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ÇIRAĞAN (FERİYE)

Çırağan is a little stretch of the Bosphorus coast road west of Beşiktaş that is best known for the super-posh Çırağan Palace Kempinski Hotel, the sort of place where the likes of Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey put up in imperial splendour.

Across the road from the hotel is Yıldız Park and a collection of buildings associated with the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Also here is a shrine to an evliya (Islamic holy man) named Yahya Efendi which is also thronged with worshippers.

Backstory of a palace-hotel

Once upon a time the Çırağan was just one of a string of summer palaces belonging to the Ottoman nobility that lined the coast from Beşiktaş to Ortaköy. Of these "Feriye palaces" the 19th-century Atik Paşa Palace now houses the Four Seasons İstanbul at the Bosphorus Hotel while another houses the Kabataş Boys High School. Several others are used by the Galatasaray University - one of them was burnt out in 2013 with the loss of its historic library. Fortunately the more beautiful wooden palace behind it survived.

In a setting with so many lovely buildings it's not surprising that even the Feriye police station operated out of a beautiful mansion that now houses the Feriye Lokantası.

As for the Çırağan Palace, this started life in the early 17th century but was greatly expanded and embellished by Sultan Ahmed III's grand vizier, Damat İbrahim Paşa, who turned it into his own Ferahabad Palace. In 1730 the sultan was overthrown during the Patrona Halil Revolt and İbrahım Paşa was killed after which his palace fell into disuse. Later Sultan Mahmud I restored it as a place where he could entertain foreign dignitaries. 

At the end of the 18th century the palace was rebuilt to house Berhan Sultan, the sister of Sultan Selim III. It fell to Garabad Balyan to turn it into the year-round Beyaz Sarayı (White Palace) for Sultan Abdülmecid whose sons, later sultans Murad V, Abdülhamid II and Mehmed V Reşad, were all born here. 

In 1856 work on the much larger and more central Dolmabahçe Palace was finally completed and the sultan moved downstream. At once the Beyaz Sarayı was torn down and work began on yet another palace on the site, designed by the prolific Balyans but with Sultan Abdülaziz so closely monitoring their work that the plans had to be redrawn twenty times. Although in some ways a very Western palace, the new Çırağan incorporated Moorish details copied from the Alhambra in Spain which was very fashionable at the time. 

The Çırağan was not completed until 1874 and Sultan Abdülaziz only lived in it for a short time, complaining that it was too damp. In 1876 he died in suspicious circumstances (murder or suicide, no one knows for sure) and was succeeded by his nephew, Murad V. He reigned for barely three months before being deposed in favour of his brother, Sultan Abdülhamid II, and confined in the Çırağan Palace which now became a beautiful prison. 

In the 1878 Cırağan Incident an attempt was made by a man named Ali Suavi to spring the deposed sultan from the palace and retore him to the throne. When it failed he was moved inland and reimprisoned in the Malta Köşkü in the grounds of the Yıldız Palace. 

In 1908 the Çırağan Palace served as the venue for the meeting of the reinstated Turkish Parliament. Then a mere two years later it burnt to the ground. The site was briefly used as a pitch for the Beşiktaş football team before their stadium at Dolmabahçe was completed. Then it was once again abandoned. 

In the 1980s part of the palace was rebuilt to serve as the centrepiece of a new luxury hotel. 

yahya1Yahya Efendi Türbesi (tomb)

The one other sight a visitor to this part of the coast might go in search of is this hillside shrine dedicated to a foster-brother of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Yahya Efendi (1495-1570). Despite being neither an especially conspicuous nor exciting building, the shrine was designed by Sinan and became the burial place for minor members of the imperial family, including one of the sultan's daughters. Actually, it's hard to discern the original structure for all the wooden additions made to it over the centuries. 

Once a site frequented by mariners who wanted to give thanks for safe voyages, the complex is still a popular place of pilgrimage and the only other visitors are likely to be worshippers.

It's well worth taking a stroll around the overgrown cemetery which is full of fine Ottoman headstones (and cats).

Eating

Feriye Lokantası. Tel: 0212-227 2216

Sleeping

Çırağan Palace Kempinski Hotel. Tel: 0212-326 4646

Four Seasons İstanbul at the Bosphorus. Tel: 0212-381 4000

La Maison. Tel: 0212-227 4263

Transport info

All the buses heading along the Bosphorus from Beşiktaş pass through Çırağan. Be warned that the road is a terrible traffic bottleneck at weekends and during rush hours.

Nearby areas

Beşiktaş

Ortaköy

Yıldız

yahya2

 yahya3

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