Dolmabahce Palace, the architectural treasure of the sultans

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

Dolmabahce Palace is the largest and most luxurious residence in Turkey: 15,000 square meters, 285 rooms, without counting baths, halls and annexes. In the palace the oriental opulence of the six sultans who have lived here (past rulers of the Ottoman Empire) meets Western sophistication. The palace looks more like an imperial residence of French or Austria transported in the world of 1001 nights. Full tour begins through the monumental gate, situated near Besiktas stadium, and ends on the shores of Bosphorus.

The highlight of a visit to Dolmabahce is Muayede Hall, a breathtaking interior. It’s a room covered by a dome high enough to accommodate a 12 stores building. The dome, 25 meters in diameter and 36 m high hangs a four and a half tons crystal chandelier produced in England in the nineteenth century. It was originally lit with gas, but was modified to use over six hundred bulbs.
The feeling of grandeur of the hall, that opens to a terrace overlooking the sea, is given by the 56 sculpted columns and by the three dimensional painting that creates an optical illusion of an never ending row of columns, arches and fake windows.

Important events for the history of Turkey took place in the 2000 sq meters of Muayede Hall. On Ramadan, sultan’s throne was brought here from Topkapi Palace, and he received the honors of foreign ambassadors. In this hall the sultan Abdulmecid received Franz Joseph and Murad the 5th was crowned. The first parliament of the Ottoman Empire held its meeting under this dome in 1877, and after the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk held his first speech here as president. The speech was printed and framed on the walls of this hall. Finally, when Ataturk passed away, his body was exposed in the Muayede Hall and admirers from allover the country came to pay homage to this great reformer.

Another impressive element reminding the oriental opulence is the staircase with crystal railings that connects the main entrance with the first floor. The Baroque staircase has a Baccarat chandelier above, made in the French city.
As the empire stretched to most exotic places on three continents, there are numerous sculptures depicting hunting scenes with lions and other animals. A unique floor lamp is made out of a full elephant ivory tusk decorated with silver, a gift from Ahmet Ratib Pasa, the governor of Saudi Arabia province, crafted in London.
Some of the treasures of the sultans is exposed in a hall behind bulletproof glass. You can see gold vessels, silvery, and other objects made of platinum, porcelain, crystal and turquoise. These are just a small part of the 7000 patrimony objects found in Dolmabahce Palace.

Caliph Abdulmecid transformed one of the rooms in a library. Here can be found Arab, Turkish, French, German or English books and a self portrait made by the talented Caliph.
The palace, built between 1843 and 1856 by the 31st Ottoman sultan, enters us in the court life of this great empire. A very important hall is the prayer hall (Mescid), decorated with arabesque and Qur’an verses painted by Abdulmecid himself. From the ceiling hangs an Italian Murano chandelier, and the niche towards Mecca, from which Qur’an verses are read (the equivalent of a Christian altar) has on a shelf water from the well near the Kaaba stone from Mecca, which Muslims encircle during annual pilgrimage.

Ambassadors’ Hall (Sufera Hall) was used not only for receptions, but also for studies and debates of the linguistic commission that prepared the transition from the Arab alphabet to the European one, with only a few particular letters. As the salon had a representational function, the decorations are abundant and valuable. The ceiling is full of gypsum stucco plated with gold and the four fireplaces are framed in European porcelain with handcrafted crystal.

In Dolmabahce there are also two private apartments of the sultan and his court. With a splendid parquet sultan’s apartment was used for day to day activity, prayers and suppers during Ramadan. Theologians from allover the empire were invited to hold lectures on topics chosen by the Sheikulislam (the Muslim equivalent of a patriarch), meant to reveal to the sultan the mysteries of Qur’an.
Sultan’s bath (Hamam) comprised of three communicating rooms with Bohemia crystal floor lamps. The second room was concealed by a crimson curtain with sultan Abdulmecid’s monogram, which forbade entrance to this private area. The walls of the bathroom are covered in alabaster, an Egyptian marble, and the floor is of Marmara marble. The ceiling maintains the traditional perforations of a Turkish bath, while the heating is made through the floor with an ingenuous system.

Sultan’s room inside the Harem is also named the Crimson Salon, for its wallpaper and tapestry in red and purple. Here the sultan met his wives and children and some important members of his dynasty. The color of the fabric that covers the wainscot was personally chosen by the sultan Abdulmecid. The decorations ow much to the neo-classic and rococo. In the middle of the room there is a table of ebony, covered in a layer of embossed porcelain. The fireplace is a combination of Baroque and imperial style.
Sultan’s harem was made up of 20-25 women, sultan’s favorite having a special luxurious room. Here we can admire a special furniture, crafted in a local technique, that supposed stitching up millimetrical pieces of wood of various essences in a pattern that resembles the technique of mosaic.

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