Being one of Turkey’s largest cities, Istanbul is a city located on both sides of the Bosphorus, straddling two continents. A famous city break, and home to over 15 million people, Istanbul offers a skyline full of golden mosaics, spires, mosque domes, and medieval architecture.
What was once a place where Ottoman sultans lived, with them being inherited by the Turkish people in 1924 by law. In time, these palaces were restored and opened to the public. With art and architecture left behind, it has allowed these breathtaking places to be preserved so you can feel like you’ve taken a step back in time when you visit.
Easily accessible from the Sultanahmet district, Topkapi Palace is one of the wealthiest museums in the world. With an extensive collection of turban crests, swords and thrones, as well as jewels including emeralds and rubies. At one stage, it was the Ottoman sultans’ residency and the famous Harem’s home where the wives of the sultans lived. Since it became a museum in 1924, only select areas are open to the public, but many old relics, including manuscript and armour, are proudly displayed.
One of Turkey’s largest palaces, Dolmabahce Palace, is designed with European influence and made using white marble. It replaced the administrative centre for the empire while being the home for the last six sultans. Visitors can marvel at the marble staircases, Lyon silk, as well as the 60 crystal candelabras and giant crystal chandeliers. If it’s a warm day, consider exploring the gardens too and be sure to visit the Gaveau piano, which happens to be made entirely of crystal.
Also referred to as the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, this palace is one of the oldest and has been left in disarray for a number of years. Formerly it stood with three-stories, and while it is one of the last few Imperial palaces of the Byzantine era. Unfortunately, it was abandoned in 1850. It is open to the public to visit and is currently being under renovations for several years to restore parts of it.
Built by Sultan Abdulaziz’s orders for use as hunting lodges, the Maslak Kasri is a series of pavilions, courts and mansions. It has been built with Ottoman decorative style and set in a green wooded park. Opening as a museum in 1986, one of the pavilions is now a cafeteria, with another becoming a restaurant.
Also dubbed the ‘star palace’, the Ottomans built this palace in the late 19th century. It was used as a residency for Sultan Abdülhamid II and his court. Similarly to others, Yildiz Palace consists of pavilions, kiosks and villas set in vast gardens. At one stage, it has been used as a guest house and a museum before being allocated for the Turkish president’s use.
The two-storey Beylerbeyi Palace was built in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdülaziz and used mainly as a summer vacation home and to entertain foreign visitors. Although seen as toned down compared to other Turkish palaces, Beylerbeyi Palace’s gardens span over 70 acres, with bathing pavilions, reception hall, and crystal chandeliers inside the palace.
Designed by an Italian architect for Abbas Hilmi Paşa in 1907. It has also been named the Khedive’s Summer Palace and has a grand marble fountain at its entrance and stands in a large park. Built with large pools and other fountains around the outside, it re-opened in 1984 as a hotel and restaurant with a cafeteria.
Formerly a palace and now a 5-star hotel, it will set you back to stay one night in the Sultan’s Suite. Located on the European shore of the Bosporus, it was commissioned in the 19th century. Unfortunately, the interior was destroyed by a fire in 1910. In recent years, a Japanese corporation purchased the ruined palace and turned it into a hotel.
Tucked away from the city is the Ihlamur Palace. This palace was commissioned by the Balyan family, aiming to be used as a summer palace for Ottoman sultans during the 19th century. It’s carefully decorated and used for events and tournaments before it opened as a museum in 1985.
Its position on the Bosphorus made this palace the perfect vacation home, attracting many sultans who stayed here to unwind and entertain. While it may seem unimpressive on the outside, inside it features paintings, marble fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, and fine furniture. It’s been open to the public since 1944.
Unfortunately, the pavilion is all which remains of the Aynalıkavak Palace. Also named the Tersane Palace, mainly due to the location of it close to the shipyard. Rumours claim the palace was built around the 17th century, but it stands today with clear classical Ottoman architecture. It became a museum in 1984 and held many historical Turkish musical instruments inside.
Built within a secluded park, it was mainly used as a relaxing mansion for sultans and their wives. At several points in history, it also became the home of isolated young heirs, particularly Murad V. It has a large marble fountain at the entrance, a gold-leafed mirror as decor, as well as ceiling decorations, including fish statuettes. It opened to the public in 1979 after restoration.
Connected to the beach and built up from the seabed, Ataturk Florya Pavilion was commissioned in 1935 by the municipality of Istanbul. It served as a summer residence for Turkish presidents; it has since been converted into a museum in 1988 and remains open to the public.
A former royal residence of Ottoman princess Adile Sultan, Adile Sultan Palace sits atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus. Previously, it has also been used as a dormitory for the school’s boarding girls until 1986, when, unfortunately, it burned down due to an electrical short-circuit. The palace was restored and rebuilt in the early to mid-2000s. It is now open to the public and even available to hire for weddings.
With so much to do in Istanbul, you’ll be wondering how to cram it all in. Any of the palaces above are well worth exploring. Turkey has so much history to see, and the palaces are a great place to start. All beautifully decorated with jewels and crystals, as well as stunning architecture. While many more palaces stood at one stage, the ones that remain add a touch of beauty to its skyline, making Istanbul a city you never forget.