The palace was completed in 1856 for Sultan Abdülmecid I and represents a fusion of baroque, rococo, neoclassical, and more traditional Ottoman architectural elements. It constituted part of the modernization and Westernization efforts undertaken by the Ottoman regime at the time and replaced the Topkapı Palace as the primary residence of the Ottoman royal family. After the demise of the Ottoman monarchy the palace was occupied for a while by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, and he passed away at the palace on November 10, 1938. The complex sits right on the shores of the Bosphorus - in fact, the palace and gardens lie on filled-in land, as indicated by the Turkish name Dolmabahçe, which means "filled-in garden".
The palace itself is monumental and offers a fascinating mixture of Western European and Middle Eastern sensibilities. There are enormous halls and double staircases meant to impress in the fashion of royal palaces in Western Europe but there are also Turkish baths and a harem as well as passages that allowed the women of the court to observe what was happening in the public spaces of the complex without being seen. Similarly, the gardens can hardly be pinned down as belonging to a single specific style but they are nevertheless beautiful and worthy of the visitor's attention. After all, they give the whole complex its name.The first garden visitors come upon after passing through the monumental entrance gate - and where they are likely to wait in line for a while for the next tour of the inside of the palace - is relatively formal and centered around a large central pool. Stretched in front of the palace and open to the Bosphorus on one side, this garden has large lawns broken up by stands of umbrella pines (Pinus pinea), Lebanon cedars, Atlas cedars, and deodar (Cedrus libani, Cedrus atlantica, and Cedrus deodora, respectively), cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), evergreen magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) and various other species of trees. Around the central pool one finds some beautiful old crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) underplanted with colorful annuals such as wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum). Furthermore, there are beautiful beds of roses (Rosa sp.), and further hybrid tea roses trained as standards are scattered in groups throughout this part of the park. There is even a floral clock composed of bedding annuals next to another monumental gate, though for some reason I failed to take a picture of it. My farvorite planting, however, consisted of large specimens of pale pink mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) backed by tall cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) a tall white-washed fence, and the metallic blue expanse of the Bosphorus.After touring the inside of the palace, one emerges in the narrow strip of garden between the side of the palace and the Bosphorus. Here, too, one finds large cedars, blue spruces (Picea pungens), and Washingtonia palms (Washingtonia filifera), as well as variegated century plants (Agave americana 'Marginata') in large urns and charming small lily ponds with delicate fountains.After reaching the end of the main palace building one turns left and passes through a narrow corridor at the back of the palace filled with bamboo, daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva), agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus), impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), and many more standard hybrid tea roses.At the other end of the passage one reaches what used to be the gardens of the Harem. First up is a beatiful rose garden filled with yet more hybrid tea roses. Then, after rounding the Harem building one comes to a larger garden with a large central pool and fountain and lots of colorful bedding and large conifers. There are also Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and aviaries holding varies different breeds of chickens as well as pheasants.
On the whole, the gardens of the Dolmabahçe Palace are elegant and eclectic, and even though the palace is one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions and can get quite crowded, the gardens had a peaceful and intimate feel even at the time of my visit during the height of the summer tourist season.