• The Enderun Academy of Topkapi Palace

    Library of Sultan Ahmed III, Enderun Courtyard.

    The Establishment of the Enderun Academy

    The growth of the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of its civilization over three continents (Asia, Europe, and Africa), starting from the year 1299, are attributed to the rule of committed and effective Sultans. However, many able statesmen helped the Empire prolong its existence for more than four centuries after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The selection and education of statesmen became critical to the Empire in the 15th century because Ottoman state affairs had evolved from those of a small nation into that of a bonafide Empire covering more than 2,000,000 square miles. This expansion rapidly diversified the empire, creating a highly multicultural nation with the assimilation of new cultures that blended into Ottoman life. Sultan Fatih Mehmet Han (Mehmet II , who ruled between the years 1451 – 1481) who claimed to be the successor of Caesar was determined to set rules that would be the basis for his eternal Empire. A vital component of this goal was the establishment of a special school to select the most able youngsters within the Empire and to educate them to become the members of the ruling class. Thus, Sultan Mehmet II improved the existing palace school founded by his father, Murat II (who ruled between the years 1421 – 1451), and established the Enderun Academy within his private residence at Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.

    Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han, the founder of the Enderun Academy
    Life in the Enderun

    The students who lived in the Enderun part of Topkapı Palace, would address one another with the Turkish plural form of "you" (siz) as a sign of respect. These young people could not act impertinently even to each other. They had to perfectly respectful towards one another and their superiors. They followed strict discipline in their hours of eating, sleeping, rising, and so on. They were under constant supervision day and night. Discipline in the Enderun was reflected in Palace protocol and tradition, and contrary to popular misconception, the harem was the female counterpart of the Enderun.

    The aghas woke with the call to dawn prayer in the  morning. The prayer was completed in congregation in the Mosque of the Aghas and then the daily routine began. Any heedless behaviour at the table was met by a verbal admonition, or a rap on the hand with a ladle. If the boys impudent forms of addressing one another, did not behave themselves, or violated discipline such as clothing regulations, they would be severely punished. The disciplined education that was given was aimed at improving the students' skills; they were taught both how to use their minds and to be persevering. In addition to the students, the princes who were not sent to administrative provinces outside the palace were also educated here.
    Mosque of the Aghas - The largest mosque at the Topkapi Palace
    The residents of the Enderun led a demanding life. It was an academy of the Palace but not in the sense we understand today. The boys who came here were educated in Turkish-Islamic culture by the best teachers of the time. They learned literature, Arabic, Persian, Qur'anic studies, calligraphy and sports on the one hand, and at the same time they actively served and learned the life and practical rules of the Palace.

    Agha's from the Enderun School
    Albertus Bobovius, or Santuri Ali Ufki Bey, was educated at the Enderun and became a good composer. Later on, he wrote a book about his years at the Enderun. Students there were trained in all aspects of life and culture. Even some great religious scholars were raised here. When the residents of the Enderun, who worked in the Palace service while learning manners, science, and arts, proved capable, they were promoted by the orders of the Sultan himself.

    Students of the Enderun Academy, studying a variety of sciences
    The Lesser and Greater Chambers of Enderun

    Right after entering from the Gate of Felicity, the rooms of the Lesser Chamber are located on the left side, and those of the Greater Chamber are on the right. The Lesser and Greater Chambers were the two initial stages of the Enderun. These chambers were where the Enderun placed the boys most promising in terms of intelligence and physical abilities who had been taken into the Palace before they reached twelve years of age. Different from the schools we are accustomed to, the students served and learned at the same time and there were no classrooms. They were promoted from one dormitory to the next. As the Sultan noticed the hard work and virtue of any one student, they would be promoted.

    The courtyard of the Enderun
    The students of these first two chambers, received a scholarship and two uniforms annually. These beginners were called "Dolamalilar." They only gained the right to wear a caftan after serving a trial period, acquiring the positive opinion of their room master, and finally the affirmation of the Sultan. After being authorized to wear a caftan, the next steps in promotion would be the Campaign Dormitory, the Dormitory for the Larder Staff, that of the Treasury, and finally to the Royal Apartments (Enderun-i Hümayun) as the highest ranking residents of the Enderun.

    Life After the Endurun

    Students who graduated from the Enderun school would later attend schools across Anatolia to complete their training for six to seven years in order to qualify as ordinary military officers. They would receive the highest salary samongst the administrators of the Empire, and very well respected in public. The Enderun school has been designed to select the elite of the elite, the ablest and most physically perfect people in the Empire. Only a very few would reach the Palace school. More than three hundred years later, in 1789, Thomas Jefferson, the future President of the United States, proposed the establishment of a similar system of identifying the most capable and educating them to their highest potential in his "A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" in the year 1779.


    Topkapi Palace - Ilber Ortayli

    The Ottoman Palace School Enderun and the Man with Multiple Talents, Matrakçı Nasuh - Sencer Corlu

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