Istanbul Conference, 5-6 November 2009


“City of Intersections





[clicking on the topic headings below will take you directly to that section]




THE CONFERENCE   [my personal account of the Urban Age Conference itself]

HISTORY OF ISTANBUL (and Turkey)  [my overview if the history of the city and country]

Current political situation  [my analysis of the current situation in Turkey and Istanbul]

HISTORY OF THE POST-WORLD WAR II URBAN DEVELOPMENT OF ISTANBUL  [my attempt to trace the patterns and issues of urban development in modern Istanbul]

OUR TOURING ISTANBUL  [a description of the places we toured—illustrated with photographs and liberally annotated]





Nancy and I are back from the wonderfully successful Urban Age Conference in Istanbul, Turkey.  The Urban Age is a series of world-wide conferences, dedicated to studying the problems and issues facing cities in the 21st century and creating dialogues designed to find solutions.  (See the UA’s own very informative website: www.urban-age.net)   100 years ago, 10% of the world’s population lived in cities, while 90% lived in rural areas.  We are at a moment in history when the world has just crossed the point that more than 50% of its population now live in cities—and the United Nations predicts that by 2050 approximately 75% of the world will live in cities.  This fact means that the nature of cities will have an incredibly important impact on the nature of life on this planet.  The Urban Age program—centered at the London School of Economics, and funded by the Alfred Herrhausen Society (the international forum of Deutsche Bank)—is headed by our dear friend Ricky Burdett (who was the Director of the 2006 Venice Biennale for Architecture [q.v., my review], co-curator of Global Cities, the 2007 summer exhibit in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London [q.v., my review], and is now Chief Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism for the 2012 London Olympics Legacy Delivery Company) .    These conferences are designed to form the framework for the development of an ongoing dialogue between government leaders, academic experts and urban practitioners—it brings together architects, city planners, government officials, transportation experts, real estate developers, and the academics who study these areas.


On 2-3 November 2007, Urban Age held the first of its second series of conferences—after the original series of six conferences which began in New York in February 2005 and which culminated in Berlin in November 2006 (with Shanghai, London, Johannesburg, and Mexico City in between).  The Endless City, a book representing the integration of the findings of the first series of conferences, was released by Phaidon Press in 2008.  It was co-authored by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic (member of the Urban Age team and author of The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful--and Their Architects--Shape the World, and many other books, and now Director of the Design Museum in London).  Istanbul was the final of the three meetings of the second series; Mumbai  (q.v., my write up) and São Paulo having been the prior two.


Before the beginning of the Conference proper, there was a reception at Sakip Sabanci Museum at which the third annual Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award was presented.  The speakers were Josef Ackermann (CEO of Deutsche Bank),  Kadir Topbaş (Mayor of Istanbul), and Behiç Ak (a cartoonist, architect, and author). The Award was given to the Bariş İçin Müsik (Music for Peace), a program in one of Istanbul’s most disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods that involves children aged 7-14 in musical education, and thereby provides a positive alternative to spending time on the street and encouragement to stay in school.  The award comes with a monetary award of $100,000.






Istanbul (İstanbul, in Turkish) has been known by many names: historically the main ones had been Byzantium, New Rome, and, yes, “You can’t go back to…” Constantinople.


In its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital city of the post-Diocletian Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453 [with the intervening years its being the capital of the Crusader-established Latin Empire), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). 


Turkey itself has a population of 76,805,524 in an area of 783,562 km2 slightly larger than Texas).  File:Istambul and Bosporus big.jpgThe ethnic composition of Turkey is 70-75% Turkish, 18% Kurdish, and other minorities 7-12%; its religious makeup is 99.8% Muslim  (mostly Sunni), and 0.2% other (mostly Christian and Jewish).


Istanbul is located in the northwest of the Marmara Region of Turkey.  The Bosphorus [q.v., satellite photo at left]—an extraordinarily important strait between the Black Sea to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the Istanbul From Space with Place-Namessouth—bisects the city into a European half on the west and an Asian half to the east, making it the world’s only metropolis located astride both continents.  The Sea or Marmara  connects on its southeastern end, through the Dardanelles, to the Aegean Sea, and thence to the Mediterranean.  This location has positioned Istanbul on the one of the world’s most important major trade routes:  connecting the countries surrounding the Black Sea (Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine—and thereby the Balkans, the Caucasus, and ultimately eastern Europe and Central Asia) to the Mediterranean and thereby the rest of the world.  The Golden Horn,  an estuary in the midst of the European side of Istanbul—meandering off the Bosphorus to the northwest, to the north of Saray Point (and Sultanahmet and the rest of the Old City to its west), and to the south of Karaköy (Galata)—has always been the most important, protected, deep-water natural harbor on the Bosphorus.  Throughout history, these factors have been responsible for Istanbul’s importance, as well as for its wealth and prosperity.


With a fast-growing population of ~13 million, and an area of 5,343 km2, Istanbul is a huge metropolis, as well as the cultural and financial center of Turkey.  The city comprises 39 districts (ilçe) [q.v., map at left], governed by an extremely powerful mayor.  





The two days of the Conference proper began on 5 November Thursday.  There was a boat from the Çirağan Palace Hotel (where the international team was staying) to ferry people back and forth on the Bosphorus to the conference site in Ortaköy, although many of us chose instead the lovely ten minute walk.

The conference sessions took place in the strikingly beautiful Esma Sultan Yalisi in Ortaköy.  The exterior of the building is the ruined remains of a brick palace that was built for Esma Sultan, sister of Sultan Abdülaziz, in 1875 by architect Sarkis Balyan.  In 2001, Gökhan Avcioglu designed the unusual multi-purpose event space which was built within the ruins of the old palace.  It consists of a glass and steel box, tethered to the exterior walls by suspension rods, which ensure that the structures remain equidistant from each other and therefore able to withstand the stresses of bad weather and earthquakes.  It provided an exciting environment for the even more exciting conference taking place within it.


The following descriptions represent my personal account of the presentations they describe.  They are in no way meant to be exhaustive summaries, and they are probably not even all that accurate as representations of what each participant said; rather they are my personal recollection of the presentations.  Many of the speakers have articles about—or relating to—their presentations in the Urban Age Conference Newspaper.  This Newspaper (which I most highly recommend to you in any event, since it is an exceedingly rich source of observations, data and, meaningful commentary on the situation in Istanbul) is available  online at www.urban-age.net/publications/newspapers/istanbul/media/UrbanAgeIstanbulNewspaper_en.pdf.  I shall mark with an asterisk (“*”) those presenters who have articles in the Newspaper, as their articles, in addition to being full and rich presentations, invariably provide more direct and accurate versions of what they had to say. In the descriptions that follow, my own additions and editorializing take place between square brackets “[ ]”.






