Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul
Positioned along the picturesque European shore of the Bosphorus Strait, this majestic imperial villa is the true emblem of Ottoman architectural fascination that is praised as the most expensive mansion in the world. There are 5 main parts of the Dolmabahçe Palace — Mabeyn-i Humayun, Muayede, Harem-i Humayun, Clock Tower, and Dolmabahçe Mosque.
The real reason behind the construction of this palace was to hide the face that the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of ruin. 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 Sultan Abdül Mecit 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.
Mabeyn-i Humayun (Red Hall)
The very first feature to notice is the enormous hall at the entrance, which lead up to a crystal staircase. The décor here is sheer brilliance and leaves you spellbound. You will come across a couple of big halls upstairs as well, which are decorated using Hereke carpets and crystal chandeliers, and have fireplaces to add to aesthetic appeal. The hamam or bath is decorated in Egyptian alabaster.
This is where the state of affairs takes place. The Medhal Salon is situated right at the entrance, and the Sufera Salon is the guest room used to welcome and entertain ambassadors. The Red Room holds special significance as these visitors were greeted here by the Sultan himself. Upstairs, you find the Zulvecheyn (two planed) Hall that leads right to the Sultan’s private quarters in the Mabeyn-i Humayun section. Of course, no one is allowed inside.
Don’t miss the Selamlik – you can enter via a formal garden to the west. It comprises a symmetrical and formal plan with four main halls on two floors – these are linked by a staircase at the center. The ambassadorial hall and small rooms surrounding it were utilized for receiving and entertaining foreign guests and dignitaries. No wonder they are some of the most gorgeously decorated rooms in the palace. Both of the halls open into the crystal staircase, a double-story staircase hall with a glass roof that is named after the crystal pillars of its balustrade.
Situated on the other side of the staircase are two oval halls that look identical. The lower hall has a garden entrance known as Men’s Mounting Chamber (Selamlik Binek Salonu) and the upper hall is called «Hall Facing Two Sides» (Zülvecheyn Salonu). The latter is a meeting space, so named after its two facing the back gardens to the north and the Bosphorus to the south. The Sultan gains access to prayer rooms, study rooms, library, and imperial bath complex via this hall.
The Muayede (The Hall with Chandelier)
Located right between Harem and Mabeyn-i Humayun, this is the highest and most spectacular section of the Dolmabahce Palace. It is a massive hall sprawled over 2000 square meters of area with a 36 meters high ceiling. It also has a whopping 56 columns. Decorated with a magnificent 4.5 ton crystal chandelier (sent by Queen Victoria) and a huge Hereke carpet, it is a sight to behold.
Various important ceremonies were held in this Grand Hall – it can be accessed primarily from the Bosphorus side; it has a sea gate so guests can even arrive by water. Since women were prohibited in these ceremonies, they had to watch the functions from windows of a long corridor connecting the Selamlik with the Harem, passing just above the Ceremonial Hall.
Upper galleries were mostly used by foreign ambassadors who came as guests to attend the ceremonies, but on special occasions, they were allotted to the orchestra. During winter, temperatures dropped sharply, so the hall is heated using hot hair blown through a heating system at the feet of the 56 columns. It is a central heating system that tool 3 days before the ceremony to transform the ambience to warm and comfortable. The stunning gold throne is brought into the hall, so the Sultan could sit on it while receiving guests.
Harem-i Humayun (Harem section)
Connected to the Selamlik section by a corridor that was guarded all the time to ensure no one passes, this is the private section for exclusive use by the Sultan and his family. The influence of Western architecture and using European palaces as an example is quite apparent in Dolmabahce, but the Harem was designed separately. It isn’t as rigid as it used to be in terms of space arrangements and functional relations.
As mentioned, no one is allowed to enter the Harem apart from the Sultan, his family, and eunuch servants. This section consists of several halls, rooms, and baths. There are rooms for official wives, suites of the sultan, quarter of the Queen mother (Valide Sultan), favorites (Gozde), concubines (Cariye), and some education rooms for the young children of the sultan.
Rooms and baths in this section are spread around ten large halls, with five on each floor. The halls facing the Bosphorus are beautifully and elaborately decorated. The Blue Hall is the main meeting space, with the Pink Hall just adjacent to it – both of these open out to the portico. The Palace of the Crown Prince is situated on the eastern side of this section. It is built separately, and marked by a wall.
Dolmabahce Mosque and Clock Tower
The Clock Tower is located outside the Dolmabahce Palace. It was constructed by the renowned Armenian architect Sarkis Balyan between 1890 and 1895. It was built on the order of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
When you come to the front of the Clock Tower, you can see the Treasury Gate on a square along the European waterfront of Bosphorus next to Dolmabahce Mosque. The décor is clearly influenced by Ottoman neo-baroque style. The four-sided, four-story has a height of 27 meter. The clock was made by famous French clockmaker house of Jean-Paul Garnier, and installed by the court clock master Johann Mayer. Although purely mechanical for several decades, the clock was partially converted into an electric one in the year 1979.
Built right along the Dolmabahce Palace, the Dolmabahce Mosque is created using neo-classical and imperial style. Located on the coast, the décor is striking with Rococo and Baracoa elements. The architecture is very different from those found in other Ottoman mosques.
- The palace consists of two floors and covers an area of 45,000 square meters – it is the biggest in Turkey.
- There are 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 baths.
- Design shows influences of Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classic and traditional Ottoman art and culture.
- Expensive stones such as Egyptian alabaster, Marmara marble and porphyry from Pergamum are used for décor.
- The largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world is found here.
- 14 tons of gold were used to decorate ceilings in gold leaves.
- The largest chandelier in the world is housed here – made of crystal, it has 750 bulbs and weighs 4.5 tons. It was a gift by Queen Victoria of England.
- There are 202 stunning oil paintings here by famous artists.
- 131 handmade silk carpets were ordered to be woven in the town of Hereke for the palace
- The founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, died in the most basic bedroom of the palace compared to the rest and the clock in the room is still pointing to 09:05 am.
- Rooms of the Medhal Hall, facing the sea were occupied by the ruling Ottoman leaders, the Grand Vizier, and the different country ambassadors, while the rooms fronting the land were handled by several officials of the mansion and the kingdom.
- Don’t miss the Red Room – the name is derived from the eminent red color modulations, designs, and embellishments.
- This palace was the home to the last six sultans of the abolished Ottoman Empire.
How to go to Dolmabahce Palace?
There are many transport options to go to Dolmabahce Palace. To get to Metrobus, you have to get off Zincirlikuyu station, take the buses going from here to Taksim and get to Dolmabahce Palace. You can use any bus from Kabatas or Beşiktaş by bus. You can also get to Taksim with Taksim Hacıosman Metro line and you can reach Kabataş from there.
Dolmabahçe Palace is open between 09:00 and 16:00 hours every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays. It can also be open outside these days and hours for special celebration times. The museum may be closed for a certain period of time, for certain occasions, so make sure it is open before visiting. You can only enter with a guided tour, as the inside areas aren’t accessible to individuals. You won’t be allowed to take pictures inside the palace.
When visiting Turkey, you should definitely mark the Dolmabahce Palace, as a must-see due to the breathtaking décor and stellar architecture. Start planning a vacation ASAP!