The site of the present-day palace was, at the beginning of the 17th century, a busy
bay in which the Admiralty maintained ships of war, and organized festivities to mark the
departure of war expeditions. Under the sultanate of Ahmet the First, the area was filled
with earth from a nearby hill to become a picnic ground reserved for the sultans. The name
Dolmabahce stems from this land fill. Dolma means
filled in Turkish, and bahce , garden, therefore
Filled Garden palace. During, this period the shore area was decorated with
summer palaces, mansions, and villas.
The largest of these, the Eski (old) Palace included a wide range of rooms,
functional as well as elaborately decorative, for the full court of the Sultan. Sultan
Mahmut II., after a period of non-use, repaired the Old Palace as a residence, finding the
Topkapi Palace confining. In 1843, the Sultan Abdulmecid I
ordered the razing of the Old Palace, and in its place, the construction of the present
palace began under the direction of his architect Karabet Balyan.
In 1856, the Sultan took up residence in this lavishly decorated palace. The exterior
appearance of the palace is dominated by its high central Reception Room, and wings, left
and right containing the public and private (harem) rooms, respectively. Its length
parades 284 meters (925 feet) down the shores of the Bosphorus
on top of a 600 meter, heavily decorated quay. The apartments of the Queen Mother project
95 meters off the harem section at right angles, attached to the harem by the apartments
of the Crown Prince. The interior layout of the palace is very simple and regular,
consisting of groups of rooms on a straight line, opening to a larger chamber, an forming
a cohesive unit. For example, each private bedroom of the harem opens into a central
living chamber. The outer grounds of the palace were completed by the additions of, first,
the Mosque of the Queen Mother (of Abdulmecit) and second, the Clock Tower, built by
Sultan Abdulhamit II. Additional sections and buildings were added to the complex, such
as the Treasury, the Chamber of the Chief Eunuch, Glass Villa, and opposite todays
shore road, the pharmacy and the Pastry Kitchens of the palace. In addition to these,
along the shore on either side of the main palace complex, supporting units of the
sultans household stretched for almost another kilometer, such as Carriage Houses,
Stables, and a special Harem for the Princes.
The palace features two highly elaborate gateways, symbolic of the empires
magnificence. The Treasury Gate faces the Clock Tower, and the Regal Gate, the main
roadway. Each columned gate focuses upon a central arch, framed by smaller side arches,
within a graceful oval indentation of the palace walls themselves. Towers accentuate these
ovals. Heavy ornamentation is dominated by columns, rosettes, oyster shells, leaves and
branches, and strung pearls. The settes, oyster shells, leaves and branches, and strung pearls.
The pediment is decorated with roses, wreaths and vases. Above the Treasury Gate, in
green and gold, is the monogram of Sultan Abdulmecit dated 1853, below which is an
inscription by the poet Ziyver dated 1857. The regal Gate carries the same monogram, dated
1854. The grounds of the palace, in accordance with Islamic social customs in the Ottoman
period are framed by high walls. In a break with tradition , the gardens are on a flat
plane, unlike the traditional Turkish terraced gardens. The break is logical as the Chief
Gardener and his aids during the period were Germans.
The palace was built of marble from the islands of the Marmara Sea and prophyry from Bergama, on the Aegean Sea coast. The ornate and heavy 19th century
decor none-the-less carries a flavor of traditional Turkish design. The structure of
Turkish home life was the focus of the interior layout. Each section of the palace is like
a separate Turkish home: a central gathering place, surrounded by smaller, and more
private rooms. The exterior look of the palace is dominated by the Baroque and Eclectic
style of the Renaissance period. Floor levels are clearly separated, with different styles
of column capitals. Triangular pediments and marble parapets blend with a wide range of
architectural motifs drawn from western design in symmetrical harmony. Interior materials
are dominated by alabaster, marble, and porphyry, the work of Italian and French artists.
Furnishings and interior decorate the work of the famed French designer Sechan, creator of
the Paris Opera.
