Until the 17th century the area where Dolmabahçe Palace stands today was
a small bay on the Bosphorus, claimed by some to be where the Argonauts
anchored during their quest for the Golden Fleece, and where in 1453
Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had his fleet hauled ashore and across the
hills to be refloated in the Golden Horn.
This natural harbour provided anchorage for the Ottoman fleet and for
traditional naval ceremonies. From the 17th century the bay was
gradually filled in and became one of the imperial parks on the
Bosphourus known as Dolmabahçe, literally meaning filled garden.
A series of imperial köşks (mansions) and kasırs (pavilions) were built
here, eventually growing into a palace complex known as Beşiktaş
Beşiktaş Waterfront Palace was demolished in 1843 by Sultan Abdülmecid
(1839-1861) on the grounds that it was made of wood and inconvenient,
and construction of Dolmabahçe Palace commenced in its place.
of the new palace and its periphery walls was completed in 1856.
Dolmabahçe Palace had a total area of over 110.000 square metres and
consisted of sixteen separate sections apart from the palace proper.
These included stables, a flour mill, pharmacy, kitchens, aviary, glass
manufactory and foundry. Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) added a clock
tower and the Veliahd Dairesi (apartments for the heir apparent), and
the Hareket Köşks in the gardens behind.
The main palace was built by the leading Ottoman architects of the era,
Karabet and Nikoğos Balyan, and consists of three parts: the Imperial
Mabeyn (State Apartments), Muayede Salon (Ceremonial Hall) and the
Imperial Harem, where the sultan and his family led their private lives.
The Ceremonial Hall placed centrally between the other two sections is
where the sultan received statesman and dignitaries on state occasions
and religious festivals.
The palace consists of two main storeys and a basement. The conspicuous
western style of decoration tends to overshadow the decidedly Ottoman
interpretation evident most of all in the interpretation evident most of
all in the interior plan. This follows the traditional layout and
relations between private rooms and central galleries of the Turkish
house, implemented here on a large scale. The outer walls are made of
stone, the interior walls are made of stone, the interior walls of
brick, and the floors of wood. Modern technology in the form of
electricity and a central heating system was introduced in 1910-12. The
palace has a total floor area of 45.000 square metres, with 285 small
rooms, 46 reception rooms and galleries, 6 hamams (Turkish baths) and 68
lavatories. The finely made parquet floors are laid with 4454 square
metres of carpets, the earliest made at the palace carpet weaving mill
and those of later date at the mill in Hereke.
The Mabeyn where the sultan conducted affairs of state is the most
important section in terms of function and splendour. The entrance hall
known as the Medhal Salon, the Crystal Staircase, and the Süfera Salon
where foreign ambassadors were entertained prior to audience with the
sultan in the Red Room are all decorated and furnished in a style
reflecting the historical magnificence of the empire. The Zülvecheyn
Salon on the upper floor serves as an entrance hall leading to the
apartments reserved for the sultan in the Mabeyn. These apartments
include a magnificent hamam faced with Egyptian marble, a study and
The Ceremonial Hall situated
between the Harem and the Mabeyn is the highest and most imposing
section of Dolmabahçe Palace. With an area of over 2000 square metres,
56 columns, a dome 36 metres high at the apex, and a 4.5 ton English
chandelier, this room stands out as the focal point of the palace. In
cold weather this vast room was heated by hot air blown out at the bases
of the columns from a heating system in the basement. On ceremonial
occasions the gold throne would be carried here from Topkapı Palace, and
seated here the sultan would exchange congratulations on religious
festivals with hundreds of statesmen and other official guests. On such
traditional occasions foreign ambassadors and guests would sit in one of
the upper galleries, another being reserved for the palace orchestra.
The self-contained Harem occupies two thirds of the palace, corridors
linking it to the Mabeyn and the Ceremonial Hall. Access to the Harem
was by iron and wooden doors, through which only the sultan could pass
freely. Here are a series of salons and galleries whose windows look out
onto the Bosphorus, and leading off them the suites of rooms belonging
to the sultan's wives, the high ranking female officials of the Harem,
and the sons, brothers, daughters and sisters of the sultan. Other
principal sections are the suite of the Valide Sultan (sultans mother),
the so-called Blue and Pink salons, the bedrooms of sultans Abdülmecid,
Abdülaziz and Mehmed V. Reşad, the section housing the lower ranking
palace women known as the Cariyeler Dairesi, the rooms of the sultans
wives (kadınefendi), and the study and bedroom used by Atatürk. All the
main rooms are furnished with valuable carpets, ornaments, paintings,
chandeliers and calligraphic panels.
Restoration of Dolmabahçe Palace has now been completed and every
section is open to the public. Two galleries are devoted to an
exhibition of precious items of various kinds, and fine examples of
Yıldız porcelain from the National Palaces collection are displayed at
the İç Hazine (Privy Purse) building. Paintings from the National
Palaces collection can be seen in the Art Gallery, where they are
displayed in rotation in the form of long-term exhibitions. On the lower
floor beneath this gallery is a corridor containing a permanent
exhibition of photographs showing the bird designs which feature in the
palaces architecture and its furnishings and ornaments. Abdülmecid
Efendi Library in the Mabeyn is the other principal exhibition area at
The Mefruşat Dairesi at the palace entrance now houses the Cultural and
Information Center, which is responsible for research projects and
promotion activities carried out at all the historic buildings attached
to the Department of National Palaces. The center contains a library,
mainly relating to the 19th century, which is available for researchers.
There are cafes in the grounds near the Clock Tower, the courtyard of
the Mefruşat Dairesi, the Aviary, and the Veliahd Dairesi. Items
available in the souvenir shops here include books about the National
Palaces, postcards, and reproductions of selected paintings from the art
collection. The Ceremonial Hall and gardens are available for private
receptions. Special exhibition areas have now been established, and
numerous cultural and art events are held in the palace.
(Open every day except
Monday and Thursday).