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Dolmabahçe Palace

Istanbul, Turkey


Dolmabahçe Palace on the European shore of the Bosphorus in Istanbul is a fitting symbol of the magnificence and decadence of the 19th-century Ottoman Empire.The palace, which is set in well-tended gardens and entered via its ornate imperial gate, is divided into two sections, the Selamlık (Ceremonial Suites) and the Harem-Cariyeler (Harem and Concubines’ Quarters). Entry is via a compulsory guided tour (around 35 people per group), which focuses on the Selamlık but visits parts of the harem as well. In busy periods the tours leave every five minutes; during quiet times every 25 minutes is more likely. The full tour of the palace takes two hours. Be warned that queues at the ticket office can be very long (waits of up to two hours) and there is no shade.
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 BaÄŸcılar-KabataÅŸ tram which runs from Sultanahmet Square down to Eminönü, across the Golden Horn to Karaköy (Galata), then north to KabataÅŸ, whence it is less than a 10-minute walk north along the Bosphorus shore to the palace.
From Taksim Square, take the Füniküler downhill to KabataÅŸ, then walk north to Dolmabahçe; or walk down Ä°nönü Caddesi right 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 are opening 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.
The tourist entrance to the palace is near the palace’s ornate clock tower, designed by Sarkis Balyan between 1890 and 1895 for Sultan Abdül Hamid II (r 1876–1909). There is an outdoor cafe near here with premium Bosphorus views. Don’t set your watch by any of the palace clocks, all of which are stopped at 9.05am, the moment at which Kemal Atatürk died in Dolmabahçe on 10 November 1938. When touring the harem you will be shown the small bedroom he used during his last days. Each year on 10 November, at 9.05am, the country observes a moment of silence in commemoration of the great leader. The nearby DolmabahÄ‹e Mosque (Dolmabahçe Camii) on Muallim Naci Caddesi was designed by NikoÄŸos Balyan and completed in 1853.

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