The Historical Palaces of Istanbul

From the Byzantine days, what was once Constantinople, and the palaces built during the Ottoman dynasty, there is so much to explore and discover at the dazzling historical palaces of Istanbul.

Topkapı Palace

The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the sultan Mehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Marmara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside.

After the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmet II ordered to built his palace in its present location on top of the ancient Byzantine ruins, in Bayezit square. Once they moved to Topkapi palace, the old one was called as "Old Palace" and Topkapi as the "New Palace". But local people called it as "Topkapi" which in Turkish means "Gate of Cannons" because of huge cannons displayed outside of its gates, those which were used during the Conquest.

The palace became the largest palace in the world, a city within a city. The walls surrounding it were about 5 kileters (around 3 miles) long. The palace having around 700,000 m2 of area during the foundation years, it currently has only 80,000 m2 of area because of building constructions in its grounds towards the end.

During the 400 hundred years of reign at Topkapi, each sultan added a different section or hall to the palace, depending on his taste or on the needs of the time. Therefore the palace is formed by a maze of buildings centered around a series of courtyards protected by different gates. Its architecture is predominantly Middle Eastern in character. The initial construction was Cinili Mansion, a tiled kiosk finished in 1472, and the main gate (Bab-i Humayun in Arabic or the Imperial Gate) facing Sultanahmet square and Hagia Sophia church, and the Palace ramparts at the second gate (Bab-us Selam or the Gate of Salutation) were completed in 1478. A third gate, Bab-us Saade or the Felicity Gate, separates the core and most important parts of the palace from other sections, such as the Treasury for example.

The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk. There are many sections in the Topkapi Palace which can be visited today.

Once you pass the first gate, Imperial Gate, you'll be in the first courtyard called as the "Courtyard of the Regiments". From this gate anybody could pass but only the sultan would be on the horse, while all others on foot. Here, a nice park, some ruins and columns from the Byzantine period, a 6th century Hagia Irene church which is occasionally used for some concerts and art exhibitions today, the Imperial Mint, and the Archaeological museum welcomes you. Before you get to the second gate, there are ticket boots, a change office, and a small gift shop on the right.

The second gate has two guard towers and is called "Gate of Salutation", because everybody had to salute the sultan before going through. From this gate, only the sultan and people working in the palace could pass, it wasn't for the public access. Today, passing through this gate there will be a security check and ticket control, and you access to the second courtyard of the palace (courtyard of the Divan). There are two small scale models of the palace on the right and a big map showing the foundation and expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

The Topkapı Palace is a top the first hill of seven that endow Istanbul’s terrain. This palace is assembled on an area of 700 thousand square meters, with 7 gate and four courtyards. Furthermore, it is comprised of pavilions, sets, apartments and flower gardens. At its height, there were 4,000 people living in the palace, and it's hard not to be struck by the magnificence of it as you explore.

You can see the harem's quarters and see what daily life would have been like for the women of the palace in the Ottoman era. Then move on to the treasury and take a look at the sultan's thrones and incredible 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond (Kaşıkçı Elması).

In the palace kitchen, learn how and what the sultans ate before you wander through the other fascinating sections of this historical wonder.

Çırağan Palace

Branching off from the series of older palaces, the Çırağan Palace, built in 1856, is one of the last structures of the Ottoman period. It was designed by Nigoğos Balyan and built by Sarkis and Agop Balyan. The building of the Çırağan Palace, which covers an area of 80,000 square meters, took a total of 4 years to complete.

The garden of the palace was heavily damaged by a fire in 1910. Furthermore, it was decided that the trees be cut, and the area be transformed it into Şeref Stadium (Stadium of Honor). By 1980 the whole palace went under restoration and was turned into a hotel. The palace is made up of three sections - the main building, apartments and a harem. One of the masterpieces created by the Balyan family of architects, it's still one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture along the Bosphorus.

Dolmabahçe Palace

The building of Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı) was completed in 1856, and it's one of the many impressive buildings, located in Beşiktaş district, lining the Bosphorus’ European shores. The palace was built on the orders of Sultan Abdülmecid I, who commissioned the Balyan family to design and build it. It was built on land reclaimed from the bay where the Ottoman fleet once moored their ships, hence the name Dolmabahçe, which roughly translates as "filled-in garden".

Dolmabahçe Palace occupies 45.000 square meters of space and houses 285 rooms, 43 halls, 68 bathrooms ve 6 hamams or baths. In the main quarters of the palace, you can find; the Mâbeyn-i Hümâyûn (Selâmlık), the Muâyede Hall (Tören Salonu) and the Harem-i Hümâyûn which is split into three sections. Mâbeyn-i Hümâyûn, was where admistative state business was dealt with, the Harem-i Hümâyûn, was reserved for the Sultan and his family, the Muâyede Salonu; was where state ceremonies and the feast ceremony of the sovereigns of state took place. The Selamlık, Harem, Crystal Staircase, Süferâ Hall and the Red Room are must-see parts of the palace.

