Dolmabahce Palace built in 19th century is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world. It was the administrative centre of the late Ottoman Empire with the last of Ottoman Sultans was residing there.
Dolmabahce means “Filled up Garden”. Until 17th century the site was a natural harbour for the anchorage of the Ottoman fleet and was reclaimed gradually during the 18th century to become an imperial garden, much appreciated by the Ottoman sultans where traditional maritime ceremonies had taken place. It is from this garden that the name Dolmabahce (Filled-in Garden) comes from the Turkish dolma meaning filled and bahce meaning garden.
Dolmabahce Palace was commissioned by the Empire's 31st Sultan, Abdulmecid I. Previously, the Sultan and his family had lived at the Topkapi Palace, but as the medieval Topkapi was lacking in contemporary style, luxury, and comfort, as compared to the palaces of the European monarchs, Abdulmecid decided to build a new modern palace near the site of the former Besiktas Palace, which was demolished.
Dolmabahce Palace was home to six Sultans from 1856, when it was first inhabited, up until the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924. The last royal to live here was Caliph Abdulmecid Efendi.
A law that went into effect on March 3, 1924 transferred the ownership of the palace to the national heritage of the new Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, used the palace as a presidential residence during the summers and enacted some of his most important works here. Ataturk spent the last days of his medical treatment in this palace, where he died on November 10, 1938.
The construction of the Palace went for 13 years and cost five million Ottoman gold pounds (the equivalent of 35 tons of gold or the equivalent of ca. $1.5 billion in today's values). This sum corresponded to approximately a quarter of the yearly tax revenue.
This marvellous palace was meant to display the power and richness the Sultans but actually, the construction was financed through debasement, by massive issue of paper money, as well as by foreign loans. The huge expenses placed an enormous burden on the state purse and contributed to the deteriorating financial situation of the Ottoman Empire which eventually slid into state bankruptcy with the subsequent establishment of financial control over the sick man of Europe by European powers.
It was built between 1843 and 1856 by father and son Garabet and Nikogos Balyan—from a prominent Armenian family of late-Ottoman architects who were given complete freedom and an unlimited budget, the only demand being that the palace surpass any other palace of any other potentate anywhere in the world.
The three-storied palace, including the basement floor, built on a symmetrical plan and occupies 45.000 sq. m of usable floor space including 285 rooms and 46 halls, 6 Turkish baths, 1.427 windows, 68 toilets and carpets covering a floor. The facade of Palace stretches for 600 meters along the European shore of the Bosphorus. It has survived intact with its original decorations, curtains, furniture, silk carpets and everything else. Besides the main building the complex comprised sixteen more sections, such as palace stables, mills, glass shop, foundry, pharmacies, kitchens, aviaries, patisserie shop. Two monumental gates, the Treasury Gate that faces the Clock Tower, and the Regal Gate that exits to the main thoroughfare, are one of highlights of the complex together with a 600 metre-long quay along the sea.
The palace is extensively decorated with gold and crystal. Fourteen tonnes of gold were used to gild the ceilings. The world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier is in the Ceremonial Hall. The chandelier was assumed to be a gift from Queen Victoria; however in 2006 the receipt was found showing it was paid for in full. It has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tons. Dolmabahce has the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world. The famous Crystal Staircase has the shape of a double horseshoe and is built of Baccarat crystal, brass and mahogany.
Expensive stones such as Marmara (Proconnesian) marble, Egyptian alabaster (calcite, also known as onyx-marble), and Porphyry from Pergamum were used for the decoration.
The furniture was brought from Paris; the vases from Sevr, the crystal materials from Baccarat.
The palace includes 99 small and 131 large handmade silk carpets - a large number of which made by the Hereke Imperial Factory. Also featured are 150-year-old polar-bear rugs originally presented to the Sultan as a gift by Tsar Nicholas I. In total 4.500 sq. m area is covered by carpets.
It is said that 40 tons of silver and 14 tons of gold were used in the decoration of the palace.
A collection of 202 oil paintings have been on display in the palace until recently (2014) but now - moved to the Painting Museum. Highlights of the collection are 23 paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky which he created as a court painter during his stays in Istanbul. The collection also includes paintings by Gustave Boulanger, Jean-Leon Gerome, Eugene Fromentin, Stanislaw Chlebowski, Felix Ziem, Karl Joseph Kuwasseg, Fausto Zonaro, Theo van Rysselberghe and Alexander Sandor Svoboda. There are also paintings by Turkish painters such as Osman Hamdi Bey, Halil Pasha and Osman Nuri Pasha in this art museum.