The balsam and mahogany doors and window frames, ornamented in richly carved and
gold-leafed-relief, in combination with the frescoed ceilings remind one of the interiors
of French palaces. In the interior decor, ceilings are emphasized. They are sectioned, and
generally frescoed. In addition scenes of nature, and figurative compositions have been
painted on canvas and stretched on the ceiling surfaces. The Queen Mothers Bedroom
ceiling is an excellent example of this treatment. Exceptions are found in the ceiling of
the Holiday Reception Hall where the ceiling is of sheet Lead, the Selamlik (male
quarters) Dining Room (painted wood), and the baths which have ceilings decorated in
stone.The three story palace has 285 rooms, 43 salons, 6 balconies, and six Turkish baths.
Another dominant feature of the interior is the crystal. Bohemian and Baccarat chandeliers
and fireplaces sparkle and tinkle, adding warmth and character to the other wise vast
spaces on the palace. 36 major chandeliers, however, pale in significance alongside the
grandest of them all, the 4 and a half ton chandelier in the Holiday Reception Hall, a
gift of Queen Victoria, and the largest in the world.
The palace includes an Art Gallery with noted works of Zonaro, Fromentin, and
Aivazowski, 280 Chinese, Japanese, Yildiz (Turkish) and European vases, 156
historic and elegant clocks, 581 silver, crystal, and other candelabras, 11 silver
braziers, crystal and silver stem and flatware, and room decorations. Of particular note
are the crystal balustrades in the Crystal Staircase room. In addition, there are five
major staircases, 7 service staircases, and one elevator, added during the Republic
Period, during the illness of Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the
The building was originally heated with braziers and fireplaces. After Sultan
Abdulhamid, it was heated with tile stoves. Finally, during the Sultanate of Mehmet
Reshat V central heating and electricity were installed. Even these 20th century
functional services were made princely, by the addition of gold leaf to the radiators. The
inlaid parquet floors, particularly in the rooms and salons of the Sultans private
apartments are an additional elegant feature, and unique such that they might be the
subject of separate research themselves. From 1877 to 1909, Sultan Abdulhamit II., chose
to live in the Yildiz Palace, leaving Dolmabahce empty and decaying. After 32 years, on
ascending to the sultanate, Mehmet Reshad V., ordered the architect Vetad to repair and
refurnish the palace as his residence.The palace saw very active days during the reign of
Mehmet Reshat V., from 1909-1918. His successor, Vahdeddin, moved to the Yildiz Palace
after only a short residence in Dolmabahce. His successor, in turn, Abdulmecid, chose
again to reside in Dolmabahce, remaining here until March 3, l924 , when the palace was
declared public property with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. This was not in fact a
departure from tradition under the sultans, as by tradition, the sultan himself, as well
as all his possessions and palaces were considered public property.
The palace is entered passing from the dominant green and white of the gardens, up gray
marble staircases through a columned pediment, in all, a very grand entrance. The Foyer is
decorated with matching four-meter tall mirrors on either side, and French flower vases, a
gift of the French to Abdulhamit.
The main parquet-floored hall is supported by four columns, with columned separations
creating smaller lounges on left and right. The capitals and vertical lines of the columns
are gold-plated. Ceiling spans are separated with ribs, and treated in colored engravings.
Off of each of the four corners are small rooms, behind the fireplaces, used on occasion
as waiting areas fireplaces bases are ceramic tile, and the upper portion cut crystal. On
the mantle of each is a porcelain Sevre vase bearing the monogram of Abdulmecit.
The central table is of balsam wood,also bearing the monogram of the Sultan. In the
left and right lounges are tables of Italian style stone. The large vases in front of each
lounge are of Yildiz manufacture, each in four parts, with illustrations done
bay Turkish and French artists. Carpets and upholsters in the hall are of Turkish
Hereke manufacture. The crystal candelabra an each of the footed tables of the
lounges bring the crystal effect in to all corners of the Entrance Hall.
Salon of the Circular Crystal Stairs
Departing the Entrance Hall, the visitor begins to ascend a staircase into an
atmosphere quite unlike that of any set of functional stairs. Although the staircases in
the salon do of course serve a function, it seems incidental, as the swirl of stairs,
crystal and inlaid floors, to the vast vaulted glass dome over-head gives a self-contained
unity to the salon. All of the entry and exit doors from this grand stair well are of
mahogany, highlighted with gold-leaf.
