Appearances. We all try to keep them. Image is everything.
I remember a three month stint in my 9th grade year where my poor, naturally curly and unruly hair had to suffer as I straightened it (sucked the moisture from every follicle like a Capri Sun packet, deadening it against own chemical makeup to make it shiny) daily.
Pressing my tresses in between two burning hot ceramic plates until my hair actually sizzled (note: if you do it right, it’s not actually supposed to do that, but who knew?) did get me the attention of a tall and cute basketball player. But after he realized that the bubbling vat of vitriol nitwit nonsense that usually comes out of my mouth takes years to be able to decipher and that he wouldn’t get anywhere with me, he gave up and I was back to square one. I gave up on grand gestures such as ironing the crap out of my hair and concentrated on more subtle ways of keeping up my image as a poised, intelligent, tactful, and graceful woman — but it turns out that boiling gibberish balderdash (also known as the TRUTH. America!) cannot be held back for very long and that stuffing your face with tangerines and Cheese-Its whenever you’re asked a personal question can’t work all the time.
Nowadays, it’s more like whatever-comes-out damage control and please-be-amused-by-my-antics wishful thinking.
But you’re still here, so you’re clearly unemployed.
It turns out that in the 1800’s the Ottomans had pretty much the same idea.
In 1856, the Dolmabahçe Palace or Dolmabahçe Sarayı was completed as an eleventh-hour effort to save the Ottoman Empire. With the Ottoman Empire hailed as the “Sick Man of Europe” and tired of getting overlooked by hunky track stars, Sultan Abdülmecid I built the palace with the best of the best to rejuvenate the empire.
Our tiny Turkish tour guide used “power” to describe the hopes behind building the palace. The place was designed by one Karabet Balyan, a famous Armenian architect and chief architect for Sultan Abdulmecit. He used Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles as inspiration to give the traditional Ottoman architecture style a new, innovative, powerful looking palace. I took a class and learned what “Rococo” means a few semesters ago…A vague mental note of a subtly risque painting called “The Swing” comes to mind but if none of that old art jargon means anything to you…
The palace is pretty dope.
From the outside, if you don’t have time for a tour, it’s a fantastic deal. The outside architecture is so ravishing and intricate, it makes 50 Cent’s back tattoo look like an ink blot.
How I got there: We walked about 30 minutes from Ortaköy to Beşiktaş (the Bosphorus on my left). The palace is so huge, that you start seeing the palace (below) about 15 minutes before you arrive at the front gates. It’s maybe 10 minutes to walk from the Kabataş tram stop walking along the Bosphorus (to the right). There will be the Dolmabache Mosque and the clock tower and then you enter into the grounds.
At the main entrance, you’ll be scanned along with your bags and then you’re free to cross through the pretty gardens. It happened to be a slightly rainy and cold day (it’s January after all) but it was still serene and I got to enjoy the beauty without hordes of tourists. So, naturally I giggled like a seventh grader and photographed this to represent the gardens:
Admissions: Open to visitors except Mondays and Thursdays daily between 9 and 4PM, the grounds themselves are free; however, the only way to see the interior is by a guided tour. The main palace tour is 30TL, the Harem 20, and both for 40. Anatolian Posh Spice was our guide who had us in and out in about 45 minutes of the main palace and the Sultan’s family’s private housing in about 30 minutes. Everywhere inside is off limits to photography and they ask you to cover your shoes with little pink plastic shower caps.
Truth be told, the main palace is worth seeing in Istanbul. If you do your homework, you get a great little history lesson. Emphasis on the homework bit, the tour itself was a bit dry but you really do get a sense of why this building is so important to Turkey. You feel proud of Turkey.
The building of the palace was supposed to be a symbol of strength and prosperity even though the empire was failing. The palace was the administrative center for the Ottoman Empire for the last 6 Ottoman sultans but it ironically cost 35 tons of gold and bankrupted the empire. They had to borrow to finish. But when the royal family was expelled from Turkey, the palace and the country became something different. It stopped straightening its hair to impress boys.
The palace’s importance to the Turks lies in that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, chose to spend his last days here. The surname “Atatürk” means, “father of the Turks” and is now off-limits to anyone else. Revered and honored 70 years after his death, the man completely revolutionized the nation, to put it humbly. His bedroom is preserved as it was when he died there. When he died at 9:05AM on a November morning in 1938 all of the clocks in the palace were stopped. His room’s clock still reads 9:05. What he means to the Turks I can’t adequately explain, but hopefully I’ll be able to do some more learning soon.
Apart from being historically significant, the place is a marvel to look at. The place was so expertly crafted and decorated. It’s a remarkable piece of art.
The Muayede Grand Hall houses the world’s largest, at 4.5 tons, crystal chandelier that was sent as a gift by Queen Victoria. The room itself was used for important state and religious ceremonies.
(Above) One of the 68 toilets in the palace. It is similar to a few WC’s (water closets) around Istanbul. It was a humbling reminder of something I read once by Rick Steves: that a good chunk of the world doesn’t have the privilege to sit on a throne for their most basic needs.
On THAT note!
Food: In the cafe you can, of course, get a bottle of water, sweets, a snack, and some tea, but their fruit tarts seemed a bit pricey to me. Beşiktaş’ restaurants are just across the street and I found equally scrumptious and very reasonably priced fruit tarts there.
Should you go: Absolutely. Short on time and short on TL, skip the Harem. If you have the energy, it’s worth the extra ten to see how queens lived, but it’s nothing on the grandeur of the main palace.
It’s not a shame that photography is banned inside the palace (I got my interior shots from flickr.com from people who already didn’t follow the rules, thank you very much). When you step away from the lens, because the whole building you’re in is a masterpiece, you get to reflect and be grateful that you have some place that you can call home and to be this proud of, too.