Out of all the sights in Istanbul, the most intriguing one is the grand and impressive Dolmabahçe Palace (Turkish Dolmabahçe Sarayı,) located in the Beşiktaş district, on the European side of the Bosphorus strait, which served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922, apart from a 22-year interval (1887–1909) in which Yıldız Palace was used.
The construction of Dolmabahçe Palace was ordered by the 31st sultan of the Empire, Abdülmecid I, and built between the years 1843 and 1856. Hacı Said Ağa was responsible for the construction work, while the project was made by architects Garabet Balyan, his son Nigoğayos Balyan and Evanis Kalfa. The construction cost five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, 35 tonnes of gold, the equivalent of $1,481,424,175 in today's (2013) values. Fourteen tonnes of gold in the form of gold leaf were used to gild the ceilings of the 45,000 square metre monoblock palace, which stands on an area of 110,000 m².
The design contains eclectic elements from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with traditional Ottoman architecture to create a new synthesis. The palace layout and décor reflect the increasing influence of European styles and standards on Ottoman culture and art during the Tanzimat reformation period. Functionally, on the other hand, it retains elements of traditional Ottoman palace life, and also features of traditional Turkish homes. It is the largest palace in Turkey, considering that the area of the monoblock building is 45,000 m². Previously, the sultan and his family had lived at Topkapı Palace, but as Topkapı was lacking in up-to-date luxury and style, Abdülmecid decided to build Dolmabahçe Palace near the site of the former Beşiktaş Palace, which was demolished. Whereas Topkapı has exquisite examples of Iznik tiles and Ottoman carving, the Dolmabahçe palace contains much gold and crystal. Tourists are free to wander around Topkapı at their leisure, while the only way to see the interior of Dolmabahçe is on a guided tour.
Dolmabahçe Palace was home to six sultans from 1856, when it was first inhabited, up to the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924. The last royal person to live there was Caliph Abdülmecid Efendi. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic in Ankara, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transferred all government functions to the youthful capital but on his visits to Istanbul Atatürk only used a small room at Dolmabahçe Palace as his own. He also used the palace as a presidential residence during summers. Atatürk spent the last days of his life in this palace, where he died on 10 November 1938.
The palace boasts the world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier in the Ceremonial Hall (Muayede Salonu). The chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria, has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tonnes. Dolmabahçe has the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world, and one of the great staircases has balusters of Baccarat crystal.
The site of Dolmabahçe was originally a bay on the Bosphorus which was reclaimed gradually during the 18th century to become an imperial garden, much appreciated by the Ottoman sultans. The name Dolmabahçe, filled garden, comes from this garden (dolma means "filled" and bahçe means "garden"). Various summer palaces were built here during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Dolmabahçe Palace is open daily, except on Mondays and Thursdays, from 9 am to 4 pm. As the daily visitor quota to the palace is limited to 3.000 people, the ticket office may be closed earlier if the daily ticket quota is full. Entrance to the official part of the palace (Selamlık) costs 30 TL and to the private living quarters (Harem) 20 TL, a common ticket to both is also available for 40 TL.