Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

The majestic Dolmabahçe Palace, which was built beside the water at great expense for a sultanate determined to break with the past and modernise in a civilised' European manner. Thus its elaborate facade has more affinity with Versailles than with the domes and arches of Topkapi, and this French chateau style of architecture is echoed in the nearby Cira?an and Y?ld?z palaces.

On the shores of the blue waters of the Bosphorus, on the side of three big modern thoroughfares, this Palace, from its exceptional situation, is one of the finest in the Europe. Until the early years of the seventeenth century the position was occupied by a port, which was filled in and reclaimed as dry land in the reign of Ahmet I; whence its name Dolmabahce, which means the Filled Garden.

In the old days it was covered by pretty gardens and elegant kiosks, and then for many years abandoned to its fate. Under the republican regime the Municipality has arranged it once again as a garden. Foreign warships visiting Istanbul lie off here and their officers and crews land here. An elegant clock tower adds to the adornment of the Dolmabahce Place. The tramlines that skirt it follow the shores of the Bosphorus to Be?ikta?, Ortaköy, Arnavutköy and Bebek.

Beyond the tramlines we see the inönü Stadium, with its broad and dignified front. This, the biggest ant most modern stadium in the city, was inaugurated on 19th May 1947. The avenue that rises on the left of the Stadium is Gümü?süyü Caddesi, Silver Water Avenue. The big building up the hill on the right is the Technical University. A stairway across the gardens on the slope of the hill affords a short cut to Taksim.

The broad thoroughfare passing on the right of the Stadium is the spacious and historical Kadirgalar Caddesi, that is Galleon Avenue. At the time of the siege of Constantinople Sultan Mehmet II, Fatih, hauled seventy two of his war galleons from the Bosphorus up here over slipways across the hill and let them down into the Golden Horn at Kas?mpa?a. This astonishing achievement, without compare in history, which enabled the Conqueror to outflank the defences of the city on the Golden Horn, is commemorated in the name of this Avenue, which is ten metres wide and 930 metres (1023 yards) in length.

A little higher up the Avenue is divided, the right branch leading to the residential suburb of Macka, while on the left we have Park No. 2, where the Open Air Theatre is. The Avenue ends in the suburb of Ni?anta?. The Open Air Theatre, built by the Municipality, wos opened in 1947. The seats and tribunes are designed on the plan of a Graeco-Roman thective.

With the filling in of the present spot which at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a harbour and a quay, it was brought Here Ahmet I first built a wooden kiosk with the Dolmabahçe Palace. Later other kiosks and gardens Were added.

The Ottoman sultans usually spent the summer seasqrt here. In 1719 Ahmet III enlarged and attached it to the Be?ikta?' Palace nearby. The Palace was later burnt down and rebuilt in 18W. Mahmut II resided here for a time. Then again the wooden palace was severely damaged by fire. In 1853 Sultan Abdülmecit had the/palace built in the form in which we now see it and thenceforward ^several sultans used it for residence, except Abdülhamit II.

The palace is divided into several sections. There are the sultan's quarters, the various reception rooms for different ceremonial purposes, the quarters of the Valide Sultan, the sultan's mother, the quarters of the ladies of the ccurt and of the heir to the throne, the glass kiosk and more than two hundred rooms. In the sultan's own quarters and the reception rooms here are eight great halls, The biggest of all is 47 metres (155 ft.) in length. The style of architecture is mixed, being the work of European and natives architects in the nineteenth century.

In the interior decoration porphyry, crystal and other such precious materials were used lavishly. For the decoration and upholstery French and ItalUn specialists were employed. Part of the furniture was importrd from abroad and part made locally. In the private apartments many .mitations of the style of the palace of Versailles are to be seen and I- may be said that nowhere else in the world has money been sona lavühed so prodigally, and it is packed with European luxuries. The quiy on the water side is 600 metres, (660 yards) in length. In the later y.'ars of the empire the Ottoman sultans and caliphs resided in this jalace, so it is an important spot, both historically and for its treasure.

After the abolition of the sultanate and caliphate and exile of all members of the imperial dynasty and the proclamation of the republic, the palace was nationalised. Here, in Room No. in 1938 the great revolutionary and first President of the Republic, Atatürk, at nine o'clock in the evening of 10th October, passed away.

Following the tramlines beyond  the great palace in the direction of Be?ikta? we come to the gate of the Museum of Fine Arts and Sculpture. Beyond the Museum we continue in the direction of the Bosphorus and come to a small park alongside the Be?ikta? landing-stage. Here is the tomb and statue of Barbaros Hayreddin Pa?a.

Palace Interior

The palace can only be seen on a guided tour, which ?s split into two parts: the first visits the Selamlik, the public wing, while the second covers the Harem.

If you are short of time, more worth while is the Selaml?k. Here, the ornate, curved staircase that leads to the Salon of the Ambassadors, the imperial reception room, is jaw-dropping with its crystal and marble balusters. Equally so is a giant chandelier, the largest in the world, which hangs down from the gilded ceiling of the immense Throne Room.

The Harem is less ostentatious than the public rooms, but fascinating nonetheless. For all its Western architecture and lifestyle, it still has separate sections for the official wives and concubines, with a central meeting room for tea and embroidery.

The Last Sultans

When Sultan Abdul Mecit was laying out the plans for Dolmabahçe. the Ottoman Empire was well into its last century. Its economy had been crumbling for some time, due, in part, to a fatwah on the printing press along with other scientific advancements, waves of nationalist uprising throughout Ottoman lands and a string of disastrous military defeats to a new foe in the north: Tsarist Russia. Abdul Mecit's successor, Abdul Aziz, was more concerned with his harem of thousands than with matters of state. And the death knell of the sultans sounded when the last true autocrat, Abdül Hamid II, retreated within the walls of Y?ld?z Palace. In 1853 Tsar Nicholas I branded the Ottoman Empire the 'Sick Man of Europe'. The last sultan, Mehmet VI, was deposed in 1922 and left Istanbul quietly one night with his family on a train from Sirkeci Station, thus bringing to a close the reign of a dynasty that had lasted for almost five centuries.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

You may notice that all of the clocks inside Dolmabahçe Palace are set to 9.05am. This was the time of death on 10 November 1938 of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president.

The self-proclaimed 'Father of the Turks' is the country's most venerated modern leader. It is hard to pass a day in Istanbul without seeing an image of the man who liberated the country from occupying forces after World War I, before executing a series of modernising reforms. These included abolishing the sultanate and caliphate, moving the capital to Ankara and replacing the Sharia (Islamic holy law) with civil, trade and penal codes adopted from the Swiss, French and Italians. Atatürk also gave women the vote, dropped the Ottoman script for the Latin alphabet and switched the fez hat for a European fedora.



Istanbul Travel Guide


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