Yıldız Palace Complex
Yıldız Palace Complex is part of the Tentative list of Turkiye in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Yıldız Palace Complex in Istanbul was the seat of the Ottoman government during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It shows the adaptation of European style architecture and landscape design. It is a large complex with public buildings, pavillions and gardens. Its on site imperial porcelain factory was based on traditional Turkish ceramic tile making.
Map of Yıldız Palace ComplexLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
This is a kind of Stoclet house that welcomes you with guns.
It may have been the fascination for the prohibited or the downright incomprehensible that led me to spend a whole morning exploring this part of Beşiktaş during my Turkish week in the first half of December 2022. This was a neighbourhood that in my previous (2012) trip to İstanbul/Turkey I had completely neglected, but on this dark, cloudy but rather mild late-autumn day I enjoyed the greenery and the more ample and aristocratic atmosphere with respect to Unkapanı/Cibali/Fener (on the southern shore of the Golden Horn), where I had come from by ferry.
This point has to be made clear: unfortunately for Zoë and many others, this site, or at least the more relevant parts thereof, is totally out of reach, closed for visitors now and for any foreseeable future. A source of confusion are the many descriptions, even very recent ones, that can be found on the web, which state that the palace museum is open, or the Şale (= fr. chalet) pavillion, or both, or maybe the carpentry and/or tile and porcelain museum, while others say that it is closed, but no explanation is given (for my old, 2009-ish guidebook the whole area was still accessible and open to visits). Probably the most authoritative source is the directorate of national palaces stating that the chalet pavillion is closed for restoration, but this is also misleading: from other sources and speaking with the guy at the Beşiktaş tourist information centre (more or less here), it turns out that the 10-year long restorations eventually did come to an end, but the palace premises have been taken over by the "intelligence" and are now back to their original function, as it were, being a representative seat of the current "sultan", some 100 years after Abdülhamid II. For example, chancellor Angela Merkel was recently received here. The same information guy told me that maybe, if one is lucky, one might be allowed to visit, but everything is aleatory here.
In fact, the entrance (from Serencebey yokuşu) is patrolled, big guns well in sight, and already as I was approaching I could feel the hostile gazes of the militaries upon me. When I stubbornly came near to ask for information, I was called by one of the officials and they started checking me: asking me what my intentions were and to show the passport, the phone (they were disappointed by my emergency E1200 Samsung phone) and the camera, wanting to see what pictures I had: the mosque and the surroundings are apparently OK, but I suppose they would have had me cancel photos of the entrance. They also asked me where I was staying, where I was going next, when I was flying back to Italy, on what days... all rigorously in Turkish, of course, of which I have very limited comprehension. And after all that, they just ordered me to leave. It was not too harsh, but neither was it pleasant. So, lesson learnt: visitors and even simple gapers are unwanted here. I don't envision a way to get inside the palace complex, surely not explaining your desire to visit a TWHS, which I fear would maximally increase the suspicion levels of the already professionally paranoid militaries. And just think that at a side entrance to the complex another guard had given me indications to the museum... it's just a mess.
But, even if the palace has been sequestered and also the university institutions occupying some of the buildings are being dislodged (so I've been told), a part of the quite extensive property remains accessible. The most conspicuous among these is the Yıldız Hamidiye mosque (camii) nearby the entrance, as noted by previous reviewers: it is probably worth coming up here just for that. I think that, given the situation, you will find it almost always empty as it was on that morning, but it is in perfect shape and of exquisite facture, especially inside. Very different from more classic mosques, a product of the late XIXth century like the nearby Dolmabahçe palace, it is like being inside a bonbon box, slightly reminescent of the Valide Sultan mosque at Aksaray. This is also the place where the Ottoman Empire, as it were, was given its funeral: here, on November 17th, 1922, the last sultan Mehmed Vahdeddin, deprived of his authority by the uprising new government in Ankara, took part in the usual Friday's ceremony, where also the mevlid elegy was read; on the same day, he departed from Istanbul by boat, once and for all. But probably nicest of all is the Yıldız park sloping down the hill from the palace till the main road, a sort of verdant and lush valley with many paths and environments, among which a small lake with fountain, very well kept, interspersed with kitsch sculptures of bears and rabbits, and also pavillions hosting cafés with beautiful sights on the Bosphorus and the Asian side, especially the yellowish Ottoman neoclassical Malta pavillion. It makes for a very pleasant walk indeed, and surely so it was for the sultans, too, who conceived it with a Swiss, Alpine inspiration seen in the decors. Beware that there seems to be only one active entrance (safety reasons?) on Çırağan caddesi, maybe another one on the eastern side on Palanga caddesi. If you walk all the way uphill, you will reach the boundary wall, welcoming you with locked gates and screening the palace from curious looks. Only in the nothwestern corner, a wooden lodge-like building juts out of the wall: this is all we laymen get to see.
