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Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul

Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul
It was in the middle of the 19th century that the Ottoman sultans’ became enamoured with everything Western and were determined to move from Topkapi Palace into the Dolmabahce Palace.

Design and Architecture of Dolmabahce Palace

As Dolmabahce Palace was built as one large structure and with extravagant baroque decoration it conformed to what you would expect to see in Western Europe palaces, unlike Topkapi which is made up of many small buildings. As Islamic tradition still decreed that there must be separate sections, one to show off the public face of the State and the other for the private life of the sultans’, the palace has two separate wings and there are also two smaller pavilions that stand in the extensive gardens.  

Dolmabahce means “filled in garden” in Turkish which refers to the fact that the land the palace has been built on was reclaimed from the Bosphorus and today this area covers 110,000 square metres. There was once a port here and from 1614 Sultan Ahmed I and then Sultan Osman II gradually had it filled in to develop space for a park and cirit ground, and also the wooden Besiktas Palace, a complex of buildings similar to Topkapi Palace and which grew popular with the sultans’ as a summer residence.  

Today’s Dolmabahce Palace was designed by Garabet and NiloÄźos Balyan who were famous Ottoman Armenian architects. Building work began in 1843 and was completed in 1856, the main building had 285 rooms, 43 halls and 6 bathrooms and it had its own 600m long quay as most visitors would arrive by boat. The whole complex runs from Kabatas in the south to Besiktas in the north although some sections are not open to the public.  

The interior decoration was designed by Charles Séchan, a Frenchman who was also responsible for the Paris Opera, and is completely over the top with Baccarat and Bohemian crystal, Sevres and Yildiz porcelain and Hereke carpets.  
The baroque style palace exterior is made from white sandstone which looks beautiful viewed from the water and the immense scale of the building joined with the extravagant decoration make it stand out from Topkapi Palace.


It is apparent that  Sultan Abdulmecid chose the European side of the Bosphorus as the location for the palace to be built as it was associated more with Westerners thus breaking away from the Byzantine past that Topkapi represented.

Sultans that lived at Dolmabahce Palace

The palace was home to the last six sultans who lived there for different amounts of time but Sultan Abdulhamid moved to the more secure  Yildiz Palace . The caliph-artist, Abdulmecid Efendi, was the last of the imperial family to live there until forced into exile in 1924.

Touring Dolmabahce Palace

Unfortunately sometimes the tours can be rather rushed making it difficult to appreciate the excess of detail and we recommend you allow an hour to tour the selamlik and 25 minutes for the Harem.  
Tickets for the Harem can bought in the grounds but you may have to wait in line and further waiting time may occur for the guided tours to be given in a suitable language and if you are short of time we recommend you tour the Selamlik. Dolmabahce Palace ( closes on Mondays and Thursdays and guided tours are available in both Turkish and English.

Sections of Dolmabahce Palace

The Clock Tower

On the path leading to the palace there is a 27m high clock tower with 4 storey’s that was built in the 1890s for Sultan Abdulhamid by Sarkis Balyan. On its four faces there are Arabic numeral inscriptions and on its ground floor are two thermometers and two barometers.

Crystal Staircase

This staircase is one of the most spectacular features of the selamlik with its double flight of stairs, crystal banisters winding up to the second floor and passing beneath a huge Baccarat chandelier, and leads on to the huge and ornately decorated Süfera (Ambassadors) Hall. The small rooms off the front  were used as waiting rooms and have paintings of seascapes which are the work of the Crimean artist Ivan Konstantinovic Ayvazovski (1817-1900),  who was a favourite of Sultan Abdulaziz .

Blue Hall

The grand Blue Hall has trompe d’oeil columns and is where the women of the palace would gather to celebrate religious holidays or to be used by the queen mother or chief wife to entertain visiting heads of states. An elevator was added to the room in 1937 for Ataturk whose equally ornate study was just off of it.

The Gates

At one time it was the Shore Gate that would be used by the most illustrious visitors to the palace who would arrive in their boats (caiques) and step out onto the quay. In more recent times politicians and civil servants enter the complex from the Administrative Gate. The impressive Ceremonial Gate, located on hectic Dolmabahce Road, is from where the sultans’ and grand vizier’s would proceed to the nearby mosque for Friday prayers.

The Gardens

The gardens at the palace are especially beautiful and more so in the summer months. There is a centrepiece fountain in the middle of the lawns that is decorated with stone swans and stone lionesses playing with their cubs along with many exotic plants. The grounds also house an aviary that has recently been revived that has peacocks, chickens, guinea fowl, and in the shade of the cypress and plane trees you can see ornamental pheasants. Refreshment’s are available at the small café located near to the entrance of the harem.

Some of the other sections of Dolmabahce Palace that we advice you to visit are: 

Sultan’s Reception Room

Dolmabahce Mosque

Ceremonial Hall


Glass Pavillion


Dolmabahce Palace is located in Besiktas .

Getting to Dolmabahce  Palace

To get to Dolmabahce Palace; it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the tram stop and bus/ferry terminal at Kabatas .    

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