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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 kösks (mansions) and kasirs (pavilions) were built here, eventually growing into a palace complex known as Besiktas Waterfront Palace.

Besiktas Waterfront Palace was demolished in 1843 by Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861) on the grounds that it was made of wood and incovenient, and construction of Dolmabahçe Palace commenced in its place.

Construction 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 Kösks in the gardens behind.

The main palace was built by the leading Ottoman architects of the era, Karabet and Nikogos 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.

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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 drawing rooms.

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 Topkapi 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 traditional Turkish palace was a complex of buildings with diverse functions rather than a single large building with an impressive façade. In this respect Dolmabahçe Palace is a departure from traditional concepts in imitation of western ideas. Inside, however, the Harem was as strictly isolated from the rest of the palace as in earlier centuries, despite being under the same roof.

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 (sultan’s mother), the so-called Blue and Pink salons, the bedrooms of sultans Abdülmecid, Abdülaziz and Mehmed V. Resad, the section housing the lower ranking palace women known as the Cariyeler Dairesi, the rooms of the sultan’s wives (kadinefendi), 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 Yildiz porcelain from the National Palaces collection are displayed at the Iç 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 palace’s architecture and its furnishings and ornaments. Abdülmecid Efendi Library in the Mabeyn is the other principal exhibition area at Dolmabahçe.

The Mefrusat 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 Mefrusat 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.


The area of Beylerbeyi on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus has been settled since Byzatine times. According to the famous 18th century traveller Inciciyan, Constantine the Great erected a cross here, after which the area was known as the Istavroz Gardens. Under the Ottomans this area was an imperial park or hasbahçe. Inciciyan relates that the name Beylerbeyi was given to this area in the 16th century because Mehmet Pasa who held the title of beylerbeyi (governor general) built a country house on the site.

The sultans built several country houses and pavilions on the imperial estate here, and in 1829 Sultan Mahmud II built a wooden waterfront palace.

Sultan Abdülaziz demolished this wooden palace to build the present Beylerbeyi Palace in 1861-1865. Designed by the well known Ottoman architect Sarkis Balyan, the palace was generally reserved for summer use by the sultans or to accommodate foreign heads of state visiting the Ottoman capital. The Prince of Serbia, the King of Montenegro, the Sah of Iran and Empress Eugenie of France are among the royal guests who stayed here. The deposed Sultan Abdülhamid II spent the last six months of his life and died here in 1918.

The interior design of Beylerbeyi Palace is a synthesis of diverse western and eastern styles, although the layout of the rooms follows that of the traditional Turkish house, consisting of a central sofa with closed rooms situated at the four corners. The furnishing and decoration of the Selamlik or public apartments are more ornate than those of the Harem.

The palace consists of two main storeys and a basement containing kitchens and store rooms. The palace has three entrances, six state rooms and 26 smaller rooms. The floors are covered with rush matting from Egypt which protected the inhabitants against damp in winter and heat in summer. Over this are laid large carpets and kilims, mostly made at Hereke. The furnishings include exquisite Bohemian crystal chandeliers, French clocks, and Chinese, Japanese, French and Turkish Yildiz porcelain vases.

One of the features which distinguishes Beylerbeyi from other Ottoman palaces of the period are the terraced gardens on the sloping hillside behind the palace. There are two pavilions on these terraces, the Sari Kösk beside the pool on the upper terrace, and the Mermer Kösk with its interior fountain and marble walls, which provided a cool refuge in the summer heat. The Mermer Kösk, the large pool on the lower terrace and the tunnel are the only parts of the palace remaining from the earlier timber palace of Beylerbeyi. The attractive Ahir Kösk is a fascinating example of Ottoman palace stables, and of particular interest as the only such building to have survived in its original state.

The old coastal road passed under a long tunnel constructed during the reign of Mahmud II (1808-1839) so that the palace would not be separated from the terraced gardens behind. This is a unique feature, other palaces and mansions along the Bosphorus being connected to their back gardens and parks by bridges. Today this tunnel houses a cafeteria and sales points for visitors. As well as books, postcards and posters published by the Culture and Information Center, various gifts and souvenirs are on sale here. The gardens are available for private receptions upon advance application.


Yildiz Palace and park covered an area of 500.000 square meters on the hillside overlooking the Bosphorus between Besiktas, Ortaköy and Balmumcu. This area of natural woodland became known as Kazancioglu Park after the Turkish conquest, and probably became an imperial estate during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617).

Sultan Murad IV. (1623-1640) is known to have enjoyed excursions here, and Selim III (1789-1807) had a country pavilion or kösk known as Yildiz built here for his mother Mihrisah Valide Sultan. It is after this kösk that the park came to be named.

