The area of Beylerbeyi on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus has been settled since Byzatine times. According to the famous 18th century traveller Inciciyan, Constantine the Great erected a cross here, after which the area was known as the Istavroz Gardens. Under the Ottomans tihis area was an imperial park or hasbahce. Inciciyan relates that the name Beylerbeyi was given to this area in the 16th century because Mehmet Pasa who held the title of beylerbeyi (governor general) built a country house on the site.
The sultans built several country houses and pavilions on the imperial estate here, and in 1829 Sultan Mahmud II built a wooden waterfront palace.
Sultan Abdulaziz demolished this wooden palace to build the present Beylerbeyi Palace in 1861-1865. Designed by the well known Ottoman architect Sarkis Balyan, the palace was generally reserved for summer use by the sultans or to accommodate foreign heads of state visiting the Ottoman capital. The Prince of Serbia, the King of Montenegro, the Sah of Iran and Empress Eugenie of France are among the royla guests who stayed here. The deposed Sultan Abdulhamid II spent the last six months of his life and died here in 1918.
The interior design of Beylerbeyi Palace is a synthesis of diverse western and eastern styles, although the layout of the rooms follows that of the traditional Turkish house, consisting of a central sofa with closed rooms situated at the four corners. The furnishing and decoration of the Selamlik or public apartments are more ornate than those of the Harem.
The palace consists of two main storeys and a basement containing kitchens and store rooms. The palace has three entrances, six state rooms and 26 smaller rooms. The floors are covered with rush matting from Egypt which protected the inhabitants against damp in winter and heat in summer. Over this are laid large carpets and kilims, mostly made at Hereke. The furnishings include exquisite Bohemian crystal chandeliers, French clocks, and Chinese, Japanese, French and Turkish Yildiz porcelain vases.
One of the features which distinguishes Beylerbeyi from other Ottoman palaces of the period are the terraced gardens on the sloping hillside behind the palace. There are two pavilions on these terraces, the Sari Kosk beside the pool on the upper terrace, and the Mermer Kosk with its interior fountain and marble walls, which provided a cool refuge in the summer heat. The Mermer Kosk, the large pool on the lower terrace and the tunnel are the only parts of the palace remaining from the earlier timber palace of Beylerbeyi. The attractive Ahir Kosk is a fascinating example of Ottoman palace stables, and of particular interest as the only such building to have survived in its original state.
The old coastal road passed under a long tunnel constructed during the reign of Mahmud II (1808-1839) so that the palace would not be separated from the terraced gardens behind. This is a unique feature, other palaces and mansions along the Bosphorus being connected to their back gardens and parks by bridges. Today this tunnel houses a cafeteria and sales points for visitors. As well as books, postcards and posters published by the Culture and Information Centre, various gifts and souvenirs are on sale here. The gardens are available for private receptions upon advance application.