After seven-year restoration process, a new National Palaces Painting Museum has opened in the former crown princes' quarters, in Dolmabahce Palace and is now the only one in Turkey dedicated to Late Ottoman Life in the 19th century. There are more than 200 paintings by both Turkish and international artists. These are divided into 11 sections, which include: Orientalist Painters, Istanbul Views, and Westernisation in the Ottoman Empire.
From the very beginning, the palace's equipment implemented the highest technical standards. Gas lighting and water-closets were imported from Great Britain, whereas the palaces in continental Europe were still lacking these features at that time. Later, electricity, a central heating system and an elevator were installed.
Dolmabahce Palace is a blend of many European architectural styles. The design contains eclectic elements from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with traditional Ottoman architecture to create a new synthesis. The palace layout and décor reflect the increasing influence of European styles and standards on Ottoman culture and art during the Tanzimat period. The exterior, in particular the view from the Bosporus, shows a classical European two-wing arrangement which is divided by a big avant-corps with two side avant-corps.
Functionally the palace retains elements of traditional Ottoman palace life, and also features of traditional Turkish homes. It is strictly separated structurally in a southern wing (Mabeyn-i Humayun, or Selamlik, the quarters reserved for the men) which contains the public representation rooms, and a northern wing (Harem-i Humayun, the Harem) serving as the private residential area for the Sultan and his family. The two functional areas are separated by the big Ceremonial Hall (Muayede Salonu) with a floor area of 2,000 sq. m and a 36 m high dome. Since the harem had to be completely isolated from the outside world, the main entrance for the visitors is located on the narrow southern side. There, the representation rooms are arranged for receptions of visitors and of foreign diplomats. The harem area includes eight interconnected apartments for the wives of the sultan, for his favourites and concubines, and for his mother, each with its own bathroom.
The main palace is an L-shaped building, with a long facade along the Bosphorus that accommodates, from west to east Selamlik (Men’s administrative section) or Mabeyn-i Humayun; Grand Hall / Ceremonial Hall in the Middle or Muayede and the Harem or Harem-i Humayun
Selamlik (Mabeyn-i Humayun) was where state affairs took place and the most important and also prominent section in terms of function and splendour. It contains a large entrance hall, a crystal staircase and other decorative elements to impress the visitors. A couple of large halls upstairs decorated with crystal chandeliers, Hereke carpets and fireplaces, and a fine imperial Hamam (Turkish Bath) decorated with Egyptian alabaster are other impressive parts of the Selamlik section.
At the entrance, Medhal Salon welcomes the visitors; Crystal Stairs provide the connection with the upper floor. Sufera (Envoys Hall) Salon where the ambassadors were hosted and the Red Room, where they were received by the sultan are all decorated and furnished to emphasize the historical splendour of the Empire.
On the upper floor, the Zulvecheyn (two planed) Hall allowed a passage to the Sultan’s private living quarters in the Mabeyn-i Humayun section. Apart from bath there are study rooms and halls in this section as well.
Selamlik is entered through a formal garden to the west. It has symmetrical and formalized plan consisting of four major halls on two floors, linked by a monumental staircase at the centre. The ambassadorial hall and all small rooms around it were used for the reception and entertainment of foreign guests and functionaries and were the most spectacularly decorated rooms in Dolmabahce 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. Located on the other side of the staircase are two identical oval halls on two different floors. The lower hall has a garden entrance and called the Men's Mounting Chamber (Selamlik Binek Salonu). Directly above it is the Hall Facing Two Sides (Zulvecheyn Salon), a meeting space named after its two facing the back gardens to the north and the Bosphorus to the south. Prayer rooms, study rooms and library used by the Sultan are accessed from this hall, as well as the imperial bath complex, which is lit from above.
The Muayede (the Great Ceremonial Hall) situated between the Selamlık and Harem sections is the highest and the most imposing part of the Palace. With an area of 2000 sq. m, 56 columns, a dome of 36 m high, and a 4.5 ton British chandelier, this magnificent hall stands out from rest of the palace with its splendour.
Important state and religious ceremonies were held in this Grand Hall which entered primarily from the Bosphorus side where a sea gate has been placed to allow guests to arrive by water. Women weren't allowed in these ceremonies so they watched ceremonies from the windows of a long corridor connecting the Selamlik with the Harem, passing just above the Ceremonial Hall.
Upper galleries were used by foreign ambassadors who were invited to the religious ceremonies as well as by the orchestra at special occasions. During the winter period, the Ceremonial Hall was heated with the hot air blown from the heating system at the bottom of 56 tall columns (central heating system blowing warm air from the foot of the columns provided comfortable temperature even in coldest days); it took about 3 days to heat the hall properly before any ceremony. The golden throne used to be brought in to the hall and Sultan received notables and diplomatic corps seated on this throne during the traditional holy days celebrations.
