İstanbul’s historical peninsula disappearing

The historical peninsula, İstanbul’s Old City, is like a huge outdoor museum, with thousands of artifacts and architectural masterpieces; however, it is little-by-little being destroyed by grand transportation projects, urban transformation, faulty restorations, the obliteration of the city’s identity and the expansion of touristic facilities, urbanism experts say.

Academics who convened last week at a panel discussion titled “What is Happening on the Historical Peninsula” at Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (MSGSÜ) were in almost unanimous agreement in the belief that the historical peninsula is in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth.

Aykut Köksal, an instructor at MSGSÜ, estimated that the region will become unrecognizable given the current pace of changes. For him, the strongest intrusion in the region’s rich history is in Yenikapı, an area of the historical peninsula. The Marmaray tunnel, which connects the two sides of the Bosporus via channels for railed and wheeled vehicles, will render the region a significant center of transportation, leaving it exposed to the severe threat of also becoming more densely populated with residents, Köksal said.

Marmaray, which opened on Oct. 29, 2013, sees 40 times more people crossing the Bosporus than the Bosporus Bridge. Similarly, with the launch of the tunnel for vehicles in a few years, the region — and especially Yenikapı on the southern side of the peninsula — will not be able to handle the tide of traffic, experts warn.

Jean-François Perouse, director of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies (IFEA), says the historical peninsula has become an attractive residential center because of a number of recent projects and pieces of legislation.

9,665 registered artifacts on peninsula

Noting that legislation adopted back in 2005 has opened the gates for a flock of new residents to move to the peninsula, Perouse said projects like the Marmaray tunnel and the Haliç metro bridge over the Golden Horn make access to the peninsula much easier. He suggested that the special emphasis the people put on rulers like Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and events like the conquest of İstanbul in 1453 creates a sense of pride among the population, pulling a large number of people to the peninsula.

The historical peninsula is included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Cultural Heritage list and accommodates 200 varieties of real estate properties as well as 9,665 registered buildings and artifacts, such as historical mosques, churches, schools, fountains, squares and cisterns. World-famous buildings such as Mimar Sinan’s Süleymaniye Mosque, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Topkapı Palace are the most significant buildings on the peninsula.

According to the Archaeological Settlements in Turkey (TAY) project, 173 structures on the peninsula date back to the Byzantine period. Engin Akyürek, an academic from İstanbul University’s Department of Art History, says if the cisterns that were found later were included on this list, the number of total Byzantine-period structures would exceed 200. “This means that the largest number of Byzantine-period structures would be located on the peninsula,” he added. Stating that 30 of those buildings are still in use, Akyürek said the churches that have survived to the present time were almost all transformed into mosques, and most of those that were not transformed were demolished over time.

İclal Dinçer from Yıldız Technical University’s Faculty of Architecture said that the basic reasons for why there are threats to the historical peninsula are activities to redevelop the coastline of Yenikapı, grand transformation projects and privatization projects.

Indicating that tourism attractions are speedily expanding from the Blue Mosque toward the surroundings of the Süleymaniye Mosque, Dinçer said the greater part of the peninsula will be transformed, particularly with the Transformation of Areas at Risk for Disaster Law No. 6306 that entered into force in 2012, adding that she is very concerned that the historical fabric of the peninsula will be seriously damaged with those transformations.

Noting that the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning is preparing a number of projects for the peninsula, Dinçer said society organizations cannot perform any kind of inspection of the ministry or municipality projects and that the decision-making process of public institutions should be more transparent.

Zeynep Eres, also from İstanbul Technical University’s Faculty of Architecture, said many artifacts and the 8,500-year-old cultural history of the peninsula will be damaged by the transformation activities taking place there. Eres said, “The unearned income [from urban transformation projects] has turned the peninsula into a cancer patient.”

Restoration of historical artifacts not professional

Pointing out that the restoration of many historical artifacts on the peninsula is not being conducted in a professional manner, Köksal said the restoration workers do not even bother to preserve the original aspects of the artifacts. Köksal said one of the most outstanding examples of bad restoration was that of Tekfur Sarayı (Palace of the Sovereign).

Akyürek says the restoration projects being conducted on 377 historical buildings in the Marmara region are not completely based on the original states of the artifacts.

As there are more than 100 restoration projects being conducted on the peninsula, Eres said that restoration should be based on the original structure of the artifacts, adding that modern tiles are used in the restoration of historical artifacts. “The uniqueness of cultural assets is damaged,” Eres stated.

Experts have also reacted strongly against the planned Avrasya tunnel. Dinçer says the tunnel will damage the whole concept of the nearby Marmaray tunnel, and that even the Marmaray engineers oppose the plans to launch such a project without first observing the consequences of the transformation of circulation created by the Marmaray tunnel. Dinçer also said that according to UNESCO, even if the tunnel is constructed, the exits should be located outside of the peninsula.

