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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Yıldız Palace in Istanbul

What is Yıldız Palace?

Yıldız Palace is a rambling complex of pavilions set in lush parkland above the Bosphorus Strait, which was for 30 turbulent years the nerve centre of the Ottoman Empire.

Yıldız Palace

Darwinek, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yıldız Palace History

Originally known as the Çırağan Gardens, the sloping parkland running up from the Bosphorus behind the waterfront Çırağan Palace later became known as Yıldız (or ‘Star’) Park. From around 1800 onwards, several pavilions were constructed in these pleasant, wooded grounds, each according to the taste of the sultan who commissioned it. Collectively, the pavilions became known as the Yıldız Sarayı (or ‘Star Palace’).

The most imposing of the buildings in the park is the Şale Kiosk (found at the northern end), which was conceived to house visiting dignitaries. It’s a curious amalgam of structures. The original part, built in 1880, was designed to resemble an Alpine chalet, hence its Turkish name, Şale. The architects were the famous Armenian-Istanbul Balyan brothers, Sarkis and Agop. The other two more architecturally conventional additions were constructed in 1889 and 1898 respectively, for two separate visits by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to the Ottoman Empire’s capital. The designer of the latter was the well-known Italian architect, Raimondo D’Aronco.

The reception room of the D’Aronco-designed building, with its gilded ceilings and huge ornate mirrors, is so grand in scale it contains a 400-metre square Turkish Hereke rug. There are 50 rooms in total, one containing dining chairs hand-carved by Sultan Abdülhamid II, who was a skilled carpenter. Another, the Şedefli Salon, is liberally covered with mother-of-pearl inlay. The Şale Kiosk is now a museum while the attractive Malta Kiosk a little way to the east, formerly an imperial residence, is today a café. The Yıldız Porcelain Factory to the south-east, however, continues its tradition of producing ornate, European-style pottery.

Abdülhamid, who was to spend most of his time as a sultan living here, came to the throne in 1876, a period when the Ottoman Empire was in steep decline. With the Western powers hungrily eyeing Ottoman territory, the Christian minorities of the empire restive, and secular Turkish nationalists a threat from within, an increasingly paranoid Abdülhamid spent virtually all his time in the grounds of the Yıldız Palace, which became a city within a city. With the sultan fearful of assassination, the grounds were walled and a barracks built to house several thousand Albanian guards. Abdulhämid had telescopes installed, commanding views down across the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the old city, and his spies and informants roamed the streets of Istanbul before reporting back to their patron at Yıldız. After surviving an attempt on his life by Armenian revolutionaries in 1905, he was eventually deposed four years later. Following a period of exile in Thessaloniki, Abdülhamid died in another late-Ottoman palace, Beylerbeyi, in 1918 after six years of house arrest within its gilded halls.

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