The first day’s opening remarks began with a welcome from Wolfgang Nowak (Managing Director of the Alfred Herrhausen Society).  Josef Ackermann (CEO of Deutsche Bank) noted that Deutsche Bank was this year marking the 100th anniversary of its operations in Turkey, and that London and Istanbul were Europe’s only mega- global cities.  He spoke about the wonderful partnership between the Bank’s Herrhausen Society and the LSE, and included himself among the “addicts” who had become regular participants in the Urban Age program, welcoming us to the conference along with our new Turkish participants; and he mused about whether there was a connection between the fact that the first of this series of conference’s having been in Mumbai and this final one’s being in Istanbul might account for the fact that Turkish Airlines was just now inaugurating the first non-stop service between Istanbul and Mumbai.   Howard Davies (Director of the London School of Economics) offered his welcome and observations; and he was one of the few during the conference to sound the important theme of corruption, quoting an old Turkish adage (appropriately often used to in relation to the process of government land distribution projects), “He who holds the honey pot is bound to lick his fingers.”  Edoğan Bayraktar (Executive Director of the Republic of Turkey Prime Minister’s Housing Development Administration) also spoke.


Introducing the Urban Age


Ricky Burdett gave an overview of the social and physical realities of cities in the 21st Century:  a world in which about 1/3 of the population lives in slums, Population growth in the Urban Age citiessqualor, and without basic resources; in which the development of urban form takes place mostly through informal development, but where the much of the new formal development takes place in forms like the dreadful public housing high-rise towers of Shanghai (which tend to become vertical slums, as in Mumbai)—a form that is very much a part of Istanbul’s recent development pattern; and in which most of the areas of urban development are in locations of greatest risk for flooding (e.g., the recent floods in Istanbul itself)—a risk that is threatening to become much exacerbated by climate change.  The growth rates of the major global cities from what existed in 1900 to what is predicted for 2020 is staggering:  while not as high as Shanghai’s 1,746%,  Istanbul’s is close, at 1,679%.  Istanbul covers a vast area, similar to Shanghai—actually more like a state than most cities, although directly under the control of its own mayor.  Istanbul continues to have a high level of manufacturing (43%), making it different from many major cities, and quite unlike London in that regard.  The crime rate in Istanbul is low—the homicide rate is just 3.8 (compared to NYC’s 6.3, São Paulo’s 16, and Johannesburg’s shocking 23); nevertheless, crime is perceived as one of Istanbul’s most worried about problems, and there has been a major move among the affluent towards living in gated communities.  Ricky noted that (according to different estimates) that cities are responsible for something like 60-75% of the global CO2 produced, but that cities can be the most energy-efficient form of living; this depends on high density levels and good public transportation—cities like São Paulo and Mexico City which rely on private cars being among the worst in this regard—along with the encouraging of walking and bicycle use.


Ben Page* (Chief Executive, IPSOS MORI UK and Ireland, London; the extremely informative slides from this presentation are available online at  http://www.columbia.edu/~rr322/UA-Ist-BPage.ppt; and the survey findings are available in the Conference Newspaper) presented the results of the latest in the series of his wonderful surveys.  (q.v., one of Ben’s charts at left: “Istanbul’s problems seem more similar to London than São Paulo”)  He found that, as in other major cities, the younger the respondents were, the more satisfied they were with their city.  In Istanbul, the biggest perceived advantage of the city was job opportunity.  The reported preference for transportation was subways and Metrobus (the two highest categories, at 32% and 19% respectively), and 55% of those polled thought traffic congestion was a big problem in the city; nevertheless, 80% aspire to own a car, and say they would purchase one were they able to.  There were several unusual disjunctions in the findings, most strikingly having to do with crime:  fear of crime was reported to be among the population’s top concerns (44%), although crime is actually quite low in Istanbul (it is known as a very safe city for anyone to walk anywhere in, and crime rates are comparatively very low)—and a staggering 74% express fear of being attacked.  Ben noted that this is not an unusual paradox: London, which has an even lower crime rate (homicide rate is just 1.4 [compared to Istanbul’s 3.8 and São Paulo’s 21], expresses concern about crime at a 59% level [compared to Istanbul’s also high 44%, but São Paulo’s inexplicably low 20%].  The thing Istanbulis want most to change are education (77%) and crime (30%); and they are relatively much less concerned about what appear to be the more pressing problems of public transportation (7%) and affordable housing (6%)—and only 1 in 20 residents of this earthquake endangered city worry about earthquakes, despite the significant loss of life in the quake of 1999.  [I suggested privately to Ben after the presentation that perhaps the relative satisfaction with the woefully inadequate public transportation might be attributable to the fact that the city has just made some significant—all be they quite limited—improvements to its system, and has promised major ones to follow; and that the minimal focus of discontent with both affordable housing and earthquakes as problems might be due to the fact that Istanbulis have learned to be wary of what urban redevelopment has done to their communities, and that the new earthquake standards law that is being debated threatens to be used as an excuse for massively unpopular redevelopment schemes.]



DAY I, SESSION I: Cities in the Global Context


Rethinking Cities in the Global Economy  Co-Chairs: Howard Davies (Director, LSE) and Şevket Pamuk, (Chair in Contemporary Turkish

Studies, LSE)


Growth, Urbanization and Development.

Kemal Derviş (Vice-President and Director of Global Economy and Development Program, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. and Senior Advisor, Sabancı University, Istanbul) started by noting the World Bank finding that when a city reaches an urbanization rate of 45-60%, there follows a major acceleration of growth in that city, and then speculated whether the same principle might work for the world as a whole: given that the world’s urbanization has reached the 50% level, whether that doesn’t mean a similar massive inflection point in the acceleration of that growth.  He noted that world wide GDP per capita had been essentially stagnant for centuries, but that since 1990 there had been a 25-fold increase (with it being an estimated 500 in 1000, an estimated 700 in 1600, ~800 in 1820, 1,800 in 1931, but 6,000 in 2001).  In the 21st Century, emerging markets have been growing fast and becoming more important; but that the world’s growth is “lumpy”—with some regions catching up and some falling behind more.  (Until the period between 1820 and 1913, regionally the growth had been essentially similar.)  He said that, based on reasonably firm assumptions for 2010, and much more speculative ones for 2030 (e.g., that there will be a projected growth of 10-30%; that the annual growth rate for China+India will be ~7.5% [with China declining from its current 9-10% rate to 7-8%, but with India’s rate increasing more than expected], the emerging world ~5%, the advanced countries 2%), that he predicted the structure of the world’s economy (based on market prices) to follow the following GDP trajectory:













China + India








Low Income


Note that this predicts that China, India, and the emerging countries would account for half of the world’s GDP!  Derviş believes that urbanization helps the diffusion of this growth and its accelerating speed.  And he is obviously predicting a continued acceleration of economic growth, at least over the next two and a half decades.  He did allow that the major contrary factor to these projections—and one not included in his calculations—was the effect climate change could have on the supply side of all this.