On the left balcony of the salon, blue-based Sevre vases, and covered Japanese vases
dominate. In the four corners of the salon are floor standing crystal candelabra. Silver
based candelabra are placed in the open spaces above the curve of the stairs. On the land
side lounge of the salon are located two flower vases of Indian origin, the bases of which
are decorated with a lion and horse, and deer relieves, respectively. The upper portions
are decorated with colorful raised stones. On the central table is a musical clock made by
artisans in the Shipyard of the Golden Horn, bearing the monogram of Sultan Mahmud II.,
and decorated in gold, diamonds, and emeralds. At the side of each of the doors leading to
the Diplomatic Audience Suite are extravagant candelabras of solid silver and ivory, a
gift of the Governor of Arabia to Abduhamit II. They serve as a frame for the Chinese
porcelain vases between them.
Salon of the Diplomatic Corps
The four corners of this grand salon sparkle with fireplaces of, again, cut crystal,
tiles, and gold-leaf. Their mantles hold Chinese porcelain vases and Sevre candelabras.
The ceiling is ribbed and sectioned, decorated in raised gold-leafed roses. Three side
lounges, separated from the main salon by twin columns, are located on the sea, garden,
and land side of the room. A Baccarat crystal chandelier in the center of the room hangs
as a witness to many great momentous decision to Westernize Turkish by abolishing the
Arabic alphabet, and introducing the Latin. In addition to the Hereke-covered furnishings,
crystal and silver candelabras complete the rooms decoration. The piano on the land
side of the room is French, an inlay of fine metals and wood. Salon in this room there
were put. In the center of the room is a Sevre vase upon a marble table atop a Persian
Tabriz carpet. The twin-faced clock at the entrance from the Crystal Stairs is
of solid Sterling silver, depicting tropical scenes of nature, and deer. The clock on the
opposite side of the salon is four faced, of Arabesque style, and also solid Sterling
silver. It is en graved with a poem to the glory of Sultan Abdulhamit II.
Waiting Room of Dignitaries
The small room passed through in arriving at the waiting room was reserved for
translators. Two vases of gold-leaf, and deep blue enamel of Berlin origin grace the
corners of the room. The central table carries Baroque-style silver candelabras. A
gold-leafed raised crystal mirror is located at the right of the entrance. A pair of
gold-leafed bronze clocks and candelabras on the buffet are among the other elegant
furnishings of the room. The ceiling is in Gothic style, whose designs are intended to
give the illusion of infinity. The basic decor of the main waiting room carries many of
the rich features common to most rooms of the palace, gold-leaf, mahogany, crystal, etc.
Of particular note here, however, is the effect of unity created by the careful blending
of ceiling to walls to windows by introduction of a lacy curtain-like treatment to all of
these elements. The total effect, although extremely rich, is none-the-less very
satisfying. In this atmosphere, the foreign dignitary would wait for his opportunity to
enter the next room and have his private audience with the Sultan.
Private Audience Chamber of the Sultan
The foreign ambassador would leave his accompanying delegation in the small room
entered enroute to the Audience Chamber, decorated in crimson, and filled with victorious
battle scenes. The mood of the Audience Chamber is rich crimson and gold, the
Sultans couch framed as it were by a solid cornice overhead, heavily embossed with
gold-leaf. Two Russian St. Petersburg vases stand in the far corners, with a Louis XV
clock opposite them. The marble table in the rooms center is topped by a set of
candelabras and vase in Sterling silver. The room is completed by two red crystal fire
places at either side of the entrance. In front of each fireplace is a small table, each
gifts of Napoleon, depicting Napoleon with the women in his life on one, and angels on the
other. The lower panels of the walls are solid mahogany with the upper panels engraved and
gold-leafed. Exiting from the Private Audience Chamber, on return to the main salon we
see, in the sea-side lounge; a Japanese dragon-based vases.
