Dolmabahce Palace : Last Historic Days of the Ottoman Empire

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?

Staircase and ceiling

Staircase and ceiling

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?

Crystal Chandelier

Crystal Chandelier From Queen Victoria

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.

Gardens of Dolmabahce palace


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.

Reception Room

Reception room – picture taken from official website

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.

Entrance to the Selamlik

Entrance to the Selamlik

Ataturk’s Deathbed

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?

Deathbed of Ataturk

Deathbed of Ataturk – Picture from Wikipedia

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 Palace – 3D Virtual Tour

Istanbul - Dolmabahce Palace


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.

Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

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?

Entrance to Dolmabahce palace

Entrance to Dolmabahce palace


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Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an Internet addict with a passion for history. Read my story here or leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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  1. says

    Entirely agree about the guides. Do no one any service, least of all the palace. Eventually they were scrapped in Harem at Topkap? so hopefully soon the same thing will happen here.

    • says

      Glad you agree with me Pat about the guides. I wish I had read up on the palace before going rather than after. I would have also paid gladly for a cheap book that would explain things as I walked around, instead of listening to useless information from the guides.
      Natalie wrote about..I Love Istanbul and Here Are Five Reasons Why

    • says

      It is a shame Christy about the photos. The outside pictures are mine but I would have loved to practise my photography inside as well, instead of having to reply on other photos to help tell my story
      Natalie wrote about..My Istanbul Pictures in Black and White

  2. says

    I remember being utterly stunned by the crystal stairway when I visited the place and that’s after seeing the tomb of Alexander Nevski in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
    Nice post Natalie.
    Alan Fenn wrote about..Pure Speculation

  3. says

    Wow – we totally missed this one.
    Those chandeliers are spectacular!

    • says

      A lot of people seem to miss it Andrea because it is on the Taksim side not Sultan Ahmet where all the other sites to see are. It turned out that it was only a short walk from my hotel
      Natalie wrote about..The Burning Flames of Chimaera

  4. says

    Natalie, as usual, a fun and informative article. Did you know that the last Sultan, Mehmed VI (or Mehmet Vahdettin) was at Yildiz Palace and not at Dolmabahce?

    Vahdettin so feared for his life that he had the palace built because he believed Yildiz was the safest place for him. It is located immediately across the road from Dolmabahce and in the park up the hill.

    It is fart too frequently not on the “beaten path” and is worth a visit as is the park and the two large restaurants located in the two kiosk buildings in the park which were formerly palace buildings.

    Read this account of the last days of the last Sultan and how the British Navy smuggled him out of the country. (excerpt from From the Sultan to Ataturk: Turkey by Andrew Mango)

    Among the snippets I found interesting was this one that may interest the British in you:
    “…the (anti-Kemalist) journalist Ali Kemal (whose greatgrandson Boris Johnson, also a journalist and polemicist, was to be elected Mayor of London 85 years later) had tried to make amends by admitting that he had been wrong and the nationalists right.”

    • says

      If I was Vehdettin – I would have feared for my life as well. Read quite a bit on the presence of the British army in Istanbul during the last days of his rule and he was quite a wimp in reality. Totally different from all other rulers that had proceeded him. Thanks for the reads, looks like Yildiz Palace will go on the list of places to see when I return to Istanbul in April
      Natalie wrote about..Sea Kayaking in Turkey : A Personal Challenge to Conquer

  5. says

    No, I have not yet been here, but it looks so majestic that I’d love to go. I’m always fascinated by their architecture. What a shame for regulating the tour so much so that people can’t enjoy it.

  6. says

    Looks like an amazing place, but it does seem irresponsible to build such a lavish place when that money could’ve been used for better things. I’ll add this to our list of possible things to see while in Istanbul in a few weeks!
    Ali wrote about..Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market in Photos

  7. phil + Di marina gateway says

    English history is the same people starving while the kings and queens lived in luxury i still want to go and see it one day ..xx you make it all seam so real

  8. says

    Even Queen Victoria’s gift was sickening in its splendor when most Brits were living in poverty. I wouldn’t mind if heads of state spent their own money on such gifts…rather than the country’s money!!!
    Rhia Roberts wrote about..Are You My Mama?

    • says

      True Rhia – a lot of people at the time of Victoria’s reign were definitely in poverty. Their own money instead of state money and no one would care I think. Back in those days, they did not want to question it though
      Natalie wrote about..I Love Istanbul and Here Are Five Reasons Why

  9. says

    I’ve lived in Besiktas for a year and never visited Dolmabahce. When we went down there last year to take a look inside it was Thursday (sigh!)
    Italian Notes wrote about..Museum crawl in Venice

    • says

      From talking to people, quite a few have missed it because they went on the days it was closed

    • says

      Ha ha Shane – What were you on? Maybe it was the Topkapi Palace

  10. cheryl says

    Thanks for the tips … it sucks to hear the tour guides are not good at their jobs, especially for such a beautiful and storied place. I’d definitely visit this place!

    • says

      They were terrible Cheryl. The guide for the men’s section was better however I still feel that I would have done better with a guidebook and touring on my own.

    • says

      I felt compelled to add it Mary as that was not a little bit of extravagance, it was outrageous. I had to think how they could do that knowing their people were poor and hungry. Beyond belief!

  11. paul says

    Totally agree -the guide in main palace was quite good but the guide in Harem was a disgrace -he had only 4 facts and kept encouraging questions but answereing with the same 4 facts .

    overall though the palace was STUNNING a must for Istanbul -ant ideas who we could complain to about guides -they let the Turkish nation down

  12. Rick says

    I Need information on the life of female and male “slaves” inside the Dolmabahce palace. How much freedom did the females have? How many rooms were they allowed to go to? Could they leave the palace with an attendant? What was the hierarchy of the male servants or slaves? Could male slaves leave the palace and go to their families?

  13. Dr Martin Dudley says

    I wonder if it is really helpful to judge the palaces of the Ottomans, Habsburgs, or Romanovs, or those of the British monarchy by late twentieth century standards? Historically, the splendour of the monarch gives to ambassadors and visiting foreign dignitaries a sense of the importance of the state. We don’t think that is important now; historically it was. In addition, monarchs performed important political and ceremonial roles. Today equivalent amounts of wealth are used to adorn the houses of celebrities, footballers, and oligarchs, who have no responsibilities to the state or the poor.

    • Nat says

      I can see what you are saying Martin but at the time the Dolmabahce was built, the Ottoman empire was no longer important. They had lost all their power, they were bankrupt and people were still starving on the streets.

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