American Metropolitan Cities in the Post-Recession Period.

Bruce Katz (Vice-President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.—and long-time Urban Age participant and Executive Board member) discussed how the Great Recession has been disrupting the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe and what it means for the US.  In the US, the housing sector has been ravaged (worst in places like Florida and Las Vegas and manufacturing metro areas like Detroit), unemployment is at ~10% (and much higher for African-Americans [15.4%] and Hispanics [12.7%]; and ½ of the auto industry workers have lost their jobs)  He noted that while the US has a long history of anti-urban sentiment—particularly on the Federal and state levels—that “The US is essentially a metro-nation, and that it is high time for it to start acting like one!”  He called for a transition to the next economy—one based on clean energy, green buildings, economical transportation, and new jobs based on these sectors:

1.      a rebalancing of the economy in the direction of becoming more export-oriented than consumption (the US has gone off course, with the past decade being based on consumption—75% of GDP)

2.      a metro-led economy, with intense concentrations of people in relatively few places, based on all the things that foster cities and which cities encourage:  innovation, human capital, infrastructure quality of place

3.      realization of the potential of the national economy, in which the Federal government becomes a strategic, flexible, and accountable partner to cities

Bruce believes that Obama “gets it” at the paradigmatic level—that he can be the first “metro-president,” seeing metropolitan areas as being “vital engines of economic growth, innovation, and opportunity.” (from the White House website)  He feels we need sustainable communities initiatives, linking housing, transportation, and jobs; the US needs to become less insular (Bruce wants to see the 21st Century as actually beginning with 2009—for good and hopeful reasons); and there need to be improvements in education, and early childhood reforms.


Financing Cities in the Global Economy

Ersin Aykuz (Country Head, Deutsche Bank, Turkey)  noted that economy of the West is set to shrink by 8% for 2009; it will grow again, but there are still risks ahead: securitization markets are still muted; public budgets will be stressed for years; stimulus packages cannot compensate cities for tax losses.  Private sector can help:  $40 trillion will have to be invested; housing and mortgage markets are not in equilibrium, and housing is usually considered to be in the realm of private financing; the finance industry can help with interest rate instabilities, through the offering of swaps and options.  [I found there to be some chilling omissions in these proposed ways of helping, particularly in light of what has just transpired in the world of what financial institutions have offered in these ways.]


These three presentations were followed by panel comments and discussion.


Jose Serra (Governor of the State of São Paulo) noted that São Paulo has a less leveraged real estate market, and that Brazil in general is faring better than the UK in the current recession; but that there is bad news for cities in many countries—that growth in the advanced market economies will be slower than in the emerging ones, but that Germany will be the exception to this in Europe.


Anthony Williams (Wm H. Bloomberg Lecturer in Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School and Mayor of Washington, D.C., 1999-2007) raised some questions as a former “practitioner”: How do we deal with these forces at the local level? What steps need to be put in place in the real world?  To Kemal: What does all this say about the relationship between the formal and informal economies? To Bruce: with the US history of poor response to issues in urban areas, how do we get this to percolate down to the local level? To Ersin: What steps are necessary to achieve the transparency necessary--where and how do financial institutions fit in?


Nasser Munjee, Chairman, Development Credit Bank, India) noted that land was the most valuable resource in cities and it makes the most dramatic impact, but that this must be combined with the growth of infrastructure.  In terms of the global environment, competition, comparative advantage, and connectivity are what produce results (and that for cities, location, logistics, livability provide the relative advantages).  He stressed the importance of “gateways” like Dubai or Singapore.  He also touted the importance of public/private partnerships.  “Let us find what needs to be built. Then we should find the mechanisms to build it.” [There is much to be said about this whole emphasis on “public/private partnership” and what it means in Istanbul; q.v., below]


Muhsin Mengütürk (Member of Board of Directors, Doğus Holding, Turkey) pointed out that Istanbul had become a global financial hub. He felt that the bright side for Istanbul was that there was still manufacturing (which had moved to the far less expensive periphery of the city), that large companies, banks, and international corporations are still very much in evidence, that labor is still very available, and that Istanbul has been attracting a high level of specialized services (IT, legal, accounting) necessary to support all this.  The problems:  Turkey’s financial markets are still very shallow (capitalization, diversification of products); there are political risks involved; Istanbul’s stock exchange is still a very local exchange; that regulatory efforts are not yet up to par—that there is uncertainty about what regulations will be, that institutions are in way over their heads in the current crisis, and that, while there is some general agreement that there is a need for substantially different regulation, it may not happen. [I felt him to be overly optimistic about the likelihood of effective regulation, and rather leaving out of the “political risks” those forces that are and will remain opposed to any strictures on the financial process.  Much needs to be said—and little was—about the role of institutional financing in Istanbul, where its history of huge financial gain from real estate construction until relatively recently happened largely without bank financing, mortgages being a relatively uncommon vehicle until quite recently.  Instead, building was done mostly on a smaller scale as transactions between land owners and construction companies who would partner to develop a piece of land, mostly by pre-selling the apartments therein created.  The absence of institutional financing of real estate and the securitization thereof actually allowed Istanbul to escape some of the worst ravages of that aspect of the current crisis of the financial markets.  The trend since then has been quite different.  q.v., my section on “History OF The Post-World War II Urban Development of Istanbul.”]


Selahattin Yıldırım (Secretary General, United Cities and Local Governments Middle East and West Asia, Istanbul) claimed that there was a political dimension that was disappearing from the discussion—no one was talking about the political dimension. He said that there was a scary sort of urban populism, with a threat about what happens if one does not follow the rules.  He invoked “the repressed mood of urban space,”  and the need for a real urban response to deal with the current urban crisis.  And he concluded that simply following the observed local trends of the global economy has led to major violations of democracy.  [This was the first of what would be several voices in the next session to sound a warning note about some of the trends in what was being positively spoken of.]