In sum, I think a walk in the Yıldız park can be a recommended activity in this part of the City, even a reason to come here, and the neogothic mosque is quite unique and worth a visit. An overall aristocratic atmosphere can be perceived, but it is all just a foretaste of the palace complex: this, judging from the detailed description on the UNESCO website, seems very noteworthy and a sort of missing link between the classic Ottoman style of the Topkapı (many buildings over many courtyards) and the westernizing Dolmabahçe (a single, outrageously magnificent palace). As other sites in İstanbul, like the Nuruosmaniye mosque, I wonder if all of them just couldn't be grouped into an extended historical centre WHS, testimony to the everlasting importance of İstanbul as a seat of power and commerce through the ages. But as it stands now, this site has been removed from the public domain, so I don't see a sense in inscribing it, even without knowing what consequences this situation will have for its conservation. Who knows if these developments were foreseen in 2015... for me, it is a no more as a matter of principle than based on historic or artistic evaluations (for example, a lot of the history of the last Ottoman EMpire and the first Turkish Republic passed through here). It still remains a nice place to explore, maybe after a visit to Dolmabahçe, but not so high in priority with respect to others.
Transports and surroundings
The most scenic, and also practical, way to move around İstanbul is the ferry. You can reach the Beşiktaş or Ortaköy docks both from Asia and the Golden Horn, and you will get nearer than by metro/tram, a small walk from either palace. Onboard, you can enjoy the panorama savoring a çay or a hearty sahlep. The Dolmabahçe palace is the biggest attraction of the area, and by all means I recommend a visit: it more than enough makes up for the inaccessibility of the Yıldız palace, as it is not less stellar (yıldız = star). I'm not a big fan of noble residences, but this I found characterful (and exaggerated) enough to surprise me with its Ottoman twist and wonderful location. The new painting museum is also very nice, and contains some of the carpentry works and paintings by the sultan Abdülhamid and his descendant Abdülmecid. To the interesting landmarks, I would also add the Beşiktaş', the "eagles'" stadium. Now, I live with the doubt that a couple of museums tied to the Yıldız palace are visitable, but: in the park I found no signposting whatsoever, and another one is probably way outside the "core zone", and similarly scarcely signalled. So, what to do next? Probably a good walk to Galata and its tower, or maybe a ferry back to Sultanahmet!
PHOTO: A wooden lodge peeping from behind the wall, seen from the park.
I should have done my research before heading all the way north to find it closed as mentioned previously, and only the outside of the mosque was available for a photo (don't find it special and is it even part of the nomination?). I approached the barriers and the police told me it is closed for renovations. Then I figured I can take a photo from the outside but no… Not allowed.
So just to pad the review with info for the future, take the T1 tram to the end and then switch to one of the many buses stopping right in front of it (Google map is your friend there but apparently doesn't know the palace is closed!) Not much walking up the hill is required. There is a playground nearby if you want to ditch the kids for a bit ;)
Will surely return to Istanbul one day to see.
On my last day in Istanbul I made my way to the Yildiz Palace in Besiktas. It is currently (2018) undergoing renovations and not accessible to the public. The only exception is the mosque next to the entry.
I was all alone when I entered the mosque and it was quite impressive. The striking feature here is how 19th century Europe is creeping into the old Ottoman style. It still follows the architectural template set by Sinan centuries earlier, but makes use of 19th century building technology and European fashion.
I am hard pressed to fully judge the OUV seeing I was only able to visit the mosque. Personally, I would prefer a serial nomination of the Ottoman palaces of Istanbul, specifically Dolmabahce Palace.
The palace is only connected by bus. Neither tram nor subway will take you there directly. I ended up walking 30min or so from the end of tram line at Kabatas passing the Dolmabahce Palace along the way.
Formerly part of former TWHS Istanbul Bosphorus (1984)
2015 Added to Tentative List
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