It’s just as a sultan’s palace should be: huge and sumptuous, with 285 rooms, 43 large salons, a 4000 kg (4-1/2-ton) Bohemian glass chandelier, and a Bosphorus-shore façade nearly 500 meters (1/4 mile) long. It’s the grandest of Ottoman imperial palaces.
The cheapest, most comfortable way to get there is by the Bağcılar-Kabataş tram which runs from Sultanahmet Square down to Eminönü, across the Golden Horn to Karaköy (Galata), then north to Kabataş, whence it is less than a 10-minute walk north along the Bosphorus shore to the palace.
The palace was designed by Ottoman Armenian architects Karabet and Nikogos Balian for Sultan Abdulmecit(1839-61). When it was finished in 1856, the imperial family moved out of medieval Topkapı Palace to live in European-style opulence.
As with every traditional Ottoman grand residence (or palace), Dolmabahçe consists of two distinct parts: the Selamlık, or “public” area, and the Haremlik, or family quarters.
The Selamlık was where the Padişah (known in the English-speaking world as the “Sultan”) greeted and met with top government officers, diplomats and other important visitors. Its sumptuously-appointed chambers were designed to impress, especially the great Ceremonial Chamber (“Throne Room”) with its Corinthian columns and 4-1/2-ton Bohemian crystal chandelier lit by 660 electric lights.
The Haremlik was the imperial family’s private quarters, where the sultan, his wives and children, and their servants lived.
The palace is open daily except Monday, Thursday, and the first day of Islamic holidays. On other days, here areopening hours and admission fees. Visitors must pass through an airport-type security inspection (metal detector, x-ray of bags.) Large purses, bags, briefcases and backpacks must be checked at the checkroom (no charge).
No photography or video is allowed within the palace itself, although you are welcome to photograph the exterior and grounds.
You can enter and enjoy the palace grounds for only a few liras, but to visit the palace interior, you must buy a ticket for the Selamlık, the Haremlik, or a combination ticket for both. No tickets are sold after the daily quota of 3000 visitors has been met. In high season, it is normal for this limit to be met well before the palace closes for the day.
You can supposedly reserve your places on tours by telephoning +90 (212) 327 2626.
Tours in English and Turkish leave periodically throughout the day, lasting about 45 minutes for each section of the palace. You may wait in line, perhaps standing in the sun or rain, for 20 to 60 minutes or more, depending on the day and the crowds. Your ticket may bear a particular time for your tour’s departure.
Before entering the palace, you put plastic-bag galoş(wrappers) over your shoes to lessen damage to the palace floors, and enter.
The tour of the Selamlık begins with anterooms, then a climb up the crystal staircase, where the supports for the balustrade are all of pure glass. Fancy decoration, heavy with gold, abounds. The succession of magnificent rooms, large and small, leaves you dizzy.
After the Selamlık, you can walk around to the back of the palace to the entrance of the Haremlik, where the succession of ever more sumptuous rooms continues. One room of special interest is that in which Kemal Atatürk(1881-1938), founder of the Turkish Republic, died at 09:05 am on November 10, 1938, while on a visit to Istanbul.
Dolmabahçe Palace has a café behind the Haremlik, and the Saat Kulesi Kafeterya, a cafeteria near the palace Clock Tower, with views of the Bosphorus.
Milli Saraylar Daire Başkanı
Tel: +90 (212) 327 2626 (Reservations)
—by Tom Brosnahan