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The former hilltop palace of Abdülhamid II and its extensive grounds, once a city in itself, is now an island of green above the European shore port of Istanbul. Since the deposition of the sultan in 1908, when it was immediately opened as a museum, it has been divided up among a confusing jumble of ministries and institutions, making it a chaotic place to visit. To see the whole thing, you need a taxi.
The palace proper is reached via Barbaros Bulvarı, the street the strikes inland from Beşiktaş. Several parts of the palace are now open to the public as a museum, including the Küçük Mabeyn, where Abdülhamid resided, his theatre and the belvedere (though this has been closed recently for restoration). The sultan's purpose-built art gallery is devoted to the really excellent Istanbul City Museum, founded in the 1930s by enlightened souls close to a very cultured municipality, determined to save at least a few crumbs of Istanbul's living heritage. Beautifully arranged displays home in everyday life in Ottoman Istanbul, from letter-writing to coffee-drinking. Only a fraction of the collection is on display, but it is a superbly selected fraction. Sadly very little publicity is given to the museum, but it is worth going out of your way to see.
The park, reached from Çırağan Caddesi, directly opposite the Çırağan Palace Hotel, has several of the sultans' many kiosks. Two are rather splendid, Neo-Baroque cafés. A third is the simply fabulous, and rarely visited Şale Köşkü, the Chalet Kiosk, where Kaiser Wilhelm stayed no fewer than three times. Built entirely of wood, it must surely be almost the largest wooden chalet in the world. Inside it has been kept in perfect shape, despite briefly serving as a casino.
Another thing to see in the park is the Imperial Porcelain Factory by Italian architect Raimondo D’Aronco, whose stylish buildings are pictured in Cornucopia 46, still functions as a museum-manufactory, with hand-decorated traditional designs. The park in the former palace grounds, with two kiosks, is a popular leisure spot.
The palace can be reached by foot from Beşiktaş, the park’s main entrance is directly opposite the Çırağan Palaces. Taxis are allowed to drop you off at the top of the park. There is a small fee for private cars.
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