Along the European shore of the Bosphorus is the Dolmabahce Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century during the reign of Sultan I Abdulmecit and is renowned for its excessive ornamentation. Between 1843 and 1856, Abdulmecit commissioned his architect, Karabet Balyan, to construct Dolmabahce Palace, an eclectic blend of styles from across Europe. It had a symmetrical layout across its three stories, with 285 rooms and 43 corridors. Along the riverside, it features a 600-meter pier flanked by massive monumental gates.
The palace is surrounded by immaculate gardens and a massive greeting hall with 56 columns and 750 lights powered by a crystal chandelier that plays in four and a half tones. The sultans were greeted at the entrance, and the harem was located directly across from the ceremonial hall. All of the furnishings, silk carpeting, and curtains are there, and they all look great.
The palace’s walls and ceilings are adorned with gold and European art from the era, giving it a level of luxury not found in most palaces. Each room is furnished with fine silk and wool carpets, handmade artifacts from Southeast Asia, and crystal candlesticks. The harem houses Sultan’s private quarters as well as the quarters for the women and the servants. The men’s Hamam (public bath) is made of alabaster marble. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, died in Dolmabahce Palace on November 10, 1938, adding another chapter to the palace’s storied past. As he left, the door to his room opened, allowing the guests to enter.
In the building’s eastern wing, you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts.
Dolmabahce Palace and Its Surrounding Area: A Complete Guide
Before the 17th century, this area was a Bosporus cove. Historically, this is where Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror beached his ships before crossing the Golden Horn and conquering Istanbul; mythologically, it is where the Argonauts anchored so they could search for the Golden Pelt.
This bay was filled in and developed into Dolmabahce, one of the most recognizable gardens on the Bosphorus, starting in the seventeenth century (Filled Up Garden).
Over the years, different Sultans added to Dolmabahce, and the whole thing is now called the “Besiktas Waterside Palace.”
In 1843, during the reign of Sultan Abdülmedjid, the palace of Besiktas Waterside was demolished because it was deemed a waste of time and money due to its wooden construction. The present-day Dolmabahce Palace was built on its former site.
All of the building, including the exterior walls, was finished in 1856. Dolmabahce Palace’s main structure is just one of sixteen separate structures spread across an area of more than 110.000 square meters. Buildings in those areas include stables, mills, pharmacies, kitchens, aviaries, a glass shop, a foundry, and a patisserie, among others. During Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign, a clock tower was added to the Heir Apparent’s apartment, and guesthouses were added in the backyard garden (1876–1909).
The palace was designed and constructed by Karabet and Nikogos Balyan, two of the most renowned Ottoman architects of their time. The main block of the palace consists of the Harem-i Hümayun, the Muayede (Ceremonial Hall), and the Mabeyn-i Hümayun (Selamlik) (Harem). In the palace’s central courtyard, known as the Muayede, important events and ceremonies are hosted. Other parts of the palace, such as the Harem-i Hümayun and the Mabeyn-i Hümayun, are used for conducting government business and housing the Sultan.
Dolmabahce Palace has a total of three stories, including the basement. Influenced by Western styles, the building’s form, detail, and ornamentation were all expertly interpreted by Ottoman architects. However, the layout is a contemporary update on the design of a classic Turkish mansion. There are wooden floors and stone walls inside. Between 1910 and 1912, central heating and electrical systems were installed at the Palace, demonstrating its openness to modern conveniences. There are 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 hammams (Turkish baths), and 68 bathrooms spread across 45,000 square feet in the palace. Carpeting covering 4.454 square meters was woven first in the palace’s loom house and then in Hereke, which is famous for its carpets.
The mabeyn, where the Sultan conducts state affairs, is the most impressive part of the building, both in terms of its purpose and its splendor. The Red Room, where the Sultan received ambassadors, the Crystal Stairs leading to the upper floor, the Süfera Hall, the guest room for ambassadors, and the entry’s Medhal Hall are all decorated and furnished to emphasize the historical splendor of the Empire. Entry to Sultan’s private quarters in the Mabeyn wing, located on the second floor, is granted via the Zülvecheyn (two-planned) Hall. This area features not only classrooms and meeting halls but also a luxurious hammam decorated with Egyptian marble.
Located between the Harem and the Mabeyn, the Muayede (celebration) Hall is the crown jewel of Dolmabahce Palace. Its 36-meter-high dome and 4.5-ton British-made chandelier make the hall stand out among the Palace’s 15,000-square-foot floor space and 56 columns. The central heating system, which blows warm air from the base of the columns, ensures that guests are comfortable even on the chilliest days. The Sultan would sit on the hall’s golden throne as he greeted dignitaries and diplomats during religious holiday celebrations. Separate galleries housed the palace’s orchestra, male and female guests, and the diplomatic staff.
Although the traditional separation of public and private spaces was less strict than it is today, the harem was designed as a separate area in Dolmabahce, which was inspired by European palaces and built in a Western style. Unlike Topkapi Palace, where the royal family lives in a separate building and compound, their residence here is an integral part of the palace and can be reached directly from the main palace corridors.
At Dolmabahce Palace, the harem occupies the better part of the palace. The doors and gates between Mabeyn and Muayede Hall and the Harem are made of iron and timber to reinforce the social norm of racial segregation. The Sultan, his wives, concubines, sons, and daughters all slept in bedrooms in this wing, along with the study and lounge rooms, all of which were illuminated by the Bosporus’s reflections. The apartment of Valide Sultan (Mother Sultan), the Blue and Pink Halls, the rooms of Sultans Abdülmedjid, Abdülaziz, and Resad, the section for the concubines, the rooms of the matrons, the study and bedroom of Great Atatürk, and the many valuable artifacts, such as furniture, rugs, and kilims, inscriptions, vases, chandeliers, and oil paintings, are the most interesting and impressive.
Once again open to the public, Dolmabahce Palace has undergone a complete restoration. The two “Precious Items Exhibition Halls” display the palace’s most valuable artifacts, while the “Internal Treasury Exhibition Building” showcases pieces from the National Palaces Yildiz (Star) Porcelain collection, and the “Art Gallery” features works from the National Palaces Painting collection. The “Abdülmedjid Efendi Library” in the Mabe Palace also serves as an exhibition space.
The “Furnishing Department” in the palace’s foyer has been replaced by the “Cultural Information Center.” This is the hub of operations for the many national palaces across the country that host scientific conferences and public presentations. The library also has a section for research that is mostly made up of books from the 19th century.
Between the Clock Tower, Furnishing Department, Aviary, Harem, and Heir Apiary, cafes and souvenir shops have sprung up in the outdoor areas. Postcards, reproductions of works of art from the National Palaces Art Collection, and guides to the National Palaces written by the Cultural Information Center are all available for purchase at these locations. Additionally, Muayede Hall and the gardens are used for national and international receptions. These renovations have made it possible for the palace to once again host museums and other cultural events.
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