devlet (Gate of the State), Darü’s-Saltanat (Gate of the Sultanate), Dârü’l-hilafe (Gate of the Caliphate), and Âsitane (Threshold). Not only were expressions like kapu (Turkish), bâb (Arabic), and dâr (Persian) - all meaning gate - used in Istanbul’s official Ottoman names, they were also terms of choice in the titles especially of high-level institutions and high-ranking officials. A throwback to ancient Turkish political traditions, this custom of naming was also used by foreigners, who, for example, referred to the place where affairs of state were conducted as the Bab-ı Aliye, or Sublime Porte.

A Walled City

A city surrounded by walls, Istanbul’s major gates were of course those used for entering and leaving the city as well as for customs. Even though the main gates are still standing today, we know that most of those that no longer exist were the scene of some key historical events. In short, Istanbul’s gates constitute a major part of her history. During the conquest of the city the Janissary forces that first entered through Edirnekapı (Edirne Gate) put down their coat of arms in front of this gate to mark the conquest. Still in evidence today, this coat of arms is among the principal documents in the city’s history.

Gates And Janissaries

The first regular armed force after the army of the Roman Empire, the Janissaries were the sultan’s own ‘kapıkulu’ or ‘gate servants’. The office of the commander of the Janissary Corps was called the Ağakapısı, or Agha’s Gate, while the office of the Grand Vizier was known as the Pasha’s Gate. Later called the Bab-ı Âli or Sublime Porte, this institution became the empire’s seat of government.

Hagia Sophia And The Mosques

Like the building itself, the gates of the Hagia Sophia have been the subject of legends. Indeed, the Hagia Sophia far outstrips its rivals when it comes to legend. Prior to the 15th-century architect Mimar Sinan, mosque gates were more obviously inspired by the monumental gates of Seljuk architecture. Bronze doors were used on the Sultanahmet Mosque, but this practice was not long-lived and remains an exception. In the 19th century when facade architecture came to the fore, we see elaborately carved stone entrances, an example being the Valide Sultan Mosque at Aksaray where facade and gate architecture are treated as an independent architectural element.

Apartments Come To İstanbul

Doorways were treated in various ways in the period of national architecture and the transition to it. The entranceways of apartment buildings, which continued to incorporate prominent features of traditional architecture, could be downright monumental. In the period of rampant apartment construction, both plain doors, generally of wrought iron in harmony with the building itself, and more eclectic doors are seen.
Gates and doorways preserve their importance today in the cultural geography to which we Turks belong, especially in Istanbul. Expressions like the gate of right, the gate of the state, the bread gate, the gate of the heavens, the gates of paradise, the gate of mercy, the gate of the heart, putting something in front of the door, closing the door on someone, knocking on someone’s door, opening the door a crack, one door opening as another closes, being a servant at the gate and wearing out someone’s threshold are some indication of the place doors and gates occupy in our lives and how profoundly they resonate in our cultural world. But perhaps the best manifestation of how gates are perceived by the Turks can be seen in this lovely prayer: “O Allah, Opener of Doors, open to us the most auspicious door.”