In order to visit the Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı) you must take one or both of the guided tours. The Selamlık tour takes you through the quarters reserved for men, while the Harem tour shows you the apartments of the sultan’s family.
Only a limited amount of people are allowed into each section per day, so make sure to check out the opening hours. If you only want to go on one tour, visit the Selamlık.
The entrance of the palace is located close to the clock tower, which was only added in 1895. You’ll find the ticket sales booth a bit further at the left. If you have some time to spare, you may want to wait for the change of the guard, which takes place every hour in summertime.
Once you entered the complex, enjoy the well-maintained gardens surrounding the palace as well as the magnificent Bosphorus views. Just before entering the palace itself, please note the working flower clock and beautiful Imperial Gate at the left. Once used by the sultan and his ministers, it’s every Tuesday afternoon the stage for a performance of the Mehter or Janissary Band.
Just outside the palace, a small sign will tell you when the next tour starts, Selamlık or Harem and whether it’s in Turkish or English. Normally these guided tours start every 25 minutes, but in busy periods they may raise the frequency. The tour itself progresses through the palace at a pretty high pace. Make sure you stay close to the guide if you want to hear what he or she has to say.
The tour starts in the main entrance (medhal) hall where you’ll get some general instructions. Please notice the English chandelier with its sixty arms and the two large Turkish porcelain vases. The guide will then lead you through the secretariat’s room, the entrance hall and the exhibit hall, with all various precious gold, silver, porcelain and crystal items on display. But it’s after passing the palace’s mosque (mescit) and the resting room that things really start to get interesting.
You take the staircase, referred to as the crystal staircase because of its balustrade in Baccarat crystal, to the palace’s second floor. Prepare for an eye-popping experience when you enter the ambassador (süfera) hall, undoubtedly one of the most important rooms in the palace which used to host formal receptions and meetings. I still don’t know what was more impressive: the 88 square meter Iranian Tebriz carpet, the pair of bearskins (one a gift from the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, the other ordered to preserve symmetry), the silver clock from Egypt providing the correct time, date, air pressure and temperature, or the 2000 kg chandelier with matching crystal three meter high mirrors.
Impressed? Do try to keep up while the tour continues, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. You run out of superlatives while passing rooms like the privy chamber, offering some of the most beautiful parquet in the entire palace. Or the study room with its Steinway piano dating back to 1911. Not to mention the magnificent hamam and all the portraits and paintings you see along the way. (see the Dolmabahçe Palace video)
But all this is a mere prelude to the grand finale: the muyade hall. It covers approximately 2.000 square meters, is 36 meters high and has a dome with a diameter of 25 meters. The Hereke carpet on the floor is 124 m². But the masterpiece is without a doubt the English chandelier, built in 1853, holding 664 bulbs and weighing 4,5 tons. According to the guide, it’s still the world’s largest chandelier. (see picture gallery of Dolmabahçe Palace)
The room, capable of holding 2500 guests, was used to host all state ceremonies and receptions. It was also in this room that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk first spoke to the people of Istanbul as the President of the Turkish Republic. Following his death on November 10, 1938, Atatürk’s body was placed in a casket and remained in this room from 16 to 18 November. The room was opened for the public to express their condolences.
Although it doesn’t have the same wow-factor as the Selamlık, the Harem is still worth touring. The apartments of the sultan and his family are, compared to the rest of the rooms in the Dolmabahçe Palace, less spacious.
The Harem consists of a series of salons, galleries and hamams and a post-circumcision resting hall. Especially noteworthy are the suite of the Valide Sultan (the sultan’s mother), the blue and pink salons, the bedroom of Sultan Abdül Aziz with the custom made bed to carry the 150 kg amateur wrestler, as well as the study and bedroom used by Atatürk.