The Ottoman Empire’s first palace in Constantinople was the Eski Saray (Old Palace); also known as Saray-ı Atîk-i Âmire (Old Imperial Palace). Built by Mehmed II (the Conqueror) following the conquest of Constantinople, the palace was used for a period of time, but after Topkapı Palace (Saray-ı Cedîd-i Âmire - New Imperial Palace) was built, it lost its administrative importance and was assigned to the Harem members’ use. Topkapı Palace was used as the administrative center of the empire from the 15th century until the first quarter of the 19th century. Although the summer palaces built in Beşiktaş and Kağıthane districts were used from time to time during this period, Topkapı Palace kept its administrative function and was not abandoned completely.
Along with the reformation efforts that Mahmud II started in the state and palace organizations and also in public life in 1826, the Ottoman palace, too, needed new architectural solutions. The palace gates were now open to foreign state representatives, and the Ottoman palace was being compared to foreign state palaces. So Mahmud II substantially renovated Besiktas Palace along with Çırağan Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace, that was built from 1830 onwards. During the first quarter of the 19th century, new applications were realized one after another in the organization and protocol of the palace at the same time with using the palaces at the Bosphorus. Units or positions in the classical era palace organization were either completely replaced with new ones or they were restructured.
Sultan Abdulmecid, who became sultan after Mahmud II (1839), used Çırağan Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace, which were built during his father’s reign, and Beşiktas Palace, which had been used for a long time as the administrative center; he also had Mecidiye Kiosk, which was named after him, built at Topkapı Palace (1858). However, he must have felt that something was missing, so in 1843 Beşiktaş Sahilsarayı (Besiktas Waterfront Palace) was ordered to be demolished and a new palace to be built in accordance with the needs of the era. Long afterwards, starting with the last years of Sultan Abdulaziz and more in the period of Abdulhamid II, the new Besiktas Palace, which was going to be called Dolmabahçe Saray-ı Hümayunu (Dolmabahçe Imperial Palace), was built almost like a “monument of the Tanzimat” in conformity with the symbols and values of the innovation process.
Sections of Dolmabahçe Palace: Architectural and Administrative Structuring
Dolmabahçe Palace was built on an area of 15,000 m2 as a three-storey building, including the basement. The total area of the palace grounds, including the adjacent buildings and gardens, is around 110,000 m2. Having 285 rooms, 43 halls and 6 hamams, Dolmabahçe Palace was opened on June 7, 1856. The main building consists of three parts, namely the Imperial Mabeyn (State Apartments), Divan Yeri (Council Hall) (i.e. Muayede Salonu - Ceremonial Hall) and the Imperial Harem.
The year 1853 (1269 in the Islamic calendar) written on the tughra (sultan’s signature) over the monumental entrance of the Mabeyn section of Dolmabahçe Palace demonstrates the year in which the construction of this section was completed. High-ranking Ottoman and foreign state officials, in other words high level dignitaries, would meet the governing elite of the Ottoman Empire for the first time in the Imperial Mabeyn. Therefore, the Mabeyn section of Dolmabahçe Palace has lavishly splendid architecture, decoration and furnishing. Similar to Topkapı Palace, this section of the palace includes the state offices and rooms, where the sultan accepted ambassadors, grand viziers and other visitors; where he was entertained and where he rested. The correspondence of the era shows the full name of the section as Mâbeyn-i Hümayûn-ı Cenâb-ı Mülûkâne (His Majesty’s Imperial Mabeyn).
Each floor of the Imperial Mabeyn Section of Dolmabahçe Palace had a different function and feature; the functional differences among the floors were reflected in the decoration and architecture. On the basement floor (ground floor) there are the areas, which used to belong to the attendants who were named as Hademe-i Mâbeyn-i Hümayun or Gedikât-ı Mâbeyn-i Hümayun (Servants of the Imperial Mabeyn) and who attended the sultan’s private services. The areas which were reserved for the staff, such as the director and the vice director of the Imperial Mabeyn, the chief tailor, the chief steward, the chief barber, the chief pitcher-holder, the chief birdman, the clerk of the sultan’s personal funds, the official organizing the sultan’s out-of-palace rides, the chief guard and their entourages were situated on the basement floor. The names of the Mabeyn attendants were not mentioned in the state annuals, except for the chief tailor.
