From the first wooden summer mansion built on the spot in the 16th century to the grand waterfront palace that stands today, the Çiragan Palace was torn down and rebuilt no less than five times. Now a palace of sumptuous suites that make up part of the adjacent Hotel Kempinski Istanbul, the palace takes its name from the hundreds of torches that lined these former royal gardens during the festivals of the Tulip Period in the latter part of the 18th century.
The foundations were laid in 1855 when Sultan Abdülaziz ordered the construction of a grand palace to be built as a monument to his reign. The architect, Nigogos Balyan, ventured as far as Spain and North Africa to find models in the Arab style called for by the sultan. The fickle Abdülaziz moved out after only a few months, condemning the palace as too damp to live in.
Murad V (who in 1876 deposed his uncle Abdülaziz), Abdülhamid II, and Mehmed V were all born in the palace. Murad V spent the final 27 years of his life imprisoned here, while his brother (who deposed him shortly after Murad V bumped his uncle) kept a watchful eye on him from the Yildiz Palace next door.
After Murad V's death, the Parliament took over the building but convened here for only 2 months because of a fire in the central heating vents that spread and reduced the palace to a stone shell in under 5 hours. (Some of the original doors were given as gifts by Abdülaziz to Kaiser Wilhelm and can now be seen in the Berlin Museum.) In 1946 the Parliament handed the property over to the Municipality, which for the next 40 years used it as a town dump as well as a soccer field. In 1986 the Kempinski Hotel Group saved the shell from yet another demise, using the palace as a showcase of suites for its luxury hotel next door. Since its opening, the Çiragan has laundered the pillowcases of princes, kings, presidents, and rock stars, carrying on at least a modern version of a royal legacy of the original.
In 2007, the hotel focused its energies on rescuing the palace from its faded glory and restoring it to its once and future grandeur. The space is friendlier too: Nonguests of the hotel are encouraged to pay a visit to this living museum by way of the ground-floor art gallery (bonus: for visits to the gallery, parking is free), by enjoying a recital of the chamber orchestra, or dining at their Ottoman restaurant, Tugra. The grounds are spread along 390m (1,300 ft.) of coastline and can be visited only as part of a stop off at the main hotel, preferably from the seaside garden terrace, which provides ample views of the Palace Sea Gate, the Palace Garden Gate, and the main building itself.