The Dolmabahce Palace is located along the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait. Originally there was a shallow bay where the Ottoman fleet used to anchor their ships. After the 17th century the coast was filled in and converted into a nice garden with a couple of pavilions named as Besiktas Waterfront Palace complex, where the sultans used to relax enjoying the views. By the way, Dolmabahce literally means “filled garden” in Turkish language. In 1843 sultan Abdülmecid I ordered to build a new palace taking away these old buildings, and imperial architects Garabet and Nikogos Balyan finished the construction in 1856. Dolmabahce was used as a secondary palace by the successor of Abdulmecid after his death, it became a winter residence meanwhile Beylerbeyi Palace was used as the summer residence. Only after two sultans the imperial family moved back to the Dolmabahce with sultan Mehmed V and lived there until the proclamation of the Republic at the end of War of Liberation. The Parliament decided to use Dolmabahce as a presidential palace thus Atatürk stayed and received foreign guests here during his visits to Istanbul. He died in the palace on 10th of November 1938, later on it was converted into a museum in 1952.
STRUCTURE OF DOLMABAHCE PALACE
With over 110.000 square meters of construction on 250.000 square meters of land, it sure is an impressive palace on the Bosphorus. The palace is consisted of three main sections: Administrative apartments (Selamlik or Mabeyn-i Hümayun), Ceremonial Hall (Muayede Salonu), and Imperial Harem (Harem-i Hümayun). The impressive Ceremonial Hall was built between other two sections, where the sultan received his important guests and foreign statesmen. Besides the main palace, there are several other buildings in the complex such as imperial kitchens, Crown Prince rooms (Veliaht Dairesi), barracks, stables, pharmacy, flour mill, aviary (Kusluk), glass manufactory, foundry, plant house (Fidelik), greenhouse, carpet workshop, clock tower, etc. Some of the smaller buildings were destroyed or demolished during the years. There are two monumental gates giving access to the main garden (but only one is open today) of the administrative part; Treasury Gate (Hazine Kapisi) and Imperial Gate (Saltanat Kapisi).
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The Mabeyn-i Hümayun (state apartments) is the most important section in terms of function and splendour. There is a large hall at the entrance, a crystal staircase (banisters), and other decorative elements to impress the visitors. A couple of large halls upstairs decorated with Hereke carpets, crystal chandeliers and fireplaces, and a fine imperial Hamam decorated with Egyptian alabaster are other impressive parts of the Selamlik section.
The Ceremonial Hall is a large square hall of monumental proportions, over 2.000 square meters of area and 36 meters high ceeling. It is decorated with a huge Hereke carpet and a 4,5 tons of crystal chandelier which was sent by Queen Victoria. Important state and religious ceremonies were held here. Upper galleries were used by foreign ambassadors invited to the religious ceremonies but also by the orchestra at special occasions. Women weren’t allowed in this ceremonies so they watched it from the windows of a long corridor connecting the Selamlik with the Harem, passing just above the Ceremonial Hall. During the winter, the hall was heated with the hot air blown from the heating system at the bottom of 56 tall columns, it took them about 3 days to heat the hall properly before any ceremony.
The Harem was connected to the Selamlik section by a long corridor which was guarded all the time to make sure that nobody passes. It was strictly prohibited by any man to go in, except the sultan himself of course and the eunuch servants. The Harem section is formed by several rooms, baths, and halls. There were suites of the sultan, quarter of the Queen mother (Valide Sultan), rooms for official wives, favorites (Gözde) and concubines (Cariye), and some education rooms for the young children of the sultan. Just next to the Harem section, there was the Palace of the Crown Prince.
Imperial Gate of Dolmabahce Palace rises on two floors above a basement. Local stone and some marble was used in its outer walls, brick in the inner walls, and parquet wood on the floors. It has a European design with neo-baroque style, typical of the Ottoman tradition of the mid-19th century. Even the interior furniture is of typical western design, with the exception of the plan (traditional Turkish house symmetrical plan) and Turkish rugs. Electricity and central heating system was introduced around 1910. The palace has 285 rooms, 46 reception halls and galleries, 6 Turkish baths (Hamam), and 68 toilets. There are over 600 oil paintings.
Just outside of the palace, Dolmabahce Mosque (or Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan Mosque) was built at the same time and the Clock Tower was built a short afterwards.
Admission to Dolmabahce Palace is charged in Turkish Lira, the ticket cost for visiting both the Selamlik and the Harem section combined is 100 Lira per person. Children up to 6 years are free of charge. There are also some charges for smaller exhibitions and kiosks in the palace grounds. You’re not allowed to take any photos or film inside the palace buildings. The visit is based on a guided tour usually every 10-15 minutes. During your visit, you can relax in one of the several caffe’s on the grounds of the museum.