With its monumental entrance, splendid decorations and impressive architecture, the middle floor of the Imperial Mabeyn manifests itself as the top-level representation center of the Ottoman Empire. At the entrance of the middle floor, on the right-hand side, there is the Ambassadors Chamber and on the left-hand side, the Vizier Chamber, which shows that the phenomena of “Babıali” (Sublime Porte) and diplomacy, which were quite important for the Ottoman Empire’s domestic and foreign policy during the 19th century, were represented in the palace with important positions, as well. The middle floor begins with the Medhal (Main Entrance) Hall; the high-ranking Ottoman and foreign state officials used this hall for entering and leaving the palace, and the reception and meeting rooms were also here. The Ambassadors Chamber faces the sea; the ambassadors, who were going to be admitted to the sultan’s presence would wait here for a while and if they were to meet Ottoman state officials, they would do so here. The Vizier Chamber, which is located on the left side of the hall’s entrance, was the room where the Sublime Porte was represented in the palace. The Grand Vizier and the members of the cabinet would rest and dine here before and after they were admitted to the sultan’s presence; and in states of emergency, the meetings of the committee of representatives would take place in the Vizier Chamber at the palace.
The rooms and halls on the middle floor of Dolmabahçe Palace, which are flanked with the corridors that extend from the Medhal (Main Entrance) Hall on the side of both sea and land constituted the Yazı Dairesi, the rooms allocated to the clerks who were responsible for the palace correspondence. Entered by two special doors on either side of the richly-decorated protocol stairs, the Yazı Dairesi gives the impression that the palace was not a busy bureaucratic center. The Sublime Porte carried the greater workload than the palace during the Tanzimat Era; however, it is clear that the palace was the ultimate decision center.
Between the Imperial Mabeyn and the Imperial Harem of Dolmabahçe Palace, there is the Ceremonial Hall. It is also known as the Divan Yeri (Council Hall). The Ceremonial Hall was approximately 2,000 m2 with a height of 36 meters. There are 4 balconies in the hall. Two of the balconies were for enjoying the sight from the palace and were reserved for members of embassies and various foreign guests (muteberân-ı ecnebiye - esteemed foreigners). The balcony under which the sultan’s throne was placed would be left empty; the other balcony was allocated to the Muzıka-i Hümayun (Imperial Orchestra). On ceremonial days, open buffets would be set on the balconies, which were reserved for guests who would be very well hosted.
The first dinner given in the Ceremonial Hall was also the first for Dolmabahçe Palace. Shortly after the inauguration of the palace on June 7, 1856, the dinner was given on July 17, 1856 and was attended by the command echelon of the allied states which participated in the Crimean War alongside the Ottoman Empire.
Despite the presence of the Ceremonial Hall, the ceremonies of religious festivals during Sultan Abdulmecid’s reign were not performed here but in their traditional location in the second courtyard of Topkapı Palace. For the first seven years of Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign, ceremonies were performed at Topkapı Palace, too. The first ceremony at Dolmabahçe Palace was performed in 1868. From this date, all the ceremonies were to be performed at Dolmabahçe Palace with only a few exceptions. Although Sultan Abdulhamid spent almost 32 years of his 33-year-long reign at Yıldız Palace, he performed all the religious festival ceremonies, again with a few exceptions, at the Ceremonial Hall in Dolmabahçe Palace. This Ceremonial Hall witnessed a very important event not just for Dolmabahçe Palace but also for the history of Turkish democracy. Abdulhamid II expedited the works regarding the Kanun-i Esasi (“basic law” - Ottoman constitution of 1876) from August 31, 1876 onwards when he ascended the throne; he supervised this process from Dolmabahçe Palace. The proclamation of the I. Meşrutiyet (First Constitutional Era) was approved at Dolmabahçe Palace and the opening meeting of the Meclisi Mebusan (Chamber of Deputies) also took place at the magnificent Ceremonial Hall of Dolmabahçe Palace on March 19, 1877. The earthquake during the congratulatory ceremony for the Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) on March 31, 1901 and the resulting falling of some crystals from the grand chandelier caused a moment of terror but this event also showed the structural soundness of the building. The Ceremonial Hall also had the honor of hosting the funeral ceremony of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of the Republic of Turkey.
