From the time that Francois I and Sulieman the Magnificent forged the Franco-Ottoman Alliance in the 1530s, up until the end of the 19th century, France was the Ottoman Empire’s most important foreign ally, as the well as the preeminent Western powerbroker in the Near and Middle East. The French Embassy in the Constantinople, known as the ‘Palais de France’ (Turkish: Franciz Sarayi) was the epicentre of diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire, often the location where the major agreements between the Sublime Porte and other great powers were deliberated and ratified. For almost 300 years, the Palais de France, served as the French Embassy; it burned down several times, only to be rebuilt and remodelled on the same location. Today the Palais de France serves as the official residence of the French Consul General in Istanbul. To be precise, the Palais occupies a grand gated property at the end of the small laneway, Karaca Çıkmazı, just off İstiklal Caddesi, the main thoroughfare of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu (Pera) District.
The present document is an exactingly detailed physical description of the “Salle de Dais”, or main reception hall of the Palais de France, as it appeared in the 1780s, within the version of the edifice that existed between 1777 and 1831. The description is written in a neat secretarial hand, and while anonymous, it was likely composed by an official of the French Embassy, or perhaps a person closely associated with the mission (i.e. a merchant or military officer). From the references contained in the document itself, it can be confidently dated to around 1785 (give or take a few years). Moreover, the present document was found amidst a dossier of French diplomatic correspondence definitively dating from the 1780s.
The description notes that the reception salon had dimensions of 44 feet x 28 feet x 14 feet (French royal feet being almost identical in length to an Imperial foot). It goes on the note the exact placement of the main entrance, a door bordered by Corinthian columns with elaborate gilt decoration, as well as the locations of windows and other doors. A dais, or elevated chair used by the ambassador to conduct audiences, is located by the wall immediately opposite the entrance, ensuring a majestic impression. Also, details are provided on the types and placement of the other
furniture in the salon, including the great table to the side of the dais, which was used for conducting diplomatic conferences.
The salon is described as a “quarter for mediation” between the French ambassador and his officers and the Sublime Porte, while sometimes also involving third parties. Specifically mentioned here is the recent meeting held in the room on March 21, 1779, whereupon the Comte de Saint-Priest, the French ambassador, arbitrated an accord between Russia and the Sublime Porte, whereby Constantinople recognized the St. Petersburg’s sovereignty over Crimea.
The description them goes onto describe the artwork which adorns the room. This included a panorama of Constantinople by the esteemed antiquarian and artist, the Comte de ChoiseulGouffier, whose served as the French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte from 1784 to 1791, after having toured and sketched sites in Greece and Turkey since 1776. There are also several scenes of important diplomatic events involving the Sublime Porte involving France, including the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), involving Austria and Russia making peace with the Ottomans Empire; the Venetian-Ottoman accord of 1573; as well as scenes of the famous Franco-Ottoman allied military actions, such as the Siege of Nice (1543).
The present manuscript description, which has only been recently re-discovered, has never been studied by historians or diplomatic authorities. It is of great historical interest, as it is perhaps the only detailed and reliable surviving description of the grand salon of the Palais de France from a critical period when the room hosted many consequential events.
Palais de France: The Epicentre of Diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire
Ever since François I and Sulieman the Magnificent forged the Franco-Ottoman Alliance in the 1530s, all the way up until the period before World War I, France was the Sublime Porte’s most important international ally, forging a deep and consequential military, political and economic bond that suffered only brief interruptions.
The site of the Palais de France first became a French diplomatic compound in 1581, although it was not until the ambassadorship of François Savary, comte de Brèves, who represented Henri IV at the Sublime Porte between 1591 and 1605, that an embassy was constructed. The original wooden structure burned down in 1665 and was soon rebuilt.
Around 1720 the Palais de France was extensively remodelled at great cost by Vigné de Vigny, who was sent to Constantinople by the King’s Royal architect, Robert de Cotte. This building burnt down in 1767 (sadly massive conflagrations were a common occurrence in Constantinople, a densely packed, windy city of largely wooden buildings).
The version of the Palais de France described in the present manuscript was as fine neo-classical building completed in 1777. It served as the epicentre of diplomacy in Constantinople during the 1780s, until it was closed for a time during the French Revolution. From 1799 to 1802, when Napoleon Bonaparte was at war with the Ottoman Empire, the building was occupied by Lord, Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte. The Palais de France once again became a grand diplomatic salon when it was returned to the restored French royalist regime in 1815. This version of the Palais burned down in 1831. It was replaced by a grand new edifice, designed by the architect Pierre-Léonard Laureciscus, built between 1839 and 1847. France regained its dominant position in Constantinople and many of the great decisions regarding the empire was made in the Palais’s salons, as France (along with Britain) was the Sublime Porte’s main political backer, while French bankers controlled a large portion of the Ottoman economy. French influence predominated at the Sublime Porte until shortly before World War I, when Germany took the Ottoman Empire into World War I, thus leading to the Palais’s closure.
In the wake of the war, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, and the Republic of Turkey (founded in 1923) rose out of its ashes. The Turkish capital was moved to Ankara, although Istanbul remained the country’s commercial and cultural centre. Today, Laureciscus’s magnificent Palais de France serves as the residence of the French Consul General in Istanbul and is admired as one of the city’s finest diplomatic estate.
References: N / A – Document unrecorded.