Selim’s successor Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839), Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861) and Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876) had new mansions and pavilions constructed in the park, and in the late l9th century Sultan Abdülhamid (1876-1909) abandoned Dolmabahçe to make this complex his home. He greatly expanded the palace with many new buildings during his reign.

Yildiz Palace became the fourth seat of Ottoman government in Istanbul, after Eski Saray (the Old Palace) which stood where Istanbul University is today, Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace.

The section of Yildiz Palace named Sale (after the Swiss chalet which it was designed to resemble) is one of the most interesting examples of l9th century Ottoman architecture. Set in its own walled garden, Sale consists of three adjoining sections built at different dates. The original section dates from 1880, the second section designed by Sarkis Balyan from 1889, and the third section known as the Merasim Kösk (literally Ceremonial Pavilion) was designed by the Italian architect Raimondo D’Aronco and completed in 1898. Each of the additional wings was built for two separate state visits by the German emperor Wilhelm II, since accommodating state guests was one of the Sale’s main functions.

The building has two main storeys and a basement, and is built of both timber and masonry. In keeping with traditional Ottoman houses, the Sale consists of two separate sections which could be used as Harem and Selamlik when required. There are seven entrances, and the windows have wooden shutters. Three elegant staircases, one of marble and the other two of wood, connect the two main floors.

The informal air of a country house is deceptive, as both the scale of the building and the opulence of the interior show. Behind the façade we find not a modest pavilion but a small palace, whose grandiose reception rooms are decorated with mural landscapes, geometric moulding, and painted designs in a mixture of Baroque, Rococo and Islamic style.

Most imposing of all is the Ceremonial Hall, with its single piece Hereke carpet, custom made to fit the room and measuring 406 square metres, its gilded coffered ceiling and large pier mirrors. The Banqueting Room has a more oriental atmosphere with doors intricately inlaid with mother-of-pearl, while the focal point of the Yellow Room is the landscapes which adorn the ceiling. The valuable furnishings imported from various European countries, the elegant porcelain stoves, magnificent vases, and splendidly carved bedroom suites bear witness to the sumptious tastes of the period.

After the fall of the monarchy the Sale was for a time run as a high class casino, before being restored to its original function as a guest house for visiting heads of state and royalty. Among the famous names who have stayed here are Sah Riza Pehlevi of Iran, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, King Hüseyin of Jordan, President Sukarno of Indonesia, King Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Preiesident De Gaulle of France.

Today the Sale at Yildiz Palace is open to the public as a museum-palace, and private receptions are held in its gardens.

Aynalikavak Pavilion is the sole remaining building from a large Ottoman palace known as Aynalikavak Palace or Tersane palace, dating back to the 17th century. This pretty building on the shore or the Golden Horn is a reminder that this now built-up area was for centuries a place parks, meadows and streams where the Ottoman sultans and before them the Byzantines came for country excursions.

After the Turkish conquest of Istanbul this attractive stretch of countryside stretching inland from the Golden Horn became an imperial park known as the Tersane Hasbahçe after the naval arsenal at neabry Kasimpasa.

The earliest known building here dates from the reign of Sultan Ahmed I (1603-1617), and his successors added new country lodges over the centuries, until the entire complex became so large that is was referred to as Tersane or Aynalikavak Palace.

Aynalikavak Pavilion is one of these buildings, thought to date originally from the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730), although extensive alterations under Selim III (1789-1807) transformed its appearance radically.The principal rooms are a reception room known as the Divanhane and the smaller Music Room. Bands of exquisite calligraphic decoration around the windows of these two rooms consist of verses by two famous poets, Seyh Galib and Enderûni Fâzil, in praise of the pavilion and Selim III. These talik inscriptions were designed by the calligrapher Yesari.

In terms of its architecture and decoration Aynalikavak Pavilion is a rare and outstanding example of classical Ottoman architecture. This small building is only one storey, with a basement under the section facing the sea. The pavilion is of additional interest because of its strong associations with Sultan Selim III, a respected composer. The traditional fitted seats or sedir along the walls and settees resembling sedir, braziers, lamps and other contemporary furnishings reflect a way of life which has disappeared entirely today.

Today as an appropriate tribute to Sultan Selim III, who is a major figure of Turkish classical music, the basement of Aynalikavak Pavilion houses an exhibition of Turkish musical instruments donated by various individuals and institutions, together with photographs of antique instruments at Topkapi Palace Museum. In summer the pretty gardens and cafeteria attract many visitors, as do the Aynalikavak Concerts of classical Turkish art music. Private receptions are held in the gardens here.