Pointing to the prevalence of shanty settlements on the peninsula, Eres says the fact that the authorities have failed to prevent those settlements from propagating on the peninsula is also one of the reasons why the silhouette of the historical peninsula is at risk.

The unknown dangers of colours

What can they be you ask?

Well, who knows….but the municipality in Istanbul who order them being painted grey.

rainbow stairs


For full article:

Blogger’s note: you may say this is trivial news, while we are watching the real news as to whether there will be an all out war in Middle East. But we think we need to remember that the mentality that cannot stand colour, that looks for propaganda behind everything is the same mentality that seeks violent means to end violence. May the non-violent and colourful forces be with us!

Turkish Council of State lifts Exemption from Environmental Impact Assessments on Mining Activities

In June 2011, the Environmental Engineers Association (EEA) had started an appeal through the courts against the use of exemption from Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for mining activities by the government in Turkey. As a result of the court case the Council of State, starting from the Kaz mountain region in the North West Turkey, has taken the decision to lift this immunity placed on mining activities in the entire country.

The president of the Environmental Engineers Association, Baran Bozoglu, states, “All new mining activities in Turkey should be stopped and an Environmental Impact Assessment should be carried out in all those areas”.

Mr Bozoglu continues, “The government’s hypocritical claims on being environmentally conscientious whilst simultaneously searching for means to disregard environmental regulations have now been ended with this decision. As it will be remembered, the government made modifications to the Environmental Legislation no 2872 in reference to the search for new mines, classifying such activity outside and exempt of such regulation. We had successfully taken up a court case to annul this decision on the basis of legislation no 56. In its conclusion the court had highlighted issues of public health, benefit to society and the protection of the environment as influential factors in their final decision that favoured our case. “

In 1997 under a programme of economic investment initiatives the government had secured new mining activities exemption from Environmental Impact Assessment by making changes to the assessment code. Although the Environmental Engineers Association had successfully won legal appeals against such reorganisation of the EIA codes, in May this year the government had gone ahead establishing such immunity for mining activities through a collective legislative bill.

Important projects such as the Third Bridge and Ilisu Damn, had also received immunity from EIAs.

For article in Turkish see:

Turkish PM’s secret inspection in Bodrum’s coastline

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s sudden disappearance for three days during the Eid al-Fitr holiday had raised questions about his health, prompting rumors that he had been hospitalized, but it turned out to that he was vacationing in one of Turkey’s most popular resort towns, Bodrum, where he held inspections of urban sprawl.

Erdoğan said Aug. 15 that he was fine and had rested for a few days but he had also worked, observing the terrible situation on the shores of Bodrum.

“This much unjustness is not acceptable. Development has almost expanded into the sea. There is not even a coastline. Housing will be in the sea in the next step if this continues,” Erdoğan said in an interview with daily Hürriyet.

Erdoğan was accompanied by Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar on his trip to the coast. Erdoğan said they also observed the coastline from a helicopter to examine the area well.
“The situation is catastrophic. We witnessed the sensitivity of those repeating the word environment all around,” Erdoğan said.

Support and criticism

The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism will work together and all of the coastline will be examined, Erdoğan added.

“It is not understandable how the local municipalities stood idle while these buildings were constructed. They may face legal prosecutions, and they may lose their posts. We are immediately starting inspections and punishments,” Erdoğan said.

The most important point, Erdoğan said, was that these buildings would be demolished and the Muğla Governor’s Office would provide police forces.

Erdoğan’s statements made a tremendous impact in Bodrum, Muğla. Bodrum Mayor Mehmet Kocadon said most of the development on the coastline had been approved by the Tourism and Culture Ministry, Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Environment. Bodrum Architecture Chamber head Cevat Kalfa said more than 50 percent of the buildings in the region were on state land.

“These were already approved by officials. Buildings are approved by the Environment and Forestry ministries while projects are approved by the Ministry of Culture,” Kalfa said.

The change in the law in May is the issue, Kalfa said, since the buildings were built in legal compliance but now they seem illegal.

Filiz Dindar, representative of the “Blue Path Initiative” (Mavi Yol Girişişimi), said she was surprised that the prime minister had just become aware of the issue since the problem had escalated for years.

“We are struggling for Bodrum for years, saying the same things. What has changed now?” she said.

All the coasts have been sold to private companies and to hotels and these are all approved by ministries, Dindar said.

Hurriyet Daily News, August/17/2013

Opposition party member questions 4 ministers over responsibility for destruction of Istanbul’s historical Yedikule Allotments

Melda Onur, a member of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) has sent official parliamentary questions to ministers over the responsibility for the bulldozing of the historical Yedikule Bostanları (Allotments) inside the 1,500 year-old UNESCO-listed Yedikule fortifications

As part of the Istanbul Historical Peninsula Management Plan agreed by the Municipal Council in 2011, the fortifications and allotments would remain under protection but started being razed in early July to make way for a park as part of the Yedikule Recreation Project.

