From the modern to the traditional, from the epic to the kitsch, architecture in Istanbul comes as a potpourri. Here is a list of eight epic palaces in Istanbul (most of them designed by the famous Balyan family) that are must-sees during any trip to the city.
Adile Sultan Palace
Nestled on a hilltop on the Asian Side, the former summer residence of Adile Sultan, daughter of Sultan Mahmut II, was built in 1861 by renowned architect Sarkis Balyan. Having lost her husband, her children and her brother, Adile Sultan had dedicated her life to charity. In 1916, she turned the palace into an all-girls high school dorm. Seventy years later, it was highly damaged in a fire and then restored. Today, it’s being used for events, meetings and weddings.
This magnificent summer palace on the Asian Side also carries the signature of Sarkis Balyan. Originally built in 1829 with the order of Sultan Mahmud I, this palace was also damaged in a fire in 1851 and was rebuilt in 1861 by Balyan during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz. Sultan Abdulhamid II lived in captivity here between 1912 and 1918 until his death. Empress Eugénie of France, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran and Franz Joseph I of Austria are some of the heads of state that were entertained here. The palace is open to visits every day between 9 am and 5 pm except on Mondays. Although entrance to the palace is no longer possible through the front by the sea, viewing the palace from a boat on the Bosphorus is highly recommended.
Another Sarkis Balyan gem, the Ciragan Palace is located in Besiktas on the shores of the Bosphorus, overlooking the Asian Side and the Old City. Commissioned by Sultan Abdulaziz and finished in 1871, the palace witnessed the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Yet again, a fire in 1910 destroyed the majority of the interior, which was restored and renovated; the palace officially opened its doors as the Ciragan Palace Kempinski in 1991. Now, several hundred euros will get you a night at an imperial room in Istanbul.
Commissioned by Sultan Abdulmecid and designed by architects Garabet Balyan and Nikogos Balyan, the palace was built in 1856 and was home to six Ottoman Sultans and the last Ottoman khalifate. Unlike the Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabahçe Palace is a move towards a more Western style of architecture. After the Republic of Turkey was established, the palace was used as the presidential residence. Perhaps the most famous room of the entire palace is the one in which Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk passed away. The palace is open to visits every day between 9 am and 4 pm except on Mondays.
The Golden Horn was no longer the hotspot in the 19th century and the man in power, Sultan Abdulmecid I, wanted a residence where he could stay on certain nights before heading to one of the palaces on the Bosphorus. So, he commissioned Nigogos Balyan to build the Ihlamur Palace in Besiktas, which consists of two pavilions in a relatively Western style. The palace is open for visits between 9 am and 5 pm every day except on Mondays. Be sure to have a cup of tea at the cafe housed in one of the pavilions.
Located on a hilltop in Cubuklu on the Asian Side (and also known as the Cubuklu Palace), this Art Nouveau palace was built by Italian architect Antonio Lasciac for Khedive Abbas II of Egypt and Sudan in 1907. It was abandoned for about 40 years until it was opened to the public in 1985 serving as a hotel, cafe and restaurant. The palace is no longer a hotel but visitors can still enjoy a meal or have refreshments here.
Created as a hunting house by Nigogos Balyan for Sultan Abdulmecid I, Kucuksu is an elegant baroque style palace located on the shores of the Bosphorus on the Asian Side in Beykoz. Italian marble fireplaces, European furniture and valuable works of art adorn the interior. After a four-year renovation, the palace was opened to the public in 1996 and can be visited every day between 9 am and 5 pm except Mondays.
A great example of Byzantine architecture, the Tekfur Palace (also known as Palace of Porphyrogenitus) is, in fact, the only surviving Byzantine palace in Istanbul. Located in Ayvansaray, it is believed that the palace was constructed in the late 13th century during the reign of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. After the conquest of Constantinople, the imperial palace was used as a zoo and then, a ceramics workshop. Visitors first need to get permission from the Hagia Sofia Museum Directorate before entering its premises.