The third and final section inside Dolmabahçe Palace’s main building belonged to the Imperial Harem. The Imperial Harem consists of three separate parts: the Apartments of the Sultan, the Apartments of the Queen Mother and the Apartments of the Kadınefendiler (the official wives of the sultan).
The Apartments of the Sultan were built facing the sea. Like all the other apartments in the Harem, the Apartments of the Sultan are also three-storied; beside these floors, there are also musandıra floors (attics). The Harem occupies the top floor of the Apartments of the Sultan and was reserved for the personal space of the sultan himself. The most riveting place on the top floor is the Hünkar Sofası (Imperial Hall), the current name of which is Mavi Salon (Blue Hall). This magnificent hall would be used for the Harem celebrations of religious holidays twice a year. Starting with Sultan Abdulmecid, all the sultans who lived in this palace would use this hall, as reserved for for the dynasty and Harem, after state ceremonies for the celebration of religious holidays... Another significance of the Imperial Hall is that it used to be the symbol of the Imperial Harem’s participation in the state protocol, albeit to a limited extent. The wives of foreign presidents or representatives visiting the Ottoman Empire would be hosted here by the Queen Mother or the kadınefendiler (the official wives of the sultan).
The apartments adjacent to the Apartments of the Sultan belonged to the Queen Mother. Like the Apartments of the Sultan, these apartments were also built facing the sea. They were designed as three-storey, too. On the top floor, there are rooms such as bedrooms, guest rooms and Divanhane. The middle and ground floors belonged to the employed female servants and masters.
Dolmabahçe Palace during the Republic Period
After the abolition of the caliphate ( March 3, 1924), Dolmabahçe Palace started to be operated by the Directorate of National Palaces, which was organized under the Ministry of Finance. Ghazi (war veteran) Mustafa Kemal Atatürk visited Istanbul after eight years, on July 1, 1927, for the first time in the capacity of President. Atatürk chose Dolmabahçe Palace as Istanbul’s administrative center. As soon as he arrived in Istanbul, with a crowded entourage, went to Dolmabahçe Palace and addressed the people for the first time in Istanbul, from the Ceremonial Hall, the most splendid section of the palace. Atatürk spent almost 4 years in Istanbul from 1927 until 1938, when he passed away at this very palace which he used as an administrative center (Riyâset-i Cumhur Makamı - Office of the Presidency of the Public).
As well as using it for official visits and as a center for governing the country, Atatürk carried out the Republic’s most important studies in the fields of language and history from Dolmabahçe Palace. In the summer of 1928 when he went to Istanbul for the second time, Dolmabahçe Palace witnessed the first and highly important endeavors for the transition from the Perso/Arabic-based Ottoman alphabet to the Latin-based Turkish alphabet. On August 11, 1928, upon Ataturk’s request, the Minister of Education Mustafa Necati Bey and other members of the parliament were invited to Dolmabahçe Palace. A seminar on the new alphabet was given to the invited guests at the Ambassador’s Hall by İbrahim Necmi Dilmen. Following this first applied lecture on the new Turkish letters at Dolmabahçe Palace, three more seminars on the same topic were held again at the Ambassador’s Hall on the August 25, 27 and 29, 1928. At the last meeting on August 29, 1928, a consensus was reached on abandoning the Perso/Arabic-based alphabet and adopting the new Turkish alphabet, which was Latin-based.