Onur’s questions highlight the illegality of the demolition works taking place in the Yedikule allotments, drawing attention to the fact that none of the four ministries (Environment and Urban Planning; Culture and Tourism; Food, Agriculture and Livestock and Education) to whom she addresses her questions have  shown any kind of response to the destruction of the allotments, which, as history of architecture lecturer Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir from the Middle East Technical University indicates, “have been part of the urban landscape of Istanbul for arguably longer than the Hagia Sophia itself. The gardens are part of the cultural heritage of Istanbul, of the identity of the city itself, and should be preserved for that reason.”

Onur also goes on to state that the demolition that took place between 3-5 July  inside the fortifications was carried out using work machines and without the supervision of an archaeologist, and demands that responsibility be taken as well as legal action against those responsible.

In her questions, Onur draws attention to the ministries’ complete disregard for the environmental and sociocultural impacts of the Yedikule Recreation Project. The people who cultivated and made a living off the plot before the destruction have clearly not been compensated, as an article on ‘The Atlantic Cities’ website reports a woman who works the land with her husband and sells the produce to the Istanbul wholesale market saying: “I don’t know what we’ll do, where we’ll go if our land gets destroyed as well. We don’t have anything else”.

That the demolition of the historical Yedikule Allotments started at the beginning of July, at the same time as the aggression against Gezi Park is for many a sign of the government’s active indifference to the city’s cultural and historical heritage and for the precious green space that is already so rare in the city.

Original articles:



The 3rd Istanbul Bridge in 10 Questions

1. Can a third bridge solve the traffic problem that the two that are already built could not?

Bridges do not solve traffic problems. They create their own. Because they carry vehicles not passengers. Within a year of the 1st bridge being built, the passenger numbers went up by 4%, while vehicle numbers went up by 200%. The same statistics since the day the 2nd bridge has opened are: +170% for passengers and +1180% for vehicles.

2. Can using the third bridge as a by-pass route reduce the traffic in Istanbul?

This reason for the project is not justified. Transit traffic that goes through the two existing bridges is only 2-3% of the total traffic.

3. What is the cause of the unbearable traffic on the bridges?

The key reason is the lack of investment in public transport. The public transport vehicles that carry 63% of the passengers across the bridges make up 10% of the vehicle flow, 90% of the flow is made up by private vehicle carrying 37% of passengers.

4. Will the 3rd bridge affect only those living in Sariyer  and Beykoz neighbourhoods?

The 3rd bridge will open the north of Istanbul to development and increase in population in an unplanned and uncontrolled way.

5.  How will the 3rd bridge affect the people of Istanbul?

The 3rd bridge will cause irreversible damage to the last remaining natural areas around Istanbul (located to the north of the city). 2 million trees will be cut down during the construction. This will threaten 1/3rd of the city’s forests with disappearance. This will increase the flood risk, pollution of the water catchment, increase in erosion and hence siltation in the dams which will reduce the water that can be stored in the dams. Many forester villagers will loose their livelihood. Air pollution will increase. Wild life will be damaged.

6. Will the 3rd bridge affect Istanbul alone?

3rd bridge is a part of the Northern motorway project that will affect the entire Marmara region. The motorway will damage agricultural land and water catchment in both sides of the Bosphorous.

7. Who is gaining from the 3rd bridge?

Large construction companies, land speculators, banks, petrol companies, automotive companies. The new urban development law that grants extraordinary powers will also allow the demolishing of 250,000 buildings. The land along the route of the bridge is changing hands, being purchased by large land holders.

8. Is there a scientist that defends the 3rd bridge?

No technical expert, scientific institution or professional association has yet stated that the bridge is necessary for Istanbul. In the contrary, its damages are proven. The 3rd bridge is described as a threat even in the urbanisation plan prepared by the Metropolitan Council of Istanbul.

9. What should be done to solve the traffic problem, instead of the 3rd bridge?

A more balanced population distribution between the two sides of the Bosphorous. The quality of public sector should be improved and the need for private car use should be reduced. The sea transport which is currently a small proportion of the city transport, can be improved to become the fast, efficient, comfortable and low cost alternative that it can become.

10. So why is this persistence to build the 3rd bridge?

The 3rd bridge is planned to serve the new city planned to the north of Istanbul, the 3rd airport and Canal Istanbul projects. It is a rent-generating project. It is not a transport project.

For a campaign:

The above in Turkish:

3 kopru 2


Photographs of the construction:


Note: the image with 10 questions is taken from facebook. This is not a source we use generally. But we’ve done some research and these points tally with statements made by others.