Translated to English this is the Two - sided salon, due to its overlooking
both sea and garden sides of the palace. The ceiling, in three sections, uses artificial
columns in gold-leaf to support its center. The whole of the ceiling itself is as well
treated in gold-leaf. The parquet flooring is in an interlocking star shaped pattern. On
the sea side of the salon are found mirrors and consoles inlaid with precious metals,
highlighted with embossed gold-leaf. The matching furniture and drapery fabrics are of
Turkish Hereke manufacture. On the far side of the room is a mirror-topped
Bohemian crystal red fireplace. Mirrored consoles frame the fireplace, topped by
gold-leafed crystal candelabras. In the center of the central section is a large Sevre
vase atop a marble and gold-leafed table, all beneath a massive chandelier. Furnishings on
the land side are the same as the sea side, with the addition of a piano. As well, two
Syrian mother-of-pearl inlaid buffets are featured in the stair entrance. This room
originally had a very religious function for the palace as the sight of prayers at
religious holidays, for the dead, and wedding ceremonies. When the Sultan received
Tranquility lessons here, he sat on the sea side atop a cushioned sofa
surrounded by his attendants. During the Ramazan time each year, this room was filled with
prayer rugs, with a special section screened off for the women of the harem. In addition
to these religious functions, the Zulvecheyn Salon was one of the best - suited large
rooms in the palace for large dinner receptions.
Shortly after the ascension to the throne, two major receptions took place here, one
for the Vice-roy (governor) of Egypt, and one for the King and Queen of Bulgaria. During
the time of the last Calif (Abdulmecid) two dinners occurred here, one for the royalty
and one for the Princes of the household. Under the Presidency of Ataturk, this room
served as the Presidential Dining Room. During these times a Turkish musical group would
entertain on the sea side end, with a western orchestra at the side of the room near the
Queen Mothers Reception Room
Also called the Red Room for its dominant color, this room is reached
though a second iron gate at the end of the corridor leading to the harem section. On the
left at the entrance is a high reliefed gold-leafed marble fireplace, whose framed oval
mirror stretches to the ceiling. The heavily decorated twin entry doors frame the
fireplace. An unusual French Abusson carpet covers the floor of the entire room. Ceiling
decorations are quiet unique.
Within the domed or vaulted central section of the ceiling a balconied effect is
created. The four corners carry representations of ship bows, and weapons among garlands,
a motif that carries in to the bland of gold-leaf relief that joins the ceiling to the
walls. At the window side are vases on consoles. A massive red and white crystal
chandelier completes this very rich room.
Bedroom of the Queen Mother
The Queen Mothers bed stands on the right of the room, gold-leafed reliefed, and
elegantly canopied. Near by is a bronze, mother-of -pearl inlaid jewelry box, made by the
shops of the Yildiz Palace 1902 . Its design is in harmony with the dominant gold in he
rest of the furnishing of the room. The ceiling is of hand engraved cloth.
The Blue Salon
The dominant blue color of the curtains, ceiling and walls of his salon give it is
name. The extensions at either end are brightened with three windows across the sea land
side. Each section of the ceiling is framed by heavily decorated, gold-leaf massive
frames. The panels of the ceiling were mounted after being carved. Scenes of nature and
flower arrangements are featured. A red and white crystal chandelier hangs at the center.
At the entrance, the visitor observes a pair of mirrored consoles at left and right. These
repeat themselves on all four of the side entrances of the room. The floor-standing
chandeliers in from of each of the paired mirrors throw additional life and light into the
room. The sea-side lounge is decorated in a light-colored quilted fabric. Its walls are
colorfully engraved, with the same composition carrying to the walls of the land side
lounge. The porcelain vase in the salons center is of Yildiz manufacture and stands
on a round gold-leaf high relief table. During the Republic Period, an elevator was for
the use of the ill President Ataturk. During the Abdulmecit period many receptions took
place in the Blue Room. In addition, the sultan observed his family religious holidays
here, in the company of his children and women. Abdulaziz in addition accepted many
foreign dignitaries here. Both Abdulhamit II., and Mehmet Reshat V., were enthroned here,
and in the late years of the Sultanate, the Harem band performed marches.
