Beylerbeyi means “Lord of Lords” in Turkish. The village was known as Stavrós (Σταυρός) or Hrisokéramos (Χρυσοκέραμος) during Byzantine times, although there’s no longer anything left from those times.
Today you’ll find several wooden Ottoman homes and buildings, a couple historic mosques, a small seaside walk containing shops and fish restaurants, and beautiful yalılar best seen from a boat (a yalı is a waterfront mansion). You might even encounter people fishing on the Bosporus. Overall, Beylerbeyi is a nice place to spend a few hours.
The main attraction in Beylerbeyi isn’t the village itself, but the magnificent Ottoman palace under the bridge. Beylerbeyi Sarayı is a Baroque palace designed by Armenian architect Sarkis Balyan for Sultan Abdülaziz in 1861. It’s open from 9am to 5pm daily except Mondays and Thursdays. Tickets are 20TL (as of November 2016).
Beylerbeyi Sarayı was a summer residence of the Ottoman Sultan and was also used for visiting heads of state. Famous guests included Empress Eugénie of France, Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
One of these guests nearly sparked an international incident. When Empress Eugénie visited in 1869, Sultan Abdülaziz’s mother, Pertevniyal Sultan, slapped Eugénie across the face because she entered the palace on the arm of the Sultan. In the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the deposed Abdülhamit II was imprisoned there for 6 years until his death in 1918. Visit the official website for more detailed information.
Once you pay for your ticket to the palace, you walk through a long tunnel. It was built by Mahmut II in 1829 for an older palace he had built on the same site. That palace burned down.
Once you exit the tunnel, you’re on the grounds of the palace. If you look up, you can see you’re right under the Boğaziçi Köprüsü. In front of you is a small bamboo forest.
The palace is only accessible via guided tour. Tours are done in English and Turkish. I had to wait nearly an hour for a tour in English starting outside the south entrance, which is guarded by two impressive marble lions.
When the tours begin, everyone enters the palace and is given protective booties to wear over their shoes. Photographs are not allowed inside. We visited several rooms, such as the Sultan’s bedroom, offices, sitting rooms, and more. The rooms are stunningly decorated and the pictures do not do it justice. The two photos below of the interior of the palace were taken by Anton Lefterov. Click here for a virtual tour.
On the palace grounds there are a few small pavilions. The Mermer Köşk (Marble Pavilion), the Sarı Köşk (Yellow Pavilion), and the Has Ahır Köşkü (Imperial Stables) were inaccessible during my visit. The Deniz Köşkleri (Seaside Pavilions) were under restoration.
Also on the grounds there’s a çay bahçesi (tea garden), restaurant, and some interesting iron sculptures.
The easiest way to get to Beylerbeyi is through Üsküdar. Take a ferry to Üsküdar and walk to the Üsküdar Cami Önü stop (in front of the mosque across the street from the ferry terminal). Hop on a bus with the number 15. Beylerbeyi Sarayı is the second stop after crossing under the Boğaziçi Köprüsü and Beylerbeyi village is the third stop. You can also take a dolmuş going to Beykoz and ask the driver to let you out at Beylerbeyi – it’s much faster than the bus. There’s a ferry service but it isn’t frequent or convenient.