The interior design was executed by a Frenchman named Sechen who also designed the Paris Opera. The palace is also home the world's largest Baccarat and Bohemian-style crystal chandelier, and filled with beautiful trinkets, such as Serve and Yıldız porcelain and Hereke rugs.

The exterior is made of sandstone in Baroque architectural style. While looking at the palace, the first feature that'll capture your attention is the Gate of the Sultan (Saltanat Kapısı). This gate opening out onto the main road would only be used by the sultan himself, and in respect of that tradition, the gate is not in use today. Another of its most attractive features is its clock tower, which despite being built in 1895, still tells the right time. In addition to this, the clock collection which belonged to the empire is on display in a section of the palace garden. Apart from being the residence of the Sultan and his family, the palace was used for state functions, and hosted official visitors from around the world, and this hospitality continued after the Turkish Republic was founded. The French President Charles de Gaulle, King Faisal of Iraq and President Gronchi of Germany have been among the palace's most illustrious guests.

The fourth sea-facing room in Dolmabahçe Palace, once known as Muayede Hall, today known as Hususi Apartment. Atatürk passed away in this room, and it is now a museum that exhibits his possessions. If you are looking to examine every detail of Dolmabahçe, bear in mind that a tour of Selamlık takes an average of 1 hours and the Harem tour takes around 35 minutes.

Beylerbeyi Palace

As you cross the Bosphorus Bridge to the Anatolian side of the city, one of the most eye-catching things you'll see is the Berlerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayı). The palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz I and completed in 1865 by Sarkis Balyan and his brother Agop Balyan.

The architecture of this Ottoman-style summer palace is a blend of traditional Turkish residential architecture and classical Baroque.

The main building of Beylerbeyi Palace, with its gardens and pools, was used both as a summer palace and also to host important foreign and Ottoman dignitaries during both the period of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of the Republic of Turkey. As you wander around, you'll really get a feel for Sultan Abdülaziz I's passion for the sea. Frescoes depicting the rough sea and maritime-themed candles reflect how much he adored the open waters. There are also rooms decorated with Japanese and Chinese art.

There are English and Turkish-speaking guides available to take you through the palace, and after exploring, take a seat in the garden café and relax, enjoying the picturesque setting. The palace mosque sits just opposite, and nearby there are some excellent seafood restaurants too belonging to the lovely Beylerbeyi neighbourhood.

Yıldız Palace

Yıldız Palace, which is the last architectural example of Turkish Ottoman palace, is located on the Yıldız hill in the district of Besiktas. Sultan Ahmed I was the first to build a pavilion, over this land registered at the time to the Private treasury of the Ottoman Sultan as a hunting place sultans beginning during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566).

At the end of the 18th century, Sultan Selim III built Yıldız Pavilion for his mother, Sultan Mihrishah and a fountain for his father. Sultan Abdulaziz, residing in Yıldız Kiosk in summers, built State Apartments. After that, he added Malta and Cadir Kiosks in the outer garden and Cit Pavilion to the main palace section.

The main construction in the palace started in the period of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) and it was called Saray-i Humayun (Central palace). During this period the palace comprised of buildings for private use of the sultan as well as buildings, allocated for the officials, repair shops and carpentry like repairing shop, carpenter’s shop and the buildings of culture and art such as theatre, museum and library.

The palace has an inner garden which is called “Hasbahce” with a pool inside resembling a natural creek. In different points of this garden there are small independent resort kiosks.

The palace buildings that were left idle for a while in the aftermath of the Sultan Vahidettin’s reign, were allocated to the Staff Officer’s Academy. The palace which was left to War Academies in 1946 was handed over to the Ministry of Culture in 1978 and it begun to serve as a museum under the name of “Directorate of the Museum of Yıldız Palace” since 1993.

The Yıldız palace is known as the fourth Ottoman palace built in Istanbul after the Conquest. Set in a very large park of flowers, tulips, plants and trees gathered from every part of the world, containing a pool and green houses, the palace grounds offer one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Bosphorus.

There are also a couple of small mosques in its grounds.

Yıldız Porcelain Factory established in the grounds of Yıldız Palace in 1894. It was built to make traditional Turkish porcelains and protect them against porcelain industries of Europe.

Today, it's a museum-factory which produces both modern design items and reproductions of the Ottoman period.

Küçüksu Palace

Küçüksu Kasrı is a summer palace in Istanbul, Turkey, situated in the Küçüksu neighbourhood of Beykoz district on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus between Anadoluhisarı and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. The tiny palace was used by Ottoman sultans for short stays during country excursions and hunting.

The palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdul-Mejid, and designed by the architects Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigoğayos Balyan in the neo-baroque style. Completed in 1857, the structure took the place of a two storey timber palace built during the reign of Mahmud I by his Grand Vizier Divittar Mehmed Pasha, then successively used by Selim III and Mahmud II (1785–1839).

Unlike other palace gardens with high walls; its garden is surrounded by cast iron railings with one gate at each of the four sides. The rooms at the waterfront have two fireplaces while the others have one each, all fashioned from colourful Italian marble. The rooms boast crystal chandeliers from Bohemia, with curtains, furniture upholstery, and carpets woven in Hereke. The halls and the rooms exhibit paintings and arts objects; Charles Séchan, stage designer at Vienna State Opera, was charged for the decoration of the interior.

