As the first European-style palace built during the Ottoman period, the Dolmabahçe Palace boasts a neoclassical exterior and a decadently luxurious interior. More rather than less was certainly the philosophy of Sultan Abdül Mecit I (reigned 1839–1861), who decided to move his imperial court from Topkapı to a lavish new palace on the shores of the Bosphorus. For the site he chose the dolma bahçe (literally “filled-in garden”) where his predecessors, Sultans Ahmet I and Osman II, had filled in a little cove in order to create a royal park complete with wooden pleasure kiosks and pavilions. The Sultan commissioned imperial architects Nikoğos and Garabed Balyan to construct an Ottoman-European palace that would impress everyone who visited. Traditional Ottoman palace architecture was eschewed; there are no pavilions here, and the palace turns its back to the splendid view rather than celebrating it. The designer of the Paris Opera was brought in to do the interiors, which perhaps explains their exaggerated theatricality. Construction was finally completed in 1854, and the Sultan and his family moved in two years later. Such an extravagant project precipitated the empire’s bankruptcy and signaled the beginning of the end for dynasty. During the early years of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk used the palace as his Istanbul base, and he died here on November 10, 1938.
Be sure to visit the palace’s ceremonial suites, harem, and the apartments of the crown prince that currently houses the National Palaces Painting Museum. The palace is set in well-tended gardens and is entered via its ornate imperial gate.