Out of all the sites to see in Istanbul, the most intriguing has to be the grand and impressive Dolmabahce Palace. Home to the last six sultans of the abolished Ottoman Empire; it portrays everything that was right and wrong about their rule and reign for over 600 years. While it is easy to be in awe at the architecture and historical tales of their conquered lands, I simply had to wonder if any ruler, person or family deserved to live in such luxurious and wealthy surroundings.
Dolmabahce Palace was built between 1843 and 1856, at a time when life for the average person in Istanbul or the rest of the Ottoman Empire, was not easy or comforting.
How did the people of Istanbul feel when the Dolmabahce palace was finally completed with 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths?
Did they know that 14 tons of gold were used to decorate ceilings in gold leafs?
Did they wonder how much money was spent to source in pure crystals for the main staircase?
Did they feel resentment when 131 handmade silk carpets were ordered to be made in the nearby town of Hereke?
As if that was not enough, Queen Victoria of England also decided to show off her wealth by sending a crystal chandelier as a present. This chandelier is the largest in the world, consists of 750 bulbs, and weighs a massive 4 tons. The Tsar of Russia sent bearskin carpets and other world leaders sent expensive presents to complete the overall look.
After touring Dolmabahce palace and seeing the extraordinary and extravagant luxury that the last sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived in, I felt no sadness in the fact that their empire was carved up and abolished in 1923, while the last ruler was exiled from Istanbul and Turkey to hang his head in shame.
The Dolmabahce Palace Harem
Mothers, wives and concubines were all housed in the harem section at the back of the Dolmabahce palace. Listen to the official guides that conduct tours and you are led to believe that life in the harem was very dignified and filled with happy days of sewing circles and platting each other’s hair. However, books that have researched life in the Dolmabahce palace and Istanbul at that time, will tell you a different story of slaves, jealousy and an extreme amount of bed hoping.
The Selamlik for the Men
Located at the front of Dolmabahce Palace, is the selamlik, which was the men’s quarters and the place for official business in Istanbul. More impressive then the harem section, this is where the wealth and luxury is really displayed. Walls are awash with ancient paintings and halls are filled to the brim with hard carved, antique furniture. Viewing the section really does enforce the fact that the last days of the Ottoman Empire were filled with greed and a need to display self-importance to visiting leaders from other countries.
When the Ottoman empire fell, Dolmabahce palace was used by the new government. The founder of that new government and indeed, the republic of Turkey was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He died in a bedroom of the palace in 1938. The most striking aspect of the bedroom he died in, is its simplicity. He could have chosen the more grand and lavish bedrooms, but he chose one that is so basic compared to the rest.
Was he also disgusted at the extraordinary luxuries that the Ottoman rulers lavished upon themselves?
Photos Are Not Permitted
You are not allowed to take photos inside of the palace, which is a great shame, as those areas are the most impressive. Dolmabahce palace in my opinion is also necessary to see if you are in Istanbul. For this reason, I have sourced photos from elsewhere and given credit where needed. You can also check this site for an impressive 3D tour of the rooms, halls and bedrooms of the harem and selamlik.
Dolmabahce Touring Tips and Opening Hours
You are not allowed to tour the inside areas on your own. You have to wait to join one of the scheduled tours that operate separately for the harem and selamlik. The tour guides are frankly terrible at their jobs and should be sacked. To appreciate the palace, I suggest a bit of background reading before you go, on its history and the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Tickets are not cheap but are worth the price, 20 lira for the harem and 20 lira for the selamik. Opening hours for the Dolmabahce Palace are 8am to 4pm every day except Monday and Thursdays.
Readers Question : The Dolmabahce palace is one of Turkeys prized possessions and should definitely be visited if you are in Istanbul. Have you been to the palace and would you also recommend it for a visit?