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The Sultan’s Chalet

A guesthouse for the emperor

The world’s grandest chalet was built by Abdülhamid II for the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1889 and was a powerhouse of political activity in the final years of the empire. Today the house in the grounds of Yıldız Palace, on a hill in Istanbul, is all but forgotten. Philip Mansel treads softly through its silent halls. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

The Yıldız Palace is a time capsule of Ottoman art nouveau, an expression in wood and stone of the style and reign of the enigmatic Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876–1909). Yıldız – from the Turkish word for star – so named because it was easy to see the stars there – is set on a hill above the Çırağan Palace, overlooking the Bosphorus.

Since the early 17th century there has been an imperial kiosk here, to which more substantial buildings were added in the 1860s by Sultan Abdülaziz. In March 1877, during the Russo–Turkish war, his nephew Abdülhamid moved to Yıldız from the Dolmabahçe Palace. He had an acute sense of his vulnerability, and Yıldız was less exposed to attack from land or sea. By the end of his reign Yıldız had become the last great power statement of the Ottoman dynasty, at once a palace, a ministry, a military headquarters and a university campus.

Behind the high palace walls were barracks, factories, schools (one of which, the school for railway engineers, developed into the present Yıldız University); a library, an observatory, a theatre, and a zoo; an exhibition hall for the products of the Sultan’s factories; museums of weapons, entomology and ornithology; and pavilions in Japanese, Persian and French styles.

In the city of Istanbul, public buildings such as the Central Post Office in Eminönü and the Land Registry offices in Sultanahmet, which can still be admired today, were being built in neo-Turkish styles. Yıldız, however, shows the personal preferences of the sultan were more European. This palace has many versions of Art Nouveau, of which the Chalet Kiosk (Şale Köşkü in Turkish) is the most remarkable…

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Issue 22, 2000/2001 The Sultan’s Chalet
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