Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı), Turkey’s largest mono-block palace, was commissioned by Sultan Abdül Mecit in 1843.
Built to belie the military and financial decline of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul’s first European-style palace was an opulent one, excessive in size and filled with gold and crystal.
Dolmabahçe Means Filled Garden
The area where the Dolmabahçe Palace now stands used to be a small bay of the Bosphorus. From the 18th century onwards, the bay was gradually filled to become an imperial garden by the Bosphorus. People referred to it as Dolmabahçe, literally meaning filled (dolma) garden (bahçe).
Since the sultans loved the site a lot, plenty of mansions (köşk) and pavilions (kasır) were built on that spot during the 18th and 19th centuries. Gradually this collection grew into a complex called the Beşiktaş Waterfront Palace, demolished by order of Sultan Abdül Mecit to make way for the Dolmabahçe Palace. He decided to move from Topkapi Palace to Dolmabahçe Palace since it would be able to provide ‘modern’ luxuries that Topkapi Palace lacked.
Crystal staircase in Dolmabahçe Palace – © The Istanbul Insider
The true reason behind the construction of Dolmabahçe Palace was to cover up that the Ottoman Empire was in decline. Therefore, the new palace had to be lavishly decorated to impress the world. It also had to break with the Ottoman tradition of constructing a series of pavilions, so he ordered the leading Ottoman architect Garabet Baylan and his son Nigoğayos to build a mono-block Ottoman-European palace. The construction began in 1843 and was finished in 1856.
The result is a two-floor palace, covering an area of 45.000 m², containing 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 baths ( hamam ). The design is a mixture of Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classic and traditional Ottoman art and culture. Fourteen tons of gold were used to gild the ceilings. It also has the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world. The price tag for all this: a staggering five million Ottoman gold coins, the current equivalent of 35 tons of gold.
Six Sultans and Atatürk
Starting with the move of the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from Topkapi Palace in 1856, until the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924, the Dolmabahçe Palace was home to six sultans. There was however a 20-year interval from 1889 to 1909 in which the Yıldız Palace was used.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, used the palace as a presidential house in the summer and enacted some of his most important works here, e.g. the introduction of the new alphabet. Troubled by health problems, he spent his last years in the palace until he died at 09.05 on November 10, 1938. In his honor, all the clocks in the palace are stopped at that exact time. The room in which he died is part of one of the palace tours.The Architecture of Dolmabahçe Palace
The palace has been built in 64.100 sq. meter area. The palace consists of four main departments: Selamlık (Men’s quarter), Muayede Salonu (Ceremonial Hall), Harem and apartments of the princes. Besides them, there are lots of apartments of servants, staterooms, kitchens, a mosque, a school, baths, pavilions, and a theater. The exterior of the palace has been decorated with white marble from Marmara Island.
The palace with its ground floor is a three-storey building. It has 46 halls and 285 rooms. The palace interior has been designed by the French decorator Sechan, who was the designer of the Paris Opera. So, interior decoration and the style of furniture are firmly reminiscent of those of the French palaces and villas.
Several famous European artists such as Zonaro, Fromentin, and Aivazovski were employed to embellish the palace with paintings and ceiling frescoes. There are overall 36 Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers and the biggest one is in the Ceremonial Hall with 4.5-ton weight.How do I get to Dolmabahçe Palace?
Dolmabahçe Palace is located near Kabatas stop on the Bagcilar-Kabatas Tramline. It is just one minute of walking from the stop. By this tram, you can come from Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Sirkeci, and Grand Bazaar and so on.By ferry
From Üsküdar or Kadıköy which are on the Asian side, you can take ferries to cross the Bosporus and come to Beşiktaş or Ortaköy. The pier is just 3 minutes walking away from Dolmabahçe. You can use your İstanbul transport card to get on the ferry.By bus
There is a bus stop Kabatas in a minute walking distance to Dolmabahçe. You can use bus numbers 27E, 29C, 29D, 41E to come from Sariyer, Maslak or Levent.By metro
There is no metro near Dolmabahçe Palace but Taksim metro station is not that far. I usually walk from Taksim Square down to Dolmabahçe Palace. It will take 15 minutes. But you can also use a funicular line from Taksim to Kabatas.By walking
you can walk from Taksim metro, but if you are around Beşiktaş and Ortaköy, Yildiz Park, Beylerbeyi Palace or Maritime Museum, you can also walk to Dolmabahçe or you can take a cab for a short distance.What to see in Dolmabahçe Palace?