Ahmet Misbah Demircan, Mayor of Beyoğlu Municipality, Istanbul) spoke about what he saw as the “real challenge” to a mega-city of slums scattered about the landmarks: that roads need to be at least 18m wide, and what they have is 5-6m.  That in his own district of Beyoğlu, they have smaller, narrow streets with no place for parking.  He proceeded to expound the virtues of Law 5366, a 2005 ordinance which allows “regeneration through public/private partnership”:  in this scheme, buildings can be taken from their owners to be “renovated,” with new building being done to restore the neighborhood, improving it while maintaining its original character; the original owner is promised a new apartment or store “nearby”; and it is described as being financed through 50-50 investment in ownership.  In this way the older neighborhoods [and Law 5366 is particularly targeted at the poor communities in the historic districts in and near the old city, although it can be applied to what few old, indigent neighborhoods exist anywhere in the city—the most astounding fact we learned about Istanbul is that of all the buildings in the city, only 7% were built before 1953] can be made more modern, with newer buildings and a street plan that better accommodates cars, while “preserving the original character of the buildings and the neighborhood.”.  [This is all made to sound rather like historic preservation, until one realizes that what is being discussed is at most preserving the façades of some of the original buildings, totally demolishing the structures and street plan, building characterless large blocks, and simply re-attaching some of the original façades to the lower floors along the new large block.  As an aside, our friend Alex Garvin has insisted that this form of building should be termed “façodomy”!  It is made to sound like some kind of community renewal, although as in many such programs, the effect—and perhaps even the intent—is to destroy the existing neighborhoods and dislocate the current inhabitants. Many of the original owners will not be able to afford the 50-50 financing—which, characteristically in Istanbul since the 80s, results in half ownership of only 2/3, as 1/3 in such schemes has always gone to the mayor—and therefore will not get what they appear to be being promised; instead, the “nearby” replacement is likely for most to end up being one of the ghastly high-rise projects on the city’s periphery.  The well-heeled Mayor of Beyoğlu is the first person I have actually considered throwing a shoe at!  More about Law 5366 in my discussion of the history of urbanization of Istanbul.]


ties and Social Capital

Cities and Social Capital  Co-Chairs: Tony Travers (Director, Greater London Group, LSE) and Korel Göymen (Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Member of Executive Committee, Istanbul Policy Centre, Sabancı University, Istanbul


Global Flows of Urban Change

Saskia Sassen* (Lynd Professor of Sociology and Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, New York—and long-time Urban Age participant) saw a series of historical intersections for which Istanbul was the anchor, the platform; and she saw its position at the intersection of economic and political geography to be at the very heart of all this—causing Istanbul to be ranked (according to A T Kearny’s 2009 study of 60 cities) as in the top ten in policy influence, top 15 in human capital (cities that act as a magnet for diverse groups of people and talent), 35th in business activity.  The city has a hugely international population—a factor that weighs most heavily in New York City’s achieving the number 1 status in the study overall.  Istanbul is at the geographic center of the east-west flow of capital, which increases in importance as Asian economies grow and prosper:  even though the EU is still Turkey’s dominant trade partner (“In 2007, trade between Turkey and the EU stood at $12.4 billion, an astounding thirty-fold increase over the 1990 to 2000 annual average.” [from Conference Newspaper]),  the Asian end is becoming increasingly significant (“At the end of 2007, by far the two largest recipients of Turkish foreign direct investment (FDI) were the Netherlands and Azerbaijan, a striking juxtaposition that fully captures Turkey’s geographic articulation of East and West.” [idem]).  She focused on Turkey’s enormous mobility:  its emigration to places such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and its immigration from Bulgaria and Azerbaijan—but with a very important component of professional in-migration.  Saskia pointed to the importance of construction and real estate development in Istanbul, but also to the magnitude of FDI.


The Changing Urban Context in Turkey.

Joan Clos (Ambassador of Spain to Turkey and Mayor of Barcelona, 1997-2006) asserted that it was growth and change that defined what is happening in Turkey’s cities, and that there was not a comprehensive theory of cities as well-producing economic engines—that economics alone does not explain the wealth of cities.  He noted that Istanbul’s population had nearly doubled from its 8 million level in 1995, and that the bureaucrats were deciding that it was necessary to freeze the city’s population so that it does not exceed 16 million.  Turkey has a population of 74 million.  There has been a tremendous in-migration from rural areas of Turkey, as the average per capita income in Istanbul is between $16-18,000, while that of Turkey as a whole is only $11,000.  The country, with enormous foreign investment, has become an industrialized capital, different from most of its neighbors.  He pointed to great changes that have been happening:  in 1995, Turkey entered into EU-Turkey Customs Union [allowing goods to travel between the two entities without any customs restrictions, but which does not cover many essential economic areas; little was said at the conference about the status and meaning of EU membership for Turkey, but in 1999 Turkey was given the status of a candidate country and in 2004 a report with positive recommendations was made to the European Council, resulting in the start of accession negotiations in 2005]; in 2002, there was a huge financial crisis, in which two of the nation’s biggest banks went bankrupt; and in 2002 the AKP [the Justice and Development Party; q.v., my section, “Current Political Situation”] won the elections with a large enough majority to become a single-party government, and that victory was affirmed even more resoundingly in the 2007 election—a result that is a complete anomaly in recent Turkish history.   The ambassador further noted that, the AKP is defending the government and opposing Sharia. [This was about as close as anyone in conference meetings got even to refer to religion!  The AKP is an Islamic party, and there is a fierce and complicated tension going on in relation to the traditional secularism of the Turkish Republic.]


Istanbul: Between Local and Global

Çağlar Keyder* (Professor, Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul) started by noting that in 2001, 500,000 jobs had been lost.  He opined that Istanbul may come to anchor an economic pole of the East as London does on the West, and that it is an attractive object for global capital when investment returns looking for opportunities—but raised the question of whether this will actually come about.  In 1999, there was a defense of the old and a sense of history that seemed to interfere with globalization; there was a need for things in Istanbul to get approval from Ankara; and there was a difficulty establishing property rights.  There has been significant change since then:  with the AKP achieving power, the old Ankara/Istanbul tension has been resolved, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is himself a former mayor of Istanbul; the ability to form a meaningful urban coalition has become possible, and this coalition has a coherence that permits all manner of public/private ventures, which proliferate over institutional endeavors; in the past 5-6 years, much financial global capital has been attracted (requiring legal infrastructure for property ownership—a big change from the old Ottoman approach, which was very different from the European, and had resulted in uncertain ownership), especially in real estate (office buildings, gentrification, new communities) leading to speculation that created a bubble for the first time, and which led to the current crisis.  The city has inherited an ambivalent attitude towards land: the gecekondus [q.v., my discussion in “History OF The Post-World War II Urban Development of Istanbul.”] were built by squatting on “public land”; the main solution was TOKI (the Mass Housing Administration), which was given incredible power to privatize public land, and to raze all the gecekondus.   Now, under the new, “modern” housing policy, land is becoming commoditized and truly capitalistic.  The old struggles are no longer relevant; Istanbul has moved to a new politics.


