Right after having my Turkish History midterm, I decided to pay a visit to the Yıldız Palace Museum. I had engulfed myself in Ottoman Sultans and Ottoman history the past couple of days, so I thought it was fitting to visit this place today. On the way to the museum I came across a pleasant surprise: a park in Istanbul! I don't come across big patches of grass that often in the concrete jungle that is my neighborhood, so I lingered in the park for a little while before continuing.
When you walk up to the entrance you immediately get the sense that you're visiting an important place. The big stone gate is impressive, and looks very official. I was visiting on a Thursday morning and not very many people were there, so I could peacefully go about my business. First I walked around the courtyard, to get a general impression of the palace.
Built on the Yıldız hill, it initially served as a pavilion on the Sultan's hunting grounds, which were located in this area. In the late 18th century Sultan Selim III expanded the pavilion, constructing a garden and fountain for his parents. The pavilion was developed into a palace under Sultan Abdülhamid II, around the 1850's. The grounds were also used to receive the Ottoman Empire's foreign guests. It buildings were used as palace until the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900's, and was then handed over to the Military School in Istanbul. In the 1970's it was placed under control of a cultural organization, and it became a museum in 1993. Currently the research center for Islamic history, arts and culture is located here.
I started my visit in the left wing of the palace, which showcases some artifacts from the time the palace was actively used. Since the place only became a palace during Sultan Abdülhamid II's reign, the majority of the items is from his household and bears his seal, the Royal Tugrha. The left wing mainly showcases writing materials, coffee making equipment and porcelain. In addition, the walls feature some nice calligraphic paintings.
After covering the left wing, which you can visit for free, I went to the actual museum. The first part of the museum features everyday objects such as plates, vases and desks. Most of these items are made out of Yıldız porcelain, a kind of porcelain specific to the region.
When Sultan Abdülhamid II decided to expand the palace, he didn't only build private quarters, but also cultural buildings, some handcrafting shops, small factories and a large garden; the palace was essentially a city of its own. Among the small factories was the Yıldız Porcelain factory, which was founded in 1891 and located in the palace because the Sultan had a passion for porcelain. The palace therefore basically had it's own porcelain factory, which explains the large percentage of Yıldız porcelain.
The Sultan didn't just have a passion for porcelain, but also for woodworking. He had his own woodworking shop in the palace, and many of the tools he used are on display in the second part of the museum. The Sultan was pretty good at his hobby; he made some of the furniture used in the palace.
The third and final part of the museum shows the everyday interior of the palace. It shows some of the furniture used in the 1800's so you can imagine what living in the palace was like. The main room is a large space that I am pretty sure was used as living/dining room. The walls and especially the ceiling are elaborately decorated, with Baroque-esque designs and views of Istanbul. It stood out to me that all landscapes feature a lot of green, possibly because the inhabitants didn't leave the palace very often and still wanted to experience the beauty of the city. After visiting the museum my neck was a little sore, because I spent a lot of time gazing at the ceiling.
This concluded my visit to the palace, as I had seen everything there was to see. The museum gives a great impression of what life was like for a Sultan in the 1800's, because of the many artifacts and the decorated rooms. It is definitely worth a visit if you want to know how many spoons the Sultan had for different kinds of food, or if you're interested in porcelain. It does not give you a very good history lesson however, because it really only covers one time period. All in all I liked the museum, especially because I could sit in the park for a while to read my book afterwards.
What: Yıldız Palace Museum
Where: Near Yıldız Teknik Universitesi and the Beşiktaş bus station
Price: Left wing and courtyard free, 10 TL for museum. Free with museum card
opening Hours: 9:00-16:30 every day, except Tuesday