September 06 2012

Politics vs. Culture: Municipality’s Rally Square Project in Yenikapi, Istanbul, Turkey

Municipality's Project for the Rally Square on the Landfill in Yenikapi, Istanbul

A 8,500 year-old archaeological site is not a common element that one comes across in a metropolitan area. In the Yenikapi neighborhood in Istanbul, 35 Byzantine ships were uncovered making the site the home to the biggest ship collection ever excavated, claiming the record from the Danish Nord ships. In addition, a 8,500 year-old Neolithic grave was found, changing the entire history of the city, providing proof of habitation within the core of the city as far back as the Neolithic period. These two findings, along with many others, make Yenikapi one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

I was fortunate enough to work on this project 3-years ago, and at the same time as the excavation, there was a subway project going on to connect the two sides of the Bosphorus – underwater. This subway project was aimed to have been finished in 2007; however after it was realized that there were extremely valuable archaeological artifacts, the project was stalled after a lot of debate. However, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was anything but happy, because these groundbreaking findings were responsible for the delay of the subway project. These several bowls and pots, the expression the Prime Minister had chosen to describe the artifacts, meant an obstruction in the course of completion of a project that was supposed to strengthen the political standing of the current leading party, creating a situation in which the culture is sacrificed by politics, and projects related to the urban environment being used as political tools, similar to what I have discussed in one of my previous posts.

However, the biggest development related to the site these days is not about the archaeological importance or the subway project. Istanbul Municipality announced in the end of June that they are planning to fill the sea shore that Yenikapi is adjacent to in order to construct a square that can fit 700,000 to 1-million people and that would function as a space for rallies, as well as two parking lots. The municipality claims that this “Rally and Demonstration Space for the Metropolitan Istanbul” is a functional space right in the middle of the city, the scale of the project and features of the site reveal how incompatible this project is to its location.

There was actually an international competition that took place in 2011, won by Peter Eisenman, to design a subway station at Yenikapi as well as a museum to exhibit the artifacts from the site, however, apparently, the Municipality had other plans. This project, that appeared out of nowhere in June, as it seems, have already gone through a bidding process in winter, without the permission of the Preservation Board. It is known that the archaeological site continues to the sea as that area was a famous Byzantine port, and the square is not in the plans of the Yenikapi area. In this context, this project is another sad example of how authority can be used so bluntly to have a drastically irresponsible impact on an area that is not just important to its residents, but to the whole world.

To see an international reaction to the issue discussed, check out Andrew Finkel’s article in the New York Times.

What would you do if a similar intervention was undertaken in your city, and what should be the reaction of the international public to this project, since the cultural elements are not only local, but they, in fact, belong to everyone in the world?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Erman Eruz

Erman Eruz is an undergraduate at Princeton University where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Civil Engineering, along with a certificate in Urban Studies. Having grown up in Istanbul, Turkey, he is interested in a wide variety of topics related to the built environment and how people interact with it. Erman is fascinated by the interdisciplinary relation between architecture, engineering and urban planning, and his interests include squatter settlements, architecture of the 20th Century, sustainable planning, bonds between architecture and other forms of art, and global and local aspects of cultural identities.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Architecture, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Politics vs. Culture: Municipality’s Rally Square Project in Yenikapi, Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Kaner Says:

    There should be a high level decision making committee, not locally, but globally, such as the U.N. or European Court of Human Rights. If you cannot stop activities in one of the archeological areas, you can escalate this issue to the high-level committee which has more power than the Presidents. The country leaders may have benefits that are more important than a bunch of “bowls and pots.” In this way, people who are managing their country cannot do whatever they want.

  2. Erman Eruz Says:

    You are absolutely right. UNESCO is the closest thing we have to what you are describing, especially after the historic areas of Istanbul were listed as a World Heritage Site. However, their reports are often neglected by the authorities (e.g. Sulukule gentrification, Golden Horn Bridge) since UNESCO doesn’t have any power of enforcement. I also believe a stronger body with a greater power than local authorities would definitely be helpful to protect the historical heritage.

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