These three presentations were followed by panel comments and discussion, which was amongst the most lively of the conference.


Dieter Läpple (Professor of Urban Economics, HafenCity University Hamburg—and long-time Urban Age participant) gave an impassioned, and much needed counterbalance to what had been said, noting that we are really dealing with two different models of urbanization and social capital.  He pointed out that this city which had only 1 million inhabitants in 1950, had, in a half-century, become an entirely new city.  Most importantly, he went after the fact that the true nature of the gecekondu was being ignored:  they are not slums, but rather well-functioning informal communities with schools, healthcare, and successful social networks, which represent a bottom-up form of community organization—and that they represent an integrated, inclusive, and highly successful form of urbanization which had been virtually unaffected by the financial crisis.  He summed it up by characterizing the negatives in the following phrase: “But you can’t park your car!”  Dieter posed the real question as being how to reconcile this successful, populist development strategy with the new globalization.


Henk Ovink (Director, National Spatial Planning, Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, The Netherlands) noted that Europe is a shrinking continent, and that we need to avoid the protectionism of the Northern European model.


Gerald Frug (Professor of Law, Harvard University—and long-time Urban Age participant) spoke about democracy, and asked to what extent control was in the hands of the city’s residents—that while no one thinks they should have total control, is it true that they have any voice at all?  In this regard, he raised a series of questions:  1) how important is the policy of the central government, as opposed to that of the local—and is the much applauded collapse of the two really a good thing?  2) there are 30-odd district managers in Istanbul’s governing council, but, given the strength of the mayor, to what extent is the city government actually responsive to the city?  3)  to what extent is the city run by business and corporations rather than by the people themselves? And, 4) just what is the role of these much talked about public/private partnerships?  They could be productive and positive, but they have a dark side:  the private can have an overwhelmingly strong influence in such pairings.  Gerry then came up with the statement of the conference, when he reminded everyone of the following very relevant truth:  Corruption is an example  of a public/private partnership!


İlhan Tekeli (Professor of City and Regional Planning, Middle East Technical University, Ankara)  reminded us that from a planner’s point of view, we need to ask the question whether these theories are sufficient.  It is not clear that there is an adequate conceptual level operating (e.g., these theories have said nothing about boundaries); it is not clear how to make spatial strategic plans using these theories.  İlhan has written about the role of democratic process in planning  (from Conference Newspaper:


Developed democracies have realized that it is no longer possible to control urban development using modernist plans representing a city frozen in time; instead strategic plans prepared through public participation and a deliberative, democratic process direct a city’s growth. Implementation of plans in Turkey, however, should not be confused with the transparent processes of developed democracies. In Turkey, a mayor’s use of authority is not always transparent.  


Turkey’s city administrations have not been completely democratized yet, and strong municipal authority has created, in most cases, local fiefdoms rather than widespread civic engagement.


Nefise Bazoğlu (Former Chief, Monitoring Systems Branch, UN-Habitat, Istanbul) began by disputing the meaning of some of the rankings reported by Saskia Sassen, and he said that the current trends in Istanbul do not represent a success story:  Istanbul is at risk for losing something important.  The issues may be global, as Saskia was discussing; but they are also very local.  A city is a matter of many people interacting—or communal behavior—and this should not be overlooked:  “We have excessive luxury and consumption; but what do we not have?  We will soon be a failure at keeping Istanbul Istanbul.”  He expressed the fear that the rapid, militaristic renovation of the city would lead to the loss of this special quality.


Saskia replied that she had not meant to convey that Istanbul was a success story.  She agreed with Gerry Frug, and that she thought that the Neo-Liberal agenda is devastating.  She had been trying to concentrate on the capacity to build something (regardless of by the poor, whatever): “The city is a very concrete place for ‘making.’”


Şevket Pamuk noted that there was little discussion of local agendas in elections, that it was only about nation things.  He said the public corporations - municipal entities had no accountability; and, yes, developers have an enormous amount of say.  As for the question of success:  what exists, the citizens feel good about, but it is not really based on any plan.  The Neo-Liberal program was new in the 80s; Istanbul accepts most of European values and those of the EU.



DAY I, SESSION II:  Cities and Cultures


Narratives of City Experience

Co-Chairs: Deyan Sudjic* (Director, London Design Museum—and long-time Urban Age participant) and Hasan Bülent Kahraman (Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Sabancı University and Columnist, Sabah Newspaper, Istanbul)


Istanbul: The Hinge City

Richard Sennett* (Professor of Sociology, LSE and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—and Urban Age founder) raised the question of whether we need to take a view of what community means.  The left/center left position he said most of us adhere to celebrates community as a family life, in which we understand and know each other—an intimacy based on a bond with other people.  He feels this model is going out of date in the modern world, where the nuclear family has fragmented (partly because we are living longer; partly because we are starting families later in life), more people live alone; and that people feel less bonded to each other.  In his view, the new community requires “bonding to strangers.”  Richard  linked this to the concept of “hinge cities” which he describes in his thought-provoking article in the conference newspaper as being defined—as in Venice, his prototype for the Mediterranean hinge city—by:


...the impermanence in time of…foreigners inhabiting a cosmopolitan space. They seldom stayed more than a few years.


Mutual ethnic tolerance thus rested on a lack of permanent identification with local life. The hinge city is a city of migrants rather than immigrants, a place of location rather than a destination, a city of mobilities.  (from Conference Newspaper)


Social Narratives in Global Cities

Suketu Mehta (Author, Maximum City and Associate Professor, School of Journalism, New York University, New York—and long-time Urban Age participant) spoke about story telling—the role of narrative in all this.  He spoke about the study commissioned by Mumbai, “A Vision of Mumbai” (done by what he marvelously described as, “those professional story-tellers, McKinsey & Company”!), which he described as being less a “vision” than a “hallucination.”  He said that anywhere in the world, “slums” are the rich, multi-colored communities, and mass-produced housing is drab and monochromatic; the moral being, “Don’t demolish slums, improve them”:  give them toilets, sanitation, water.  The poor live where they want to be, and they have shaped their environment the way they want it.  He also discussed the bifurcation in what goes under the rubric of “the news”: on the one hand, the banality of TV for the masses; on the other, specialized journalism for a diminishing class of educated consumer.  He claimed that the role of the journalist is seen as to interpret to the masses what happens in the arcane halls of power; but that what journalists should do is to listen to the stories of the people.


The voice of Istanbul: who does a city belong to?