The room in which Ataturk died
When we enter the Blue the Blue Room, on the right we see two smaller rooms over
looking the sea. The first room was used by Gazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Founder and First
President of the Republic of Turkey, as a study. The visitor notices by contrast with the
rest of the palace, the simplicity of this room. The second room, served as
Ataturks bedroom, and it was here that the great revolutionary died on November 10,
1938. At the entrance to the bedroom on the right wall there is a painting depicting the
four seasons, much beloved by Ataturk. All of the furnishings are of walnut, with a
medicine chest along side the death bed, containing the medications last used by the late
president. The decor is one of stars and leaves, done in gold-leaf.
The Pink Salon
This room, named for its dominant color, was the gathering place for the women of the
harem. The ceiling is of engraved plaster. The basic decoration of the room is mirrors and
consoles. Gold-leaf and gold - threaded fabrics reflect in the mirrors. A bronze inlaid
balsam table stands atop a huge Hereke carpet at the center of the room. The room is
lighted by the central chandelier and its matching four floor-standing candelabra. The
basic heating system of the room is through Sterlin silver braziers in the corners of the
room. As in the rest of the palace, he gold-plated radiators and tile stoves were a later addition.
The Hall of Holiday Receptions:
The galeried hall is the central focus of the palace, both from exterior and interior.
The galleries were used for seating of women of the court, foreign dignitaries, musicians,
and other invited persons outside the court who would come to observe holiday festivities.
The room takes its name from the traditional event of the sultan receiving greeting for a
happy holiday on the occasion of annual religious observances.
A few days before the holiday in question, the Throne of Murat III would be brought
here from the Treasury of Topkapi (still to be seen today), and set up in the hall, on its
garden side, facing the sea. Opposite this, a loge of chairs for foreign dignitaries was
set up. After the holiday prayers, the sultan would rest in a small room in the corner of
the hall. Greetings would then be accepted from royalty, his Council of Ministers, and all
male protocol members present, by their approaching him on the throne, and kissing his
outstretched tassel. The two corner rooms on the land side have flat ceilings, while those
by the sea are domed.
These rooms were the resting rooms of the sultans before the start of receptions. In
the time of Abdulhamit II a hidden stair was added in the left room at the land side in
order that he might leave the ceremonies in secret. The hall measures 40 by 45 meters.
Paired columns support semidomes, which in turn support the 36 meter high central dome.
The inside of the dome is lead lined, and colorfully engraved with designs. An inscription
on the stair leading to one of the galleries giving the names of three Armenians would
indicate that the dome is their work. The columns are marble imitations, having been cast
in a foundry.
The lighting of the salon is provided by four porphyry-based crystal candelabras in the
corners of the room, column candelabras of silver in matching pairs, and the 4.5 ton
central chandelier, a gift to the sultan by Englands Queen Victoria.
The hanging base of the chandelier fell during an earthquake as a reception was taking
place during the time of Abdulhamid II. On weighting it was found to total 700 kilograms!
Heating was accomplished in this huge expanse of space by six domed furnaces beneath the
floor of the hall, and hot air ducts opened at the foot of the columns. Heating began two
days in advance of a reception in order to bring the hall to a temperature of 18-20
In addition to holiday celebrations, this grand hall experienced other events of
historical note. In 1856, Sultan Abdulmecid gave a dinner reception here for Marschal
Pelissier. A state dinner was also given for the Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. During the
final months of World War I the Austria-Hungarian Emperor Karl and his Empress were
honored with a state dinner.
The first parliamentary assembly under the Ottomans took place here under Sultan
Abdulhamid II. n 1877. In 1927, returning to Istanbul for the time as President of
Turkey, Ataturk addressed a large gathering her on the beauties of Istanbul.
The group included parliamentarians, generals, and élites of the city of Istanbul. On his
death Ataturk s body lay in state under this great dome.
Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul".
You can purchase "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul" book and other Turkey related books from Explore Turkey Bookstore.