The galleries had been allocated to diplomatic staff, female and male guests and to the Palace orchestra.
Harem-i Humayun (Harem) is the private section of Sultan and his family and it was connected to the Selamlik section by a long corridor which was always guarded to make sure that no stranger passes. Despite of being influenced by Western architecture and being built by taking European palaces as an example, the Harem of Dolmabhce was designed as a separate section, although not rigid as it used to be in terms of space arrangements and functional relations.
Harem-i Humayun is a private living space fully integrated under the same roof but not a building separated from the Palace.
The access to Harem was strictly barred for any man, except the sultan himself and the eunuch servants. The Harem section is formed by several halls, rooms and baths.
There were rooms for official wives, suites of the sultan, quarter of the Queen mother (Valide Sultan), favourites (Gozde) and concubines (Cariye), and some education rooms for the young children of the sultan.
The capacious halls were lightened by the reflections of Bosporus. Among the most interesting and impressive quarters of Harem were Blue and Pink Halls, the apartment of Valide Sultan (Mother Sultan), the rooms of Sultans Abdulmedjid, Abdulaziz and also Resad, matrons rooms, concubines section, Great Ataturk's study and bedroom and many valuable artefacts such as rugs and kilims, furniture, chandeliers, inscriptions, vases, oil paintings etc. Rooms and three baths of Harem-i Humayun section arranged informally around ten large halls, five on each floor.
The four halls facing the Bosphorus have distinct and elaborate decorative motives. The Blue Hall was the main meeting space in the harem together with nearby smaller Pink Hall - both opened to the harem portico.
On the east of the harem section the Palace of the Crown Prince was located. It is a separate structure separated by the wall but looks as an integral extension of the main palace when viewed from the water.
The Clock Tower and the lodges were added to during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876 - 1909).
Dolmabahce Clock Tower is placed outside Dolmabahce Palace. The tower was constructed by the architect Sarkis Balyan between 1890 and 1895 by order of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918).
In front of the Clock Tower stands the Treasury Gate on a square along the European waterfront of Bosphorus next to Dolmabahce Mosque.
Designed in Ottoman neo-baroque style, the four-sided, four-story tower rises to 27 m. The clock itself was manufactured by the prominent French watchmaker house of Jean-Paul Garnier and installed by the court clock master Johann Mayer. In 1979, the original mechanical clock was partially replaced by electrical one. The “tughra” (a calligraphic monogram, seal or signature of a sultan) of Sultan Abdul Hamid II adorns two opposite sides of the tower.
Dolmabahce Mosque was built along with the Dolmabahce Palace in neo-classical, imperial style and located on the south of Dolmabahce Palace, right at the coast. These types of mosques are quite rich in decorations and ornaments of Rococo and Baracoa style. Dolmabahce Mosque architecture differs from the classical Ottoman mosque. It is more like a decorated palace hall than a holy place since it was designed as a part of the Dolmabahce Palace.
Originally this mosque was commissioned by the Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan, mother of Sultan Abdulmecid, but after her death, completed by Sultan Abdulmecid. The architect Karabet Balyan completed the Dolmabahce Mosque in 1855. This Mosque is one of the most notable examples of the 19th century Ottoman mosques. The mosque has a rectangular shaped two-storey royalty section and an obvious geometric structure that rests on 25 m x 25 m base. As a part of palace complex it contains a front section where the state officials and sovereign could pray and a two-storey section used by the sovereign during the public procession on Fridays.
Dolmabahce Mosque has two minarets just with a single balcony and a single dome resting on a square floor plan. The interior decoration is a mixture of ampere and baroque styles. Precious chandelier hangs from the dome. Mimbar (pulpit) and Mihrab (niche) is made of red porphyry and decorated with European patterns. The light from the large windows contributes to the beauty of the colourful marble interior decoration.
MUSEUMS & SITES OF ISTANBUL
♦ Bosphorus Strait - A natural strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and separates Europe from Asia
♦ Beylerbeyi Palace - one of the most magnificent Ottoman coastal palaces built in 1865
♦ Dolmabahce Palace Museum - The 19th century glamorous palace of Ottoman Sultans
♦ Hagia Sophia of Istanbul - The Church of Holy Wisdom built in 535 by Emperor Justinian
♦ Hippodrome (Atmeydani) - The stadium of ancient Byzantium, which once could hold 100.000 spectators
♦ Topkapi Palace Museum - The former seating residence of Ottoman Sultans built between 1459 & 1465