Gündüz Vassaf (Author and Psychologist, Istanbul)  gave the most poetic of the conference’s presentations (and, hopefully, it will soon be available on the Urban Age website, as it will be hard to characterize here—but here’s an attempt).  “I am The Voice of Istanbul:  I am where gods and people mingled; I have thirty names; like most cities, I have my own sense of time: I see change with the patience of the centuries: Time does not pass me by, it protects me; To whom does the city belong?; We are all disenfranchised—who decides?; The city, above all, belongs to its citizens.”


Dayan:  Do the current residents still relate to this history?


Gündüz:  All who come to this city become part of its history, even though the city keeps changing.


Dayan:  It always seems that cities are about choices…


Richard:  It is more in line with what Suketu was talking about:  a city is a place with a specific set of feelings.  The question is how to design places for people to inhabit.


Dayan:  Architects are, themselves, primary storytellers.



Confronting History and Urban Change


Co-Chairs: Ricky Burdett (Director, Urban Age, LSE) and Asu Aksoy* (International Projects, Santral Istanbul and Bilgi University, Istanbul)


Urban Culture in The Cities of the Mediterranean

Hashim Sarkis* (Aga Khan Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University) discussed the ideal of Mediterranean civilization and the concept of the Mediterranean city as the locus of several desires—Sea, Sun, and Sex—and differing geographic regions— East v. West, North v. South, sub-regions of Aegean and Adriatic, para-regions of Marmara and Black Sea; but mostly of differing historiographic conceptions:  1) as unifying geography over time (the panoramic—harbors with hills and encroaching hinterland, extended visibility, needs to embrace present and future as well); 2) as a cluster of micro-regions )strong connection to countryside; culture and agriculture all continuous); 3) as opposite interactive shores (cities and towns loosely connected with their hinterlands); 4) as an endangered ecology (shift of wood to stone; creator of public spaces).  (The four are not completely compatible—some are diametrically different, as #2 and #3 with respect to relationship to hinterland; one may have to choose between them.)


The Spatial DNA of Istanbul

İhsan Bilgin (Director, Architectural Design Programmed and Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Bilgi University, Istanbul) began by explaining that there was no land ownership in any modern capitalist sense (there were some rules for land use, but no concept of salable property) until the 1930s, when the introduction of civil law turned land into a commodity that could be bought and sold.  Istanbul retained its traditional structure until the end of WWII; in the 50s there was an explosion of building of two groups:  the first, which before the 50s (when the population had been less than 1 million) had been primarily detached one- or two-story houses, were demolished and replaced with big apartment buildings (generally one building per block)—a process that was completed within two decades; and the second, where single mansions had existed on large plots, the were divisions into smaller lots. In the informal areas (the ones often with farmers), fields were divided into smaller lots; if no family was using a field before 1950, it meant it was the property of the state (like all the outskirts of Istanbul), and these areas became the site of informal building and structuring, leading to the gecekondu communities.  These areas persevered, and they formed their own relation to political power:  the pattern being that before each election, there would be a tendency to exchange legitimization for voter support.


Murat Güvenç* (Professor of City and Regional Planning, Architectural Design Master’s Programmed, Bilgi University, Istanbul) spoke about the concept of spatial DNA: matrices that guide the reproduction of urban geography—either explicit (advantages and disadvantages of geography, economy, state of  art, technology, market) or implicit (topology, and connectivity of history, socially produced prestige, and value of space)—operating jointly, set limits and conditions which allow and forbid, but do not require.  It helps to understand urban growth patterns.  There are no ready-made tools for examining.  [His mappings were quite interesting in terms of the geographic distribution of wealth in Istanbul; but I was not convinced that he actually had an adequate concept of spatial DNA at all.]


These presentations were followed by panel comments and discussion. 


Sophie Body-Gendrot (Director, Centre for Urban Studies, Universite Paris-Sorbonne) said we are mystified by a past, and the uncertainties of the future; history tends to magnify the lives of a powerful few.  Certain things are directly transmitted; purposeful acts like Baron Haussmann’s grand boulevards, and the official rationales for their creation (the excuse of military access).   Much is ephemeral; people follow jobs to where they are to be found.  There is a need to explain decisions to the citizenry—it is as important as making those decisions; it gives residents a sense of inclusion and helps create a sense of hope.


Ayşe Öncü (Professor of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabancı University, Istanbul) talked about tiptoeing around the identification of Istanbul and Islam—a delicate issue, not very directly discussed at the conference.


Murat Belge (Professor of Comparative Literature, Bilgi University, Istanbul) said that there were two attitudes, both about a history that never really existed: the first, started with the Republic—looking to the heartland of Anatolia to find the soul of the Turk, beginning history with Central Asia, rejecting the non-Turk or non-Islamic—during the last pre-modern military coup of the 80s, there was a boredom from the militaristic atmosphere (“tomorrow will be as dull as today”); the second, a nostalgic sense of what we have lost—a multi-cultural Istanbul, Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Georgian, etc.—realize you are a foreigner.  Strange use of the word citizen:  “Citizen, where are you from?”


Orhan Esen* (Historian and City-Guide, Istanbuland the guide for our Urban Age tour) said that the history of the built environment of Istanbul had been fully erased twice, and was about to happen again in the 21st century.  There had been an Osmanite sense of property as only being subject to use rights, but that this had shifted to property in terms of capital.  The 1830s to the 1920s had been a period of enlightened despotism.  1965 enable old Istanbul to maximize living space through the development of gecekondu and yap sat construction.   In the 21st century, there is talk of an urban transformation based on two schemes:  the first, relating to Law 5366, deals with the geography at the center—the 19th century parts of the city where slum areas are to be found and their “rehabilitation”; the second, relating to the vast informal settlement areas (which transformed in 1985 from gecekondu to post-gecekondu cities), are going to be torn down “to prevent earthquake disaster”—essentially saying we are going to de-appropriate you because you acted irresponsibly in the way you constructed your buildings.  The perceived insecurity (74% of Istanbulis are highly concerned about crime), despite its irrationality, becomes one of the main drivers of urban transformation, used by politicians, mainstream academics, and the construction business to justify these building campaigns with the promise of perceived security.  [Throughout the proceedings of the conference, it was not surprising to me that the politicians and construction industry people bought the irrationality of Istanbul’s urban renewal schemes.  It was rather shocking to me, however, how much the academics seem to have swallowed the stuff, hook, line, and sinker.  Orhan was a welcome and clear voice in the opposite direction.]


Pelin Tan (Sociologist and Art Historian, Institute of Social Sciences, Istanbul Technical University) spoke about differing kinds of spatial representation.  How do you share the street?  How do you navigate the street in a multi-national neighborhood?  What we want and what we do not want; in the past few years there is pressure that affects local communities; a sense of force.


