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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul

What is Beylerbeyi Palace?

Beylerbeyi Palace is a 19th-century palace that’s attractively located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Alexxx1979, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beylerbeyi Palace History

This exquisite palace was built for Sultan Abdülaziz as a summer retreat by two brothers, Agop and Sarkis Balyan. The Armenian Balyan family were renowned architects in late-Ottoman-era Istanbul and various family members served as imperial architects during the 18th and 19th centuries, completing major projects such as the Dolmabahçe Palace, Selimiye Barracks (where Florence Nightingale nursed during the Crimean War) and Ortaköy Mosque.

The brothers responsible for the Beylerbeyi Palace were educated in Paris. Agop graduated from the architecture department of Collège Sainte-Barbe and then returned to Istanbul to become imperial architect to the Ottoman court in place of his father. Sarkis followed in Agop’s footsteps by graduating from Collège Sainte-Barbe but went one step further than his brother by also studying at the École des Beaux-Arts before returning to Istanbul.

Constructed in the 1860s in restrained Second Empire style, this imperial residence stands on a low terrace above the waters of the Bosphorus and is today overshadowed by the towering suspension bridge nearby. Although very European in appearance, the palace is in fact laid out to a traditional Ottoman Turkish design, with the northern wing containing the harem (or women’s quarters), and the southern end the selamlık (or reception area). The opulent interior is divided into a total of 26 rooms, decorated in an eclectic mix of styles, with Neoclassical columns and capitals supporting gilded ceilings, traditional Turkish Hereke carpets adorning the floors and Bohemian crystal chandeliers lighting the palatial interior. There are six grandiose halls – one of these, the Marble Pavilion, complete with a large pool and fountain. The separate men’s and women’s quarters each had their own Turkish bath house.

Famous visitors to the palace include Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, the Persian ruler Naser al-Din Shah, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. One of the first notable visitors was Empress Eugénie of France in 1869. Agop was so intrigued by the empress that he requested, and received, an invitation to meet her while she was staying in the building he had helped to design. In turn, Eugénie was so taken with the palace that she had a window design from it copied in her personal apartment in the Tuileries Palace in Paris. A more reluctant visitor was Sultan Abdülhamid II, who was placed under house arrest in Beylerbeyi for six years up until his death in 1918. Some of the furniture in the palace was carved by him during his long incarceration.

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