The Palace extends for 600 meters along the European shore of the Bosporus. Its outstanding white façade can be seen from the ferries and when you see it from the sea, it gives you a better idea about how big and eminent it is.1. Dolmabahçe Mosque
The mosque is the contemporary of the palace built in 1853 by Nikogos Balyan. It is in the neighborhood of the palace, so before entering the gate, you might prefer to visit the Mosque, first. It was started by Bezmialem Valide Sultan but his son Sultan Abdulmecit. Balyan finished the Clock Tower after a year in 1854, which is located a few meters forward.2. Clock Tower
You should first see Clock Tower outside the Palace before entering the main gates. The tower was added to the palace after 40 years of its construction in 1890 by Sultan Abdulhamit II. It is 27 meters high with four-stories. The Tower was built by a well-known French clock-maker Paul Garnier and still keeps time.3. The Gates
The Palace had two entrances with highly decorated gates. The first one is the Treasury Gate which today is the entrance gate for the visitors and the second one was Imperial Gate. Both gates have a guard of honor until today.4. Waterfront Façade (Marble)
This amazing marble façade is 284 meters long. The Ceremonial Hall stays in the center with Harem on its right and Staterooms (Selamlık) on its left.5. Gardens
Before entering the palace, you can enjoy free walking in the imperial gardens of the Ottoman Empire with all kinds of flowers, green grass, decorated trees on the shore of the Bosporus on a sunny day. There are 16 pavilions and a huge palace inside this vast garden. As I mentioned above, these places belonged to imperial gardens since 1614, the period of Sultan Ahmet. The palace was built then inside the gardens. There is a nice café as well but usually, it is full of tourists.6. Ceremonial Hall (Muayede Salonu)
There are 56 columns in the vast reception–hall with a four-and-half ton crystal chandelier with 750 lights on it. The chandelier is a gift from Queen Victoria of England and it is the largest chandelier in the world. The Hall’s dome is 36 meters high. Ceremonial Hall is considered to be one of the best Palace Halls in the world. The hall size is 1800 sq. meter.7. Harem
The Harem was the building where the sultan’s mother, wives, concubines, children with all their servants would reside. All the palaces would have Harem building separately. It was the most secluded place of the palace and no man could enter the Harem besides the Sultan and princes. The Harem building has several apartments and Central Hall where women would meet for tea parties and ceremonies. The building also has baths, a school, and a maternity ward.8. State Rooms (Selamlık)
The State Rooms have seawards and landwards rooms. The seawards ones were used by grand viziers and ministers and landwards rooms were used by administrative staff. All of the rooms are extravagant and luxury ornamented.9. Sultan’s Bathrooms
There are two bathrooms in the palace, the first one is in the main palace, decorated with marbles and the second one is in the Harem decorated in violet flowers.10. Ataturk’s Rooms
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president of Turkey Republic used Dolmabahçe Palace as his base in Istanbul. In 1938, at 9:05 am he died here in his bedroom from cirrhosis of the liver and all the clocks of the palace are set to 9:05 to symbolize his death. You can see his bed where the Turkish flag covers it completely.11. Museum of Fine Arts
This museum is located in the east wing of the palace holding the late 19thand early 20thcentury’s best collection. Works belong to Osman Hamdi bey- the first Ottoman Muslim painter whose paintings displayed abroad. The entrance is free.12. Museum of Palace Collections
It is housed in the former kitchens of the palace and is situated in the eastern end of the palace with a separate entrance. It stores and exhibits 42.000 different items that belonged to the palace from bath slippers, toys and clothes of princes and princesses to sewing machines and delicate tea sets. Wandering among these palace belongings once used by the palace royal family and its residents will give you a clear picture of the luxury lifestyle of the Ottoman imperial family. The entrance fee is just 5 TL (1$).13. Bird Pavilion.
In the Bird Pavilion, once upon a time, all birds of the world were kept to show the privileged guests and residents of the Palace.