Dolambahce Palace dominates the landscape whenever you sail on the Bosphorus. We decided to spend our final morning in Istanbul visiting this enormous edifice, since it was a short walk away from where we are docked. At first it felt like we had made a big mistake. We stood in line to get our bags searched. Then we stood in another line about half an hour to buy entrance tickets. There was only one ticket window open and the line grew rapidly behind us. Little did we realize that after we bought the tickets and went inside we would stand in another line for half an hour before we could go inside.
But it was more than worth it!
The sultans who ruled Turkey lived in Topkapi Palace for six centuries, but as the Ottomans had more and more contact with Europe they wanted a palace that could compete with Versailles or Schönnbrun. Construction on Dolambahce was begun in 1843 on land reclaimed from a small bay on the Bosphorus. Thirteen years later this enormous complex was finished. Half the building was for official government business. As the Ottoman Empire declined, the six sultans who lived there added more and more lavish decorations and precious items in an effort to impress. The one ton chandelier in the reception hall boasted 10,000 crystals and 750 light bulbs. The handmade carpet in another meeting room was 90 square yards - that’s a lot of handmade knots. The building had central heat of a sort. Fire places below sent heat up chimneys that were disguised as marble pillars. The ceilings were almost forty feet high. The doorways built to this scale are so huge, they are a challenge to open.
The rest of the palace was private living area and was connected by a hallway over 150 yards long. Of course, the sultan’s apartment continued in the Rococo style, but the apartments where his wives, concubines and children lived were somewhat more reasonable. Although the women were never allowed to attend official meetings, a second floor hallway with lattice windows allowed them to hear but not be seen. The private quarters were guarded by eunuchs and when the male children reached the age of 12, they had to live elsewhere. Those sultans kept an eye on their ladies...
In 1923 Ataturk founded a republic in Turkey and the sultan had to move out and lived out his years in France and Ataturk moved in. It wasn’t because he had aspirations of grandeur, but felt that this was the traditional place where official government business should be conducted and this continues to be the case sometimes. President Obama visited Dolambahce recently and for him they turned on all the lights.
Despite the building’s size, it has been determined after the earth quakes Turkey suffers regularly that the floors are only strong enough to hold 750 people at a time. This helped us to understand why it took so long to get inside the palace. The slow pace was planned, not just a matter of inefficiency. When we finished the tour and went outside, the lines had grown to rival anything we have seen on a major holiday at Disneyland. We felt lucky that we had gotten in at all but wish we would have been allowed to take photos. Words are inadequate to convey the over the top grandeur of the place.