Grand Palaces of the Ottomans

26 comments
Europe, Turkey
The Gate of Salutation

The Gate of Salutation

The steep cobblestone street that raises up on the right side of the expansive Gülhane Park is filled with stone artifacts from the Byzantine era, all lined up on one side of the street creating an outdoor exhibition of the fragments from the city’s long history. Turning right on a corner, the Archaeological Museum sits on the left side – home for the city’s most important archaeological heritage. Walking further uphill, an open space sweeping with rows of leafless white trees leading onto two grey medieval towers welcomes me.

Topped by dark grey cones and flanked by thick brick walls, the Gate of Salutation which serves as the entrance to the second courtyard of the Topkapı Palace brings images from medieval castles and palaces across Europe to my mind. Walking closer to the gate, a large green emblem engraved with Arabic calligraphy reminds me of the once powerful empire that ruled vast regions from 1299 to 1923 – the Ottoman Empire – which made this palace its center of power for 400 years.

Walking northeast deeper into the palace complex, blocs of buildings and pavilions are scattered throughout the second to the fourth courtyards, each of them embodies the splendor of Ottoman architecture. The construction of this palace began in the mid-15th century and the palace underwent series of expansions over the next few centuries. Unlike other palaces in Europe that follow symmetrical master plans, the expansion of the Topkapı Palace under different reigns of sultans resulted in asymmetrical layout of the palace, following the taste of each sultan.

Being the last major Muslim empire in history, the Ottoman Empire hosted the most sacred relics in the Muslim world. The cloak of Muhammad, the swords of the first four caliphs, the staff of Moses, and the turban of Joseph are some of the most treasured relics stored in the Privy Chamber, currently under the auspices of the secular republic.

Walking further to the fourth courtyard, a more private sanctuary composed of several pavilions and kiosks overlooks the Bosphorus. Baghdad and Yerevan kiosks which were built after the Ottomans’ victories during the campaigns to both cities are some of the beautifully embellished kiosks in the fourth courtyard. Still in the same area, the ornately decorated Circumcision Room was built to hold the mandatory rite of passage for young princes.

However, even though Topkapı Palace was large enough to host up to 4,000 people, the 31st sultan of the Ottoman Empire – Abdülmecid I – thought that the empire needed a new and European-looking palace to replace the centuries old Topkapı Palace.

The Imperial Treasury

The Imperial Treasury

The Third Courtyard

The Third Courtyard

The Exterior of the Room of the Blessed Mantle

The Exterior of the Room of the Blessed Mantle

The Circumcision Room

The Circumcision Room

Rare Tiles of the Circumcision Room

Rare Tiles of the Circumcision Room

Ceiling Decorations, Yerevan Kiosk

Ceiling Decorations, Yerevan Kiosk

The Interior, Yerevan Kiosk

The Interior, Yerevan Kiosk

A Pool on the Marble Terrace

A Pool on the Marble Terrace

Ceiling Decorations, Baghdad Kiosk

Ceiling Decorations, Baghdad Kiosk

The Baghdad Kiosk

The Baghdad Kiosk

Wood Carving on a Door

Wood Carving on a Door

Despite the decline of the empire in the 19th century, Sultan Abdülmecid I ordered the construction of a new palace along the Bosphorus to replace the Topkapı Palace as the house of the sultan as well as the main administrative seat of the empire. Influenced by the spirit of Tanzimât to reform the declining empire by incorporating new ideas and thoughts, the newly built palace is heavily inspired by Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles without losing some Ottoman features. In 1856 the Dolmabahçe Palace started to be fully functional as the seat of government of the sick man of Europe.

Adorned with the Hereke carpets, Baccarat and Bohemian crystals, also Sèvres and Yıldız porcelains to name some, the entire palace is an unusual concoction of various architectural features and furniture. Apart from the many rooms and halls which normally make up a palace, Dolmabahçe also has six hamams – an essential feature of an Ottoman palace. On top of everything, there is the Grand Ceremonial Hall which some consider as even more majestic than most European palaces’ royal halls. The world’s largest crystal chandelier which weighs 4.5 tonnes is hung from the ceiling under the dome which was painted in three-dimensional technique, creating optical illusion which makes the ceiling appear taller than it actually is. Adored by many yet detested by some, I find its hard to belie the grandeur of this palace.

