The word surre means the gifts and precious goods that were donated by the Sultan and citizens of the Ottoman Empire every year and which were sent to Mecca and Medina during the pilgrimage season.
The Surre caravan was sent along with the pilgrims on the 12 of Rajab, the first of the three blessed months, so that it could arrive in Mecca in time for the pilgrimage. The caravan spent the holy month of Ramadan in Damascus, and then distributed the gifts in Mecca. After performing the pilgrimage, the hajj, the caravan would depart for its return journey.
The first caravan ever was sent by Sultan Celebi Mehmed (d. 1421) with 14,000 gold coins by ship by Captain Kemal Reis; this tradition continued with higher quantities being sent by other sultans. After the Hijaz region was annexed by Selim I, the Surre caravans were more systematically organ-ized. It is reported in Mir’at al-Haramayn that the gifts and goods donated to the caravan were distributed to scholars and people who spent all their time worshipping in the Grand Mosque, and whose names had been determined beforehand.
The foundation deeds belonging to Sultan Mahmud II and Abdulhamid II reveal that the money sent with the Surre caravans were to be distributed to the teachers at the Hamidiye Madrasa, some righteous poor, and mosque attendants (Sabri, 1887, vol. 2, p. 687).
Spectacular ceremonies were staged before the departure of the Surre caravans. Each ceremony was held according to a detailed plan organized by the protocol officer. The list of participants, ceremonial positions, costumes, and other issues were recorded in ceremony books. Esad Efendi’s Teshrifat-i Kadime [Ancient Protocol], for instance, describes the gifts, costumes, and money donated to the caravans in detail.
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