Thursday, March 19, 2009
Dolmabahçe was built between 1843 and 1856 by Armenian architect Garabet Balyan and commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecid I, the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The palace design and décor reflects the increasing influence of European cultural standards on Ottoman culture. Neo-Classic, Baroque, Rococo and Ottoman styles all blend together into glittering opulence and grandeur. The 45,000 square metre palace cost a mere five million Ottoman gold pounds, the equivalent of 35 tonnes of gold— 14 tonnes of which went into the decoration alone!
Previously, the Sultan and his family lived at Topkapı Sarayı, but as Topkapı was lacking in contemporary luxury and style, Abdülmecid decided to build Dolmabahçe. When you visit both palaces, the differences are quite clear— Topkapı has exquisite examples of Iznik tiles and Ottoman carving, Dolmabahçe has gold, gold, gold. And crystal. One thing I love about visiting Topkapı is that you are free to wander the palace at your leisure, whereas the only way to see the inside of Dolmabahçe is with a guided tour. There's hardly any time for a sketcher like me to get anything down on paper. But you can take loads of pictures.
Past the famous Crystal Staircase, enormous Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers heavily hang from gilt ceilings. In fact, Dolmabahçe has the world's largest collection of crystal chandeliers which includes the largest crystal chandelier in the world at 4.5 tonnes, a gift of Queen Victoria. Sadly, I was unable to see it as the Ceremonial Hall or Muayede Salonu, was closed for a private function. It's a truly spectacular space— light streams in from windows high above, bouncing off gold and crystal, making the whole hall glow. I was looking forward to the experience of feeling small, the grandeur and the height of the ceilings are so impressive that you can't help but feel tiny. It's wonderful.
Since I couldn't take any pictures of the Muayede Salonu for you, click here to see the one on Wikipedia. The next three photos are in the Sultan's hamam, his bathroom.
Aren't the walls gorgeous? They're made of carved Egyptian alabaster. The fabulous ceiling pictured above was functional as well as beautiful, the small circular windows poured light into the hamam, but also allowed for privacy.
Harem. The word conjures up all sorts of images, but what the harem was, was in fact where the Sultan's family lived. The harem is connected to the main palace by a long hall that was carefully guarded to ensure that no man entered except the Sultan— and the eunuch servants. The following photos were taken in the harem.
Our guide told us that up to 300 women lived here at a time, this included the Queen Mother, the wives and favourites of the Sultan, his concubines, children and maids. The building seems to be divided into separate apartments for the women that consist of a little bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. There are beautiful and showy main meeting and eating halls, and a very humble little kindergarten.
I like the harem— it feels more personal than the rest of the palace. You can really imagine people living here, eating breakfast, playing cards, reading stories to their children.
This fairly modest room pictured above, is the Sultan's bedroom. I love the little footstool!
I will eventually have to write a post all about the fascinating man that was Atatürk. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was Turkey's first president, the founder of modern Turkey. The two pictures above were taken in rooms he personally used after abolishing the Caliphate. Ownership of Dolmabahçe was transferred to the new Republic in 1924, when Atatürk was in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople until it was renamed in 1930), he stayed here in the palace and continued to work on transforming his new country. Among so many of the important changes that he made, he sought to integrate women into society (from which the Ottomans kept women quite separate), established secularism and introduced an entirely new alphabet, creating the Turkish language.
The first picture is of his desk in the corner of the room, and the second, of his deathbed, with the Turkish flag laid upon it in his honour. Atatürk passed away on November 1oth of 1938 after battling a long illness. After his death, the palace was turned into a museum. The clock in his room remains at 9:05, the time he died.
From Dolmabahçe's waterfront gate, you can see Topkapı Palace at the point where the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus meet. When the weather is warmer— it actually started snowing this morning— I'd like to spend an entire day in the gardens sketching the architecture and tourists. I wonder if I can get one of the resident peacocks to eat out of my hand.