The evening of 5 November Thursday was the occasion of the Urban Age Dinner.  We boarded a boat from the Çirağan Palace Hotel for a sail up the Bosphorus to Yeniköy, a distance of some 15km.  The dinner took place at the sumptuous, late-19th Century mansion, the Sait Halim Paşa Yalısı, in Yeniköy.  (This was the residence of Sait Halim Pasa, who was a Grand Vizier in the Ottoman Palace for five years. Despite his efforts to keep the Empire impartial during World War I, he finally had to sign the ill-fated treaty which obliged the Ottoman Empire to enter the war on the side of Germans, a tragic outcome from which the Ottoman Empire never recovered.  His mansion has endured somewhat better than he himself did—it is quite magnificent, including its private hammam.)  It was a most enjoyable event, and a most beautiful evening.  It concluded with a sail back down the Bosphorus to the Çirağan Palace.





DAY II SESSION I: Environments and Cities


Climate Change and Cities  Co-Chairs: Philipp Rode*, (Executive Director, Urban Age, LSE) and Sibel Sezer Eralp (Regional Director, Black Sea and Turkey, Regional Environmental Centre)


Philipp Rode* began by noting that from an ecological perspective, climate change will alter everything; and cities are the engines of change, so they present a great possibility.  Transportation is not the biggest producer of CO2 (only ~30%), but it matters very much, and it is among the top three issues of concern for residents and politicians alike.  He also pointed out that automobiles present an issue of spatial consumption as well as of energy consumption.  


Balancing Cars and Pedestrians: The Case of New York City

Janette Sadik-Khan (Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation) gave a an exciting presentation of Bloomberg’s 2007 Plan NYC and of her own work of pedestrianizing Broadway and other street areas in New York and creating dedicated bicycle lanes in the City—and she described how she has made the agency fast moving, making spaces usable overnight (with the understanding that the capital programs will take years to catch up).  Most promisingly, said that the administration felt that there would be a significant opportunity to get congestion pricing passed for the City in two years when the MTA is predicted to run out of money.  New Yorkers have only 1/3 the carbon footprint of the US average; 84% of those in Manhattan use public transportation; and only 1/3 of the trips made are by car.  The overall efforts of the DOT have resulted in an amazing 50% reduction in pedestrian traffic fatalities since 2007.


New Green Transport Infrastructure in Delhi

Geetam Tiwari (Chair and Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi) reported that Delhi, after realizing that in 1997 the pollution levels in the city constituted a form of “slow murder,” has gotten serious about improving CO2 emissions:  in 20001, the city changed its bus fleet to the largest CNG fleet in the world, and by 2004 had won the Clean City Award.  Geetam is championing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT—buses with dedicated lanes)  as the answer for her city and elsewhere, as an economical, efficient form of transportation.  With low infrastructure costs, BRT moves the buses out of the congestion, improving efficiency and reducing energy consumption.


City Transport and Time

Fabio Casiroli (Chairman and Founding Member, Systematica, Milan) cited some of the lessons from transportation planning in Paris: the existing radial system requires a series of circular connections to enable people in the outer area to move from place to place without being forced to journey in and out of the center each time to do so, and the current plan is for outer ring BRT lines (perhaps to be replaced by rail lines, if very successful).  Bogotá reduced travel time by 1/3 and reduced emissions by 40% using BRT.  Istanbul has only 8 km of reserved bus lanes per million inhabitants (cf., Milano with 91km/million and Paris with 152km/million).  He suggested a massive move to BRT, with the addition of Park & Ride facilities, plus the entertaining the use of odd/even numbered license plate restrictions on alternating access days.


Patterns of Mobility for Istanbul: What Next?

Haluk Gerçek* (Professor, Transport Engineering Department, Istanbul Technical University) said that Istanbul is a city of ~13 million, having 17.8% of Turkey’s population, 16.5% of its employment, 22% of its GDP, and 26% of its cars.  There is a tremendous problem from increased traffic congestion:  although average travel time in the city is down due to an increase in walking, motorized travel time is up 20%, as is gas consumption.  Istanbul is planning several controversial large road building projects (including a third bridge across the Bosphorus and perhaps an automobile tunnel) , and is soon to have 1.7 million cars.; but they are also building a 76.3km rail tunnel under the Bosphorus, which is a far better idea.  Something like 1.5 million people travel to and from work across from the Asian side each day!  CO2 emissions are up 37.4% between 1990 and 2007; and there are no official targets for reducing them.  He said that the decision-making process on all this is extremely controversial—and that it is still the government in Ankara that makes all the major decisions.


These four presentations were followed by panel comments and discussion.


Sanjeev Sanyal (President, Sustainable Planet Institute, Delhi) said we are making the mistake of still building cities with cars in mind:  cities fail to provide sidewalks in most instances.    This does not mean that people do not walk:  in Bombay, 56% walk all the way to work; and the 40% who use public transportation still end up walking the first and last miles of their trips.  We overlook the importance of walking, as it is always one facet of taking public transportation.  Walking and bicycles are the really appropriate solutions for urban people movement, much more importantly than trains and buses.  Sanjeev (pictured at right) exhorted the group to focus on designing spaces for density and walk-ability.


Dimitri Zenghelis (Senior Visiting Tutor, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE and Chief Climate Economist, Cisco) said that the unique blend of diversity and innovation of cities positions them to be part of the solution, rather than just contributing to the climate change problem.


Hilmar von Lojewski (Program Manager, GTZ – German Technical Cooperation, Damascus) cautioned that we should not overlook the psychological components to these problems:  in the Middle East (and elsewhere), cars serve a major social recognition function—as does air conditioning.  He proposed we call for a “U.N. Year of the Pedestrian.” “Traffic planners are quite good at analysis; not so good at solutions.”


Semih Eryıldız (Professor of Architecture and Urbanization, Istanbul Aydın University) proposed there be a single Marmara authority (like the London Traffic Authority) to act and allocate money.  Everyone is opposed to building a third Bosphorus bridge, but it will be built anyway.  It would be better to double up the level of the existing bridges (double-decking, like the George Washington Bridge in NY).  While it would be theoretically a good direction to move he said, “Walking and cycling in Istanbul now is like committing suicide!”


Sonia Francine Gaspar Marmo, (Deputy Mayor of Lapa, São Paulo) said that Brazil had cut taxes on cars which helped unemployment, but which was very bad for the climate.  She spoke about an area of 3 million people on the east end of São Paulo, 30km form the center, from which 2.5 million commute into the center each day:  there is no form of public transportation that can handle that!  We need to reduce the need for such travel: move toward multi-centric, mixed-use city areas.


