Abdülmecid I, the Empire's 31st Sultan, ordered Dolmabahçe Palace to be constructed between 1843 and 1856. The Sultan and his family had previously resided at the Topkapi Palace, but Abdülmecid wanted to build a new modern palace near the site of the former Beşiktaş beach Palace, which had been destroyed, because the medieval Topkapi lacked contemporary architecture, elegance, and comfort as compared to the palaces of European monarchs. The project was designed by architects Garabet Balyan, his son Nigoayos Balyan, and Evanis Kalfa, with construction overseen by Hac Said Aga (members of the Armenian Balyan family of Ottoman court architects).
The building cost five million Ottoman gold lira (approximately $1.5 billion in today's dollars), or 35 tonnes of gold. This sum amounted to roughly a fifth of the annual tax revenue. The building was actually funded by debasement, a major paper money problem, and foreign loans. The massive expenditures put a tremendous strain on the state purse and led to the Ottoman Empire's worsening financial condition, which culminated in the Ottoman Empire defaulting on its public debt in October 1875, with the European powers establishing financial leverage over the "sick man of Europe" in 1881. From 1856, when it was first occupied, until the dissolution of the Caliphate in 1924, the palace was home to six Sultans: the last royal to live here was Caliph Abdülmecid Efendi. The possession of the palace was passed to the nascent Turkish Republic's national heritage by a statute that took effect on March 3, 1924. Over the summers, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Republic of Turkey's founder and first President, used the palace as a presidential residence and enacted some of his most significant works. Atatürk died on November 10, 1938, in this palace, where he spent the last days of his medical care. The Directorate of National Palaces now manages the palace.
Dolmabahçe is Turkey's biggest palace. It covers 45,000 square meters (11.1 acres) and has 285 offices, 46 halls, 6 hamams, and 68 toilets. To create a new synthesis, eclectic elements from the Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical periods have been combined with typical Ottoman architecture. During the Tanzimat era, the palace's architecture and décor represent the growing impact of European styles and norms on Ottoman culture and decor. The exterior, particularly from the Bosporus, shows a classical European two-wing structure separated by a large avant-corps with two side avant-corps.
The site of Dolmabahçe was originally a bay on the Bosporus where the Ottoman fleet could anchor. The field was eventually restored during the 18th century to become an imperial garden, which the Ottoman sultans greatly admired; the name Dolmabahçe (Filled-in Garden) derives from the Turkish words dolma, which means "filled," and bahçe, which means "garden." Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, various small summer palaces and wooden pavilions were constructed here, eventually creating the Beşiktaş Waterfront Palace complex. The area of 110,000 m2 is bounded on the east by the Bosporus, and on the west by a steep precipice, such that after the construction of the current 45,000 m2 monoblock Dolmabahçe Palace, there is only a small amount of room left for a garden complex that would usually surround such a palace.
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