Istanbul, a city where history resonates in its predominant Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, also reflects the style of the empires which have ruled over it. Its royal heritage has been of utmost importance in the time it was raised both politically and socially. Besides, it attracts tourists from all over the world today. The Sultans ordered the construction of these buildings suiting their lavish and extravagant lifestyle. In the mid 19th century, under the influence of modernization in architecture, Dolmabahce Palace, a magnificent building, was constructed under this trend of renewal on a scenic site. Amongst the majestic structures in Istanbul, the former palace is the third largest and is world-renowned for its aesthetic form.
A historical context of the palace:
Dolmabahce Palace sits on a cove which has a mythological significance for anchoring the legendary ship ‘Argo’. It was built by Sultan Abdülmecid I between 1843 and 1856 right on the shores which were used again during the conquest of Istanbul. The royal heritage site got converted from a natural harbour to a swamp which got filled up as the unique gardens of Bosporus called ‘Dolmabahce’. Several sultans built villas and pavilions here in due course of time developing the ‘Beşiktaş Beach Palace’.
In the entire Ottoman history, Sultan Abdulmejid was the one statesman to introduce the most radical changes. Brought up in the Western culture, he destroyed the old wooden structure and ordered for a palace in an eclectic style to be built in its place, while keeping some traditional Ottoman elements intact. The new building incorporated 16 separate buildings including stables, a flour mill, a clock tower and various offices. Sparing no expense, the sumptuous palace was constructed to impress the world with the largest Bohemian crystal chandelier installed and fourteen tonnes of gold to gild the ceilings. In the transcontinental city of Istanbul, the building faces Asia; its white marble facade stretches along the European coast for 600m while creating a continuous reflection in the serene waters of Bosphorus.
The architecture of the palace:
The architectural approach of Dolmabahçe Palace does full justice to the mixture of Arab, Greek, Gothic, Turkish, French Baroque, German Rococo, Roman and Renaissance styles adopted. The structure is a beautiful combination of magnificence with elegance. Embellished with rows of Doric and Ionic columns, elegant terraces, ornate cornices, windows, and arches; the complex building appears as a ‘feast of decorations’. The palace is divided into a large middle structure with two wings and forms the largest in Turkey built as a monolithic structure.
These zones divide the structure into the administrative ‘Mabeyn-i Humayun’ for the government affairs upon the entrance, the private ‘Harem-i Humayun’ for the royal family, and the ceremonial ‘Muzayede Hall’. The three symmetrically planned floors house 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths.
The rigid stone walls support the structure of the palace upon a strong base that is built of chestnut tree logs; further strengthened using iron reinforcements. Moreover, there is a blend of different materials like brick and wood used in the interiors, partition walls, floor, ceiling and roofs. The grand entrance doors in the beautiful fresco technique welcome the visitors into an enormous 56 columned reception hall; the crystal chandelier as the centre of attention. Interior walls and ceilings are ornamented with heavy gold and exhibit paintings by several acclaimed European artists of that time. Keeping a common set of colour tones for each room, the palace displays richness in the form of wooden parquet flooring. The ornate interiors showcase the famous Hereke silk and wool carpets, the beautiful Turkish art and remarkably rare handicrafts from all of Europe as well as the Far East.
The Dolmabahce Gardens
A Turkish Garden design and its gardening style that imitates the West, the Dolmabahce gardens are known as ‘architectural gardens’ or ‘geometrical gardens’. They are planned following the rules of geometry rules rather than the natural spontaneous planning of typical gardens. They exist as a complex of palace gardens within an urban grid. Their own identity makes them overpower and does not exist as only a part of the surrounding areas.
The gardens follow a strict architectural order with a symmetrical plan and an axial composition. Their layout is governed by striking straight lines which introduce a harmony in the form of pathways paved with sand and gravel, flowerbeds or walls. It gives the space a formal appeal with pavilions, pools, stairways and all the other architectural elements placed along the two axes of the garden. The five interconnected sections of the palace garden, namely, The Hasbahce, the Aviary Garden, the Harem Apartments Garden, The Princes’ Apartments Back Garden and the Sea-side Garden – form the main structure of the gardens. The placement of the elements within the garden shows an influence from the Baroque conception of gardening. The gardens are the only place in all of Istanbul to display some of the rarest kinds of trees and bushes.
The palace holds its importance being a part of the royal heritage of Istanbul. Tourists from all over the world visit it to witness what beheld the splendid lives of the numerous Sultans. The relatively modern building is surrounded by various structures that provide the urban fabric with a historical feel to it. The architectural spectacular and magnificence in decoration give it the image of an elaborate complex building.