The Tatar Khans' Palace Complex is located in the valley of Curuq Su River in the Crimean city of Bakhchisaray (lit. Garden Palace). Both the city and the palace were built by the Giray Khan Dynasty, who moved their capital here from nearby Salacik in 1532. Many of the structures currently in the palace were added later, while some of the original sections did not survive past the eighteenth century.
The palace buildings are organized on the east and west sides of a large courtyard of rectangular shape, also known as the Palatial Garden. To its south, the courtyard is transformed into a three-level terrace garden up the hill.
The western side of the complex is divided into three different courtyards at two different levels. The Falcon Tower within the walled Persian Garden, also called the Courtyard of the Baths, occupies the upper level. The lowest level contains the women's quarter (harem) and the court (divankhana), adjoined by the Small Khan Mosque within the Ambassadors' Courtyard and the main living quarters, including the kitchen courtyard. A rectangular walled garden housing the Summer Arbor projects into the Palatial Garden to the south of the main living quarters; it is entered solely through the Divankhana to its west.
The eastern side of the complex contains the Big Khan Mosque with its walled courtyard, adjoined by the Sari Guzel Bath and the Royal Tombs within the Palace Cemetery, with service area located uphill, to the south. The palace has two gates: One adjoining the service areas, and another located between the Guards' Barracks and the Guest House on the river bank. Both gates lead into the Palatial Garden. Each courtyard is also connected to the adjoining courtyards with gates and passageways.
Living Quarters and the Divankhana
An arched gateway at the lower west side of the Palatial Garden leads into the Ambassadors' Courtyard and is adjoined by a small room known as the Golden Room. The administrative structures are located behind an ornate iron door to the south of the Ambassadors' Courtyard. Known as the Iron Gate, the door was constructed in 1503 by Venetian architect Alvise Lamberti and relocated here from the former palatial residence at Salacik. It leads into a small L-shaped courtyard including the Golden Fountain and the Fountain of Tears, surrounded by the Divankhana to the northeast, the Small Khan Mosque to the south and the summer arbor to the east. The Golden Fountain was built in 1733 by Qaplan Giray I and the Fountain of Tears, ordered in 1764 by Qirim Giray and sculptured by Umer, was originally located on the terrace gardens, near the Mausoleum of Dilara Bikey.
The Divankhana is a single storey rectangular building covered with a hipped roof and opens out to the Ambassadors' Courtyard with a portico. Located across the courtyard from Divankhana, the Small Khan Mosque has a small rectangular prayer hall with a central dome and two wings. A doorway in the eastern wall of the Divankhana gives access to the Summer Arbor, a two-story pavilion featuring rooms with indoor pools looking out to a landscaped garden on three sides.
To the north of the Ambassadors' Courtyard, a narrow corridor leads to the kitchen courtyard, which is surrounded by halls used in official ceremonies and living quarters. The rooms here are organized on either side of a central corridor, on two floors, with a portico facing the kitchen courtyard. The interiors are decorated with geometrically ornamented ceilings, carved fireplaces, stained window glasses, wall/stucco paintings and frescos. These rooms were usually used to host Russian Emperors and have therefore been continually remodeled to match European trends in decoration.
The free-standing harem building, which is located within a walled courtyard to the south of the Divankhana, was part of a four-building harem complex that until 1820 contained four structures including baths. It is a rectangular, single story wooden structure with a hipped roof and contains three rooms.
The Persian Garden and the Falcon Tower
Located uphill from the harem complex is the walled, bi-level Persian Garden. It is also named Courtyard of the Baths after the baths that were once located there. At its northeast corner, a top of a rectangular substructure stands the Falcon Tower, an octagonal wooden tower covered with a pyramidal roof. Used as a falcon nest, the spacious interior is accessed by a wooden ladder from the ground floor.
The Big Khan Mosque, the Royal Tombs and the Cemetery
The eastern side of the walled palatial complex contains the Big Khan Mosque, the Royal Tombs of the Giray Khans, within the Palace Cemetery and service areas. It was built as a part of the original palace complex and restored later by Qirim Giray Khan, commemorated with a plaque on its western wall. Oriented south of southwest, the mosque consists of a three-aisle square prayer hall covered with a hipped roof, a narthex and porticos facing east and west. Two symmetrical octagonal minarets rise through the porticos; they are twenty-eight meters high and have conical caps and finials. A domed ablution kiosk of square shape is attached to the northeastern corner of the mosque. It is believed that a madrasa built by Arslan Giray Khan in 1750 used to adjoin the eastern wall. The mosque is entered from a portal facing north. Inside, a balcony is attached to three of the four walls, part of which is sectioned off for the Khan's lodge. Scholars argue that the mosque was originally roofed with domes of various sizes.
Behind the qibla wall of the Big Khan Mosque is the walled palace cemetery containing two Royal Tombs at the western end. The identical tombs are of octagonal shape and roofed with domes. The northern one is entered from the east, whereas the southern one is entered from the northeast. The cemetery has multiple gates along its western and southern walls. The graves are marked with sarcophagi with inscribed stone or marble stele placed at the head and foot.
The Sari (Sary) Guzel Baths
The bathhouse (hammam) is situated near the river outside the fortified palace complex, to the east of the Big Khan Mosque. An inscriptive plaque on one of the interior walls refers to Sahib I Giray as the founder of the Sary Guzel Baths and gives 1532 as the date of construction. It is roofed with domes pierced with glazed apertures. The floor is elevated on low piers to allow the circulation of hot air from a furnace to heat the room. These baths were mostly public and were closed in 1924.
The Terraced Gardens and the Mausoleum of Dilara Bikey
The three-level gardens are entered through a gate at the northwest corner of the lowest level. From here, a ramp running along the west side connects the levels. At the southeast corner of the upper level, is the Mausoleum of Dilara Bikey, which is a simple octagonal chamber covered with a dome. It was built in 1764 by Qirim Giray, along with a small cemetery that now lies in ruins.
Aslanapa, Oktay. 1979. Kirim ve Kuzey Azerbaycan'da Türk Eserleri. Istanbul: Baha Matbaasi, 24-32.