Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace, a facade of grandeur with a big open secret

“it had bankrupted the empire.”

The expansion of the Ottomans was represented by the expansive Topkapi Palace that was built during the era, its structure was unlike what other kingdoms and empires ever had and was a new, unique structure with a lot of activity powering it on a daily basis. This was the Ottoman Empire in its growth period.

The fortunes of the Ottoman Empire changed after the expansionist era of Suleiman the Magnificent came to an end.

The death of a strongman in Sultan Suleiman, ushered in a century of transformation, when the Ottoman Empire shifted gears from a state led by a powerful king into a machine oiled by a powerful bureaucracy. It was at this time that young Sultans such as Ahmed I came to power, and the construction of cultural-religious structures such as the Blue Mosque took form that highlighted the power of the Empire.

The lack of dynamism in the bureaucratic machine caused the empire to stagnate, and the codification of the bureaucracy allowed the unoiled machine to rust. A rusty machine eventually would collapse. This was the final phase of the Ottoman Empire, a period described as the stagnation and reform period. It is usually when things are on the decline that style becomes the focus rather than substance.

And it was over this period that the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid (or Abdulmejid I) decided to built a new palace. There reason for the construction of a new palace was a vain one – the older Topkapi palace did not have the new comforts, luxury and modern style of other European palaces. And so the Dolmabahçe Palace was constructed.

It was easily one of the most luxurious palaces of its time – fourteen tonnes of gold was used gild the ceilings, it has the worlds largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, Marmara marble, Egyptian alabaster, and Porphyry from Pergamon just to name a few of the most amazing luxuries found.

It was meant to impress, and it sure did.

But you can’t impress with false shows of power, when people know that you have none.

Built at the cost of what is today 1.5 billion dollars, the money was a full quarter of the annual revenue of the whole empire. To raise that money, the sultanate took out extensive loans from foreign organisations, debased it currency by issuing new dollars. It eventually defaulted on its loans to the people and had to establish financial controls to pay back the European institutions it borrowed money from. It was from this palace, grand and luxurious on the outside, shiny and brilliant where everyone could see it, that the Ottoman Empire, now on the decline, gained the epithet the ‘Sick man of Europe‘.

This amazing structure, hastened the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, a collapse that would usher in the new secular Republic of Turkey that we know today.


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