This attractive part of the Bosphorus on the Asian shore is mentioned by Byzantine historians, and in Ottoman times became one of the imperial parks known as Kandil Bahçesi (Lantern Garden). Sultan Murad IV (1623-1640) was particularly fond of Küçüksu and gave it the name Gümüs Selvi (Silver Cypress), and in several sources from the l7th century onwards the name Bagçe-i Göksu is used.

During the reign of Mahmud I (1730- 1754) Divittar Mehmed Pasa built a two storey timber palace on the waterfront here which continued to be used by Selim III (1789-1807) and Mahmud II (1808-1839).

During the reign of Mahmud’s son Abdülmecid (1839-1861) the western influence on Turkish architecture reached a peak, and the sultan had the earlier building demolished and the present stone pavilion or royal lodge constructed in the new style used for Dolmabahçe and Ihlamur.

Küçüksu Pavilion was designed by Nikogos Balyan and completed in 1857. The pavilion has a ground area of 15x27 meters and consists of a basement and two main storeys, the basement containing a larder, kitchen and servants, quarters. Both first and second floors have four corner rooms opening onto a central gallery, a plan which reflects that of the traditional Turkish house. The pavilion was designed for short stays when the sultan took country excursions or went hunting in the woodland here. Unlike other imperial buildings Küçüksu was not surrounded by high walls but by castiron railings with gates on all four sides. During the reign of Abdülmecid’s younger brother Abdülaziz (1861-1876) more elaborate decoration was added to the façade. All the outbuildings which once belonged to the pavilion have since been demolished.

The ornate seaward façade and double flight of steps sweeping exuberantly around the ornamental pool and fountain are decorated with diverse western motifs. This European exterior is echoed in the interior furnishing and, decoration executed by Sechan, stage designer at Vienna Opera House.

The ceilings are richly decorated with carton-pierre moulding and painted designs. There are so many fireplaces made of Italian marble of various colours in diverse styles, that Küçüksu is like a museum of l9th century fireplace design. The elegant parquet floors have different patterns in each of the rooms, which are furnished with European style furniture, carpets and paintings. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Küçüksu Pavilion was used as a state guest house for some years, but today is open to the public as a museum-palace.

The pavilion was extensively restored in 1994 and the surrounding garden and parkland, nearby fountain and quay are now being transformed into a park where the public can enjoy picnics and excursions as in previous centuries. When this project is completed, the garden of Küçüksu Pavilion will be available for private receptions upon application.

Ihlamur Valley lying behind the district of Besiktas was a popular picnic place in the early l8th century, when the vineyards here belonged to Haci Hüseyin Aga, superintendent of the Naval Arsenal. Although this attractive spot became an imperial estate during the reign of Ahmed III (1703-1730), it continued to be known by this name until the mid l9th century. Abdülhamid I (1774-1789) and his son Selim III (1789-1807) frequently visited this park.

Ihlamur Pavilions were part of the ambitious building programme initiated by Sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1860), including Dolmabahçe Palace at Besiktas and Küçüksu Pavilion on the Bosphorus.

Before the royal lodges were constructed here Abdülmecid used to visit this pleasant wooded valley frequently. There was nothing in the park but a tiny plain building and here Lamartine was received by Sultan Abdülmecid in the mid l9th century. In his account of the occasion the famous French poet could not disguise his disappointment at the humble setting in which he met the Ottoman sovereign.

Lamartine would not have been disappointed by the two lodges which were built at Ihlamur shortly afterwards, however. Built by the architect Nikogos Balyan between 1849 and 1855, they have been variously called the Nüzhetiye and Ihlamur Pavilions.

The most elaborate of the two, known as the Merasim Kösk, was reserved for the sultan’s own use. A curving baroque staircase frames the entrance and dense decoration swathes the façade. The interior decoration is typical of l9th century Ottoman architecture, highly westernised but eclectic, in keeping with the furnishings and fittings in various European styles.

The plainer and slightly smaller Maiyet Kösk was used by the sultan’s entourage or family members who accompanied him.

Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876) was not as fond of Ihlamur as his elder brother, and seems to have come here only to watch cock and ram fights in the garden. Sultan Mehmed V Resad (1909- 1918) came here occasionally, and it was at Ihlamur that he received the kings of Bulgaria and Serbia.

The Ihlamur Pavilions were placed under the auspices of the National Palaces in 1966 as museum-palaces and are open to the public. There is a cafe in the Maiyet Kösk and part of the garden, and as at the other palaces and pavilions private receptions may be held here by arrangement. A newer building in the grounds which used to be accommodation for employees is now used to hold courses in painting, sculpture and drama mainly for children.

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