Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Area

Dolmabahçe Palace is a palace located on an area of ​​250.000 m² between Dolmabahçe Street in Istanbul, Beşiktaş, stretching from Kabataş to Beşiktaş and the Bosphorus. It is located on the left bank, opposite Üsküdar, by the sea from the Marmara Sea to the Bosphorus.

The area where Dolmabahçe Palace is today was a large bay of the Bosphorus, where the navy of the Ottoman Empire used to anchor until four centuries ago. This bay, where the navy would hold traditional maritime ceremonies, became a swamp over time. The Ottomans filled this bay and turned it into a beautiful royal garden for the relaxation and entertainment of the sultans. They also built mansions and pavilions in the same area.

Towards the second half of the 18th century, Western art movements started to influence Turkish architecture. A new form of decoration called “Turkish Rococo” started to show itself in baroque style mansions, pavilions, and public fountains. Selim III is the sultan who built the first Western-style buildings in the Bosphorus area. Architect Melling had a pavilion built in the Dolmabahce area and expanded other buildings he needed. In addition to the Topkapi Palace, Mahmut II built two large western-style palaces in Beylerbeyi and Ciragan gardens. In these times, the royal family almost completely abandoned the Topkapi Palace. Mahmut II would choose between the palace in Beylerbeyi, Ciragan in Ortaköy, old Besiktas Palace, and pavilions in Dolmabahce, depending on the season. Abdulmecit, like his father, did not pay much attention to the Topkapi Palace, he only stayed there for a few months in winter. Almost all of forty children were born in Bosphorus palaces.

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace Construction Started

After residing for a while in the old Besiktas Palace, Abdülmecit decided to build a palace in the European plan and style for residence, summerhouse, guest reception, and hospitality, and to carry out state affairs. Although Abdulmecit did not have a deep-rooted education like other princes, he was a sultan towards the West. The sultan, who loved western music and living with western style, knew enough French to communicate.

There is no information on the exact date when the demolition of the kiosks located in the place of today’s Dolmabahce Palace started to reveal the land recovered from the sea about 200 years ago. According to the records, the old palace was in place in 1842, and the construction of the new palace started afterward. However, we know that the fields and cemeteries in the vicinity were purchased and confiscated to expand the construction land. Various sources provide different dates for the construction completion date. However, from a Frenchman who visited the palace construction at the end of 1853, we understand that the work for the palace was continuing, and there was no furniture yet.

The facade of the palace, built by Sultan Abdulmecit I, stretches for 600 meters on the European side of the Bosphorus. As a mixture of European architectural styles, it was built between 1843-1855 by the Armenian Architect Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigogos Balyan. The opening ceremony of Dolmabahce Palace was after the Paris Agreement (March 30th, 1856) with the Russians. In the newspaper named Ceride-i Havadis dated June 11th, 1856, we know that the inauguration of the Dolmabahce Palace was on June 7th, 1856.

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace

The Cost of the Palace

The debt of the palace, about three million pouches of gold during the reign of Abdülmecit, was transferred to the Imperial Treasury. The Treasury had to pay each installment every 3-4 months. Sultan Abdülmecit only lived for six months in the Dolmabahce Palace, which cost 5.000.000 gold.

In the period of Sultan Abdülaziz, the economy was in complete bankruptcy. The main reason for this waste was the palace. In the Dolmabahce Palace, there were 5.320 servants, and the annual cost was £ 2,000,000. Abdülaziz did not admire the West as much as his deceased brother. The sultan, who preferred a Turkish style of life, had an interest in wrestling and cockfights. In the last periods of Abdülaziz, the palace witnessed the dismissal of high-ranking officials, schemes, and bribes. The sultan’s request for eighty thousand gold coins from the army allowance, as he made it clear that he expects interest from the business of patrol, caused him to be deposed.

The palace, which came with enormous expenses, was used during the feast ceremonies held in the Grand Ceremonial Hall twice a year in 33 years. During Mehmet’s time, he reduced the number the staff of the palace. Very few events took place within the palace for eight years. These events were a banquet for 90 people on March 9th, 1910, a week-long visit of Serbian King Petro on March 23th of the same year, a visit to Crowned Prince Max and a feast in honor of Austrian emperor Karl and Empress Zita. The death of the tired and old sultan was not in Dolmabahce Palace but Yıldız Palace. Vahdettin, who came to the throne with the title of Mehmet VI, preferred to live in Yildiz Palace but left the homeland from Dolmabahçe Palace.

The Turkish Republic and the Dolmabahce Palace

Abdulmecid Efendi, who received the telegraph signed by the head of the Grand National Assembly Gazi Mustafa Kemal, was declared the caliph. The new caliph received the delegation from TBMM on the upper floor of Dolmabahce Palace. Upon the abolition of the caliphate, Abdülmecit Efendi left the Dolmabahce Palace with his entourage (1924). Ataturk has never been to the emptied palace for three years. In his period, the Dolmabahce Palace gained importance in two ways; hosting foreign guests and opening the palace doors for culture and art. Iranian Shah Pahlavi, Iraqi King Faisal, Abdullah King of Jordan, Afghan King Amanullah, British King Edward, and Yugoslav King Aleksandr, who came for a special visit, were hosted in Dolmabahçe Palace by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. On September 27th, 1932, the First Turkish History Congress took place in the Grand Ceremonial Hall, and in 1934, the First and Second Turkish Language Congresses took place here. The European meeting of Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, the world organization of Touring institutions, was also held in Dolmabahce Palace, and the palace became a museum in 1930.

The most important event that took place in the palace, which Ataturk used as a residence during his visits to Istanbul during the Republican period, was the death of Atatürk on November 10th, 1938. Ataturk closed his eyes to life in room 71 of the Dolmabahce Palace. The palace was used by İsmet İnonu during their presidency in Istanbul after Ataturk. After the one-party period, the Dolmabahce Palace started to serve foreign guests. Ceremonies and feasts in honor of German President Gronchi, King of Iraq Faisal, Indonesian Prime Minister Sukarno, French Prime Minister General de Gaulle, were some significant events.

Dolmabahce Palace as a Museum

In 1952, Dolmabahçe Palace was opened to the public once a week by the National Assembly Administration. The official opening of the National Assembly was held on July 10th, 1964, with the meeting of the Presidency Council and closed with notice due to the letter dated January 14th, 1971 of the Administration of National Assembly. Dolmabahçe Palace, became a museum on June 25th, 1979, with the order of the President of the National Assembly No. 554, was closed again on October 12th of the same year. Two months later, Dolmabahce Palace became a museum again by order of the Speaker of the National Assembly.

In the gardens of the Clock Tower, there is the Furnishings Department, Bird Garden, Harem and Crown Office, departments that provide cafeteria services for visitors and souvenir sales departments. The Turkish government uses the Grand Ceremonial Hall and the gardens for national and international receptions. With the new arrangements, the palace has museum units, art, and cultural events within the museum. The Dolmabahce Palace has been serving as a museum since 1984.

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Umit Yildirim