During the reign of Sultan Abdul-Aziz (1830–1876), more elaborate decoration was added to the façade; some of the original garden outbuildings were demolished at that time. In the beginning of the Republican era, the site was used as a state guesthouse for some years. Since a thorough restoration in 1944, the palace has been open to the public as a museum.

The palace appeared in the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough" as the mansion of oil heiress Elektra King in Baku. The palace also appeared in popular Bollywood movie Ek Tha Tiger.

Ihlamur Pavilion

Ihlamur Valley, located between Beşiktaş, Yıldız and Nişantaşı is known as an excursion area belonging to Hacı Hüseyin Ağa, superintendent of the Navy Yard, and so called as “Hacı Hüseyin Vineyards” in 18th century. Although it was transformed into a “Hasbahçe” (imperial garden) belonging to the sultan during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III , this territory, known as “Hacı Hüseyin Vineyards” until second half of 19th century, took the attention during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid I and of Sultan Selim III too. When Sultan Abdulmecid, ascended the Ottoman throne, construction of Ihlamur Pavilions were initiated on the area where Ihlamur Excursion is located. These two buildings, situated within a 24,724 square meters of woodland, bordered by high surrounding walls in patches and by cast fences at some places, have been called sometimes as “Nüzhetiye” and sometimes as “Ihlamur Pavilions” since their construction in 1849-1855.

Ceremonial Kiosk, which is the main building, has an impressive architecture at the front face with its staircase carrying Baroque characteristics which reflects the taste of the period and with its interesting and dynamic reliefs. For the interior ornaments of the pavilion consisting of an Entrance Hall and one room at each side, a decoration in compliance with the Western decoration understanding, which was preferred at Ottoman artworks during 19th century, was implemented. A particular integrity was achieved with the furniture and furnishing elements in various European styles. Maiyet Kiosk, used by sultan’s entourage and sometimes by his harem, is a less ornate building with respect to the other one. It exhibits a more traditional schema with its space arrangement which consist of corner rooms opening to a central sofa. Ceremonial Kiosk of Ihlamur Pavilions is kept open to visits as a museum-palace and Maiyet Kiosk is organized as a winter cafeteria. The garden of the pavilion, around the Maiyet Kiosk and the garden around the pool at the interior part are also used as a summer cafeteria.

Aynalıkavak Pavilion

Aynalıkavak Pavilion , known as “The Shipyard Palace”, is one of the hidden gems of architecture in the heart of Istanbul.

It was named after the mirrors gifted to the Sultan Ahmed III and the popular trees that embellish the gardens where they situated in.

A veiled jewel of Ottoman Empire located nearby the famous Blue Mosque in the Hasköy region on the northern bank facing the Golden Horn in Beyoğlu District.

The Pavilion during the Tulip Era, (Tulip Age) was a venue for hosting entertainment events which later as of today turned into being called the Museum of Instruments at its basement.

The magnificent Aynalıkavak Pavilion ingenious structure was originally constructed during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Selim III , thus during the reign of Sultan Mahmut II it was first reformed and then restoration and reformation work was carried out during the period of Sultan Abdülmecid .

Aynalıkavak pavilion beautifully depicts the work of Ottoman baroque as one of the rare illustrations of the untainted Ottoman devise not influenced by the European architecture while being topped with a magnificent dome and an elegant looking roof.

The pavilions serene gardens give a relief from the crowded scenery of the city.

The Pavilion constructed on a slope with a nice assortment of trees overlooking its garden give a sense of release as you enter the pavilion through the porch while passing through into the ample hall.

The interior of the Aynalıkavak Pavilion is cautiously preserved and splendidly decorated giving you the ambiance of Turkish Culture with its lofty walls and elevated ceilings, a divan room, tainted glasses, silk covered couches and a Sultan Selim III’s poem engraved on one of the blue tinted walls.

The Pavilion insignificant exterior has sea-side façade on three floors while land façade sits on two floors.

The place serves as a Palace-museum and Turkish Music Research Center house but still a place in the city where you can enjoy peaceful sight of nature away from the fuss of the city.

Maslak Pavilion

Maslak Pavilion is located on the Buyukdere street, between Istinye and Tarabya joints in Maslak, Istanbul. Maslak Pavilion is one of the best pavilions in Istanbul worth a visit and see. Set in a wooded park with an area of ​​170,000 square meters, the Maslak Royal Lodges consist of the main Kasr-ı Hümâyün, the Mabeyn-i Hümâyűn with its adjoining Conservatory, the Çadır Köşk and Paşalar Daire.

Commanding a magnificent view over the Bosphorus strait and set amongst green woodland, the kasırs are outstanding examples of late 19th century Ottoman architecture.

Today this building has been restored to its original state according to the evidence of contemporary documents, memoirs and photographs, and is now open to the public. The Mabeyn-i Hümâyűn, Conservatory and the small pavilion known as the Çadır Köşk have been similarly renovated and are now used as cafe. The extensive gardens have been landscaped and are now named the National Sovereignty Park.

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