Atatürk passed away in the 71st room of Dolmabahçe Palace on November 10, 1938. His body was put in a catafalque and placed in the land bound side of the Ceremonial Hall. On November 16-18, the Turkish nation marched before their leader’s body in the catafalque and paid him their final respects. After his funeral prayer was performed by Şerafettin Yaltkaya at the Ceremonial Hall on November 19, 1938, his body was taken to Ankara.
A SORROWFUL WITNESSING OF THE APARTMENTS OF THE SULTAN (BLUE HALL)
The Apartments of the Sultan at Dolmabahçe Palace still carry the painful memories of the incident when Sultan Abdulaziz was dethroned. In the morning of the coup, Sultan Abdulaziz was sleeping in his summer bedroom (Room 66), located on the land bound side of the Blue Hall. His mother Pertevniyal, the Queen Mother, was awakened from her sleep with the cannonballs, that were fired while she was sleeping in her bedroom (Room 114); she was told that there was a fire. However, the Queen Mother looked from the window and said, “This is not a fire. They have dethroned my lion. Murad Efendi has been enthroned. al-Hukmu Lillah (It is God’s judgment). God orders so,” and she woke up her son. When Sultan Abdulaziz asked what had happened, the Queen Mother said, “What could happen; it must be God’s will.” The Sultan replied, “Mother, who did this to me? Have they turned me into Sultan Selim, what have I done to anyone? Avni Pasha did this. And not just him, he is with Mehmed Rushdi Pasha and Ahmed Pasha in this.” The Queen Mother said, “Please wait, and let us understand,” and the Sultan responded, “Why would I wait, mother! I have dreamt of this disaster thirty, forty times. I will never accept the state again; it is not acceptable to me anymore. al-Hukmu Lillah . God’s will is so.”
During this conversation between the sultan and his mother, the chief chamberlain Hafez Mehmed Bey came into their presence to announce the dethronement. He recounts his memories from that day as follows:
I went into Sultan Abdulaziz’s bedroom and stood before his presence. The Sultan was pacing the room moodily and angrily. When he saw me, he stopped and asked “Hafez Bey, what is this bizarre incident?” I could not answer; it was like my tongue was tied. I managed to say “Your Majesty, it is but an unthinkable incident.” The Sultan said “Has enthronement taken place?” And then I informed him that he was dethroned by praying “May God give you Your Majesty a long life.” It was clear from His Majesty’s face that he was very upset. He searched into my eyes and asked with a shaking and low voice: “Has Murad Efendi become sultan?” I answered yes. Then His Majesty reflected for a while and said to himself “Strange!” and then added “I knew this would happen.” After thinking for a little more, he asked “What are we going to do?” I submitted the pashas’ notice; upon this he said “The soldiers I have armed, the navy I have reorganized and improved have blockaded me now; how can I leave in this situation! But I have to; now that Murad Efendi will come. If we wait more, we will not be able to leave the palace because of the crowd. It is appropriate to leave in due time.” However, when the Sultan started to worry that he might be assassinated on the road, the situation was reported to Redif Pasha, who was waiting at Dolmabahçe Police Station and all kinds of assurances were made. After the preparations, they went to the Sultan, who had not left his bedroom. At that time, the Chief Clerk Atıf Bey was with him, too. Atıf Bey started to reprimand the vice treasurer chamberlains, who were with them in the room at the time, by saying “Damn you, you all knew and none of you warned us, you all conspired together!” Thereupon, Sultan Abdulaziz said to his Treasurer “Enough! Now is not the time to talk about this anymore. Bring me my sack coat. Where are Yusuf and Mahmud? Call them!” He put the blade, which previously belonged to Sultan Selim and which Sultan Abdulaziz kept in his bedroom at all times under his sack coat, and left his room gloomily and depressed. He went to the docks by passing through the crying aghas and people in the court; and was taken to the Topkapı Palace by sea.
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