After the establishment of the new secular republic by abolishing the caliphate altogether, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the father of all Turks – moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara, a city located right at the heart of Anatolia. However when his health deteriorated, he spent the rest of his days in a more secluded and peaceful room of Dolmabahçe. On November 10, 1938, the founding father of the republic passed away in a bedroom in the Harem section of the palace. The bed is now covered in the Turkish flag and the clock in the room is set to 9:05, the time when Atatürk died.

No new palace has been built ever since, sparing the ailing country’s reserve from improper spending. But more than eight decades later, Turkey is no longer the sick man of Europe, leaving the title reluctantly claimed by its western neighbor.

Gate of the Treasury

Gate of the Treasury

Gate of the Sultan

Gate of the Sultan

Gate of the Sultan, Rear View

Gate of the Sultan, Rear View

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Exterior of the Grand Ceremonial Hall

The Exterior of the Grand Ceremonial Hall

Side View of the Palace

Side View of the Palace

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

26 thoughts on “Grand Palaces of the Ottomans”

  1. Dolmabahce looks like a palace fit for a fairytale… what a shame photos weren’t allowed inside! The tilework inside Topkapi is gorgeous too, I love those intricate patterns but I wonder how cold those rooms would be in the middle of winter!

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    • It surely does! Taking photographs inside the palace was allowed until a few years ago when some irresponsible visitors used the flash although had been warned. Speaking of Topkapı, I guess in winter they stayed in the hamams! 🙂

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  2. hmmm….. amazing place and amazing pictures Bama…!
    Setiap orang yang baca posting ini pasti langsung kepengen liburan ke tempat ini…including me…:)

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    • Thanks Debby! Buat para pecinta sejarah, arsitektur, makanan, maupun sekedar jalan-jalan, Istanbul punya semua. Pack your bag and go! Apalagi pemegang paspor Indonesia bisa visa on arrival di Turki. 🙂

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    • Hey Jill! There’s one thing about Turkey, Istanbul in particular, which will make you fall in love with. The cats!!! I have a post on them coming soon.

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    • Actually we can. But I had to skip the Privy Chamber altogether due to some reasons. So the next time I visit Istanbul, I know I have to make my way to this part of the palace.

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  3. Gorgeous pictures Bama. I much preferred the older Topkapi to the lavish Dolmabahce. I actually skipped it the first time and didn’t quite change my mind when I did get to see it on our second visit. Baroque isn’t my thing 🙂 Wondering why the Harem isn’t featured here. Are you saving it for a separate post?

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    • Thanks Madhu! You noticed the absence of the Harem photos from both palaces. Well, when we were visiting Topkapi, one of the members of our small group was not feeling well – I went with some of my coworkers and in fact I was the “tour leader”. 🙂 So I decided to skip the Harem. As for Dolmabahce, we have actually bought the entrance ticket for both the Harem and Selamlik. But due to time constraints we skipped the Harem altogether after taking the guided tour inside the Selamlik. I guess that would be another reason for me to come back to Istanbul. 🙂

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  4. Hi Bama,
    Your images and narratives just reminded me how majestic Topkapi Palace was. The marbles, the colorful times and and the sacred relics it contains are just so amazing. Thanks for taking me back there.

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    • Thanks Marisol! Topkapi was truly one of the most unique palaces that I’ve ever been to. The colorful and ornate tiles were particularly stunning.

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  5. Gretel says:

    BAMAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.. how are you? long time no see.. kangen bokkk… ayo pegi bareng yok.. when’s ur next trip? do not forget the ‘forbidden date’.. g gebok lu kalau lu trip tgl itu

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    • Gretel!!! I’m doing well. Ayok kita ketemuan, terserah lo mau kapan. Tanggal lo tenang aja, udah gw book. 🙂

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  6. The tiles in the interior of this palace are simply stunning, only to be matched by the ornate exterior. The whole building is just over the top! Your photos give a wonderful glimpse of a lavish lifestyle.

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    • I always love visiting palaces because of their ornate details, even though most of them drained a country’s wealth to build. Thanks for dropping by Marilyn!

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