Philipp: spoke to Janette about the disproportionate expenditures in NYC for walking and cycling


Janette:  Walking and cycling are not expensive!  We can re-purpose existing structures cheaply.  But we also have to work to build public buy-in for projects.


Hilmar:  People pick destinations they can walk to in order to avoid getting stuck in traffic.  When cities grow in poly-centric ways, it makes this more possible.


Sanjeev:  Walking is not a subject just for gigantic cities:  most people live in smaller, more walk-able ones.


Dimitri:  At the meeting in Copenhagen, there will be no representation for cities.  How are we going to make change possible?



Designing Sustainable Cities  Co-Chairs: Andrew Altman (Chief Executive, 2012 London Olympics Legacy Delivery Company and Deputy Mayor, Philadelphia, 2008-2009—and long-time Urban Age participant and Executive Board member) and Ömer Kanıpak (Founder, Arkitera Architectural Center, Istanbul)


Architecture for Sustainable Cities: London, Paris + The Compact City

Richard Rogers (Chairman, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, London)  said we must rebuild the empty quarters of cities to bring back vitality and security.  He outlined his concept of the Compact City:  compact and poly-centric; well-connected, encouraging walking and public transportation; diversity in range of use, rather than exclusive, single-activity spaces, to encourage exchange; inclusive of rich and poor alike; environmentally responsible; good design, with continuity in the sense of space (noting “the vertical and the horizontal need to be one” in terms of design and planning—what you see in the skyline is part of the public domain); secure and just.  Leads to the use of derelict land (cf., London’s Greenbelt plan, which constrains development within set boundaries).  The plan for Paris: “building Paris in Paris”; proposes completing the metropolitan transportation network with a series of circumferential rings to augment the existing radial plan; make more use of La Defense by increasing public transportation access; provide movement across barriers or rail and road; not a “grand projet,” but rather “1000 petits projets.”


Cheapness & Democracy

Alejandro Zaera Polo (Joint Director, Foreign Office Architects, London) noted that people in cities are wealthier than the rural population; and asked, so how do we grow it and help support democratic process?  He feels there is a connection between equality and cheapness. Modernism took the expensive “frills” out of architecture. (Use of bronze in the Seagram Building was so that the client could make it more expensive.)  [Here, as in other places, Alejandro was just plain factually wrong:  the financial ability the client had to allow Mies to use expensive materials in the design of the building permitted him to realize what had been Mies’s architectural vision for the building—not the other way around!  I must say that I rather thought the whole idea of the talk—and the basic connection he was trying to draw between cheapness and democratization— was misguided and incorrect.]  Alejandro claimed there were two options for “democratic” and cheap design: “no frills,” in which cheapness was the origin of a whole new style of “generic”; or “cheap frills,” in which embellishment is done on the cheap (his example being the architecture of Frank Gehry, where details exist in the skin of the building without having to integrate with the structure of internal space, thus compromising the building’s design integrity).  [While I agree in the criticism of Gehry—with the rare exception of some of his best buildings, Gehry often does make forms that are more structural than architectural, in the sense that they are not the expression of internal volumes or the spatial structures—the idea that it relates to cheapness is absurd!  Gehry is actually the most expensive to work with of the world’s current architects.] There was also the claim that this cheapness would be compatible with sustainability.

Politics for Sustainable Cities

Enrique Peñalosa (Mayor of Bogota, 1998-2001—and long-time Urban Age participant)  said that what we need to work toward is social sustainability, equality in quality of life—equality within democracy, in which public good will prevail over private interests; and he pointed out that this is especially important with respect to children.  Enrique (pictured at right) explained that it is necessary that governments provide these things, as private interests will not.  Private property and market forces do not work well for cities when it comes to land ownership:  it almost always leads to low-density development.  “Traffic jams are the most valuable tool to create density”:  if cities build more and bigger roads, they just get more cars and bigger suburbs; the only solution is public transportation—and BRT, buses in exclusive lanes, is the best version.  The restriction of access posed by the geography of Manhattan is a tremendous advantage in discouraging cars.  Giving public transportation priority over private cars is a statement of democracy.  The solution to all this is a political issue: the technical solution is simple and inexpensive.  Providing quality sidewalks (“sidewalks are related to parks, not to streets”), bike paths—it is all a question of priority.  “Just as people cannot be in car spaces, cars cannot be in people spaces.  Parking is not a constitutional right.” 


Andy: How do we intervene?


Richard:  Private greed is eroding public responsibility.  We need to understand what we want, short-term and long-term; we have to have agreement about where we are going.


Andy: Where does one start?


Enrique:  The most valuable resource a city has is its street space—it is a treasure.  The political issue is, how do we distribute this space?



DAY II SESSION II: Istanbul Visions and Projects



Creating City Visions  Co-Chairs: Ricky Burdett, Director, Urban Age, LSE, and Korhan Gümüş, Director, Urban and Architectural Projects, Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency


Setting a Vision for London

Peter Bishop (Director, Design for London and Group Director, Development and Environment, London Development Agency)


Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and London: Case Studies in Urban Vision

Andrew Altman (Chief Executive, 2012 London Olympics Legacy Delivery Company and Deputy Mayor, Philadelphia, 2008 – 2009—long-time Urban Age participant and Executive Board member), began by noting he has been successful in trying to have a new job for each of the conferences.  Andy pointed out that there are moments in the lives of cities when things come together to create opportunities, and the 2012 Olympics is one such moment for London.  London continues to grow in population, and also in an easterly direction.  The Olympics provides the opportunity to fulfill the long-discussed Thames Gateway expansion.  A city is being built on a more than 600 acre site in a vey disconnected, poorly utilized area, with some of the highest unemployment in London, poverty, social disadvantage; the issue is how to avoid a Canary Wharf result, in which sharp disconnection remains between the site and its surroundings.  The answer lies in transportation predicated on connectivity (e.g., the new Eurostar stop on the site); training opportunities built in for local residents, bringing the grid of the existing city into and through the site (with 30 new bridges and underpasses); social integration, with the construction of 2,800 units of new housing (50% affordable housing), diverse building typography, new schools; fostering an investment program in the area.  The complexity of the stakeholders involved is enormous; the question is whether new alliances can be formed, and a political integration can take place.


Masterplannig Istanbul

İbrahim Baz (Director, Istanbul Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Centre) noted that the city of Istanbul has a $133 billion yearly economy—larger than 127 countries!  (36% of the exports of Turkey and 40% of its imports pass through the city.)  In 2007, the population of Istanbul was 1.6 million, and it has continued to grow at the rate of 300,000/year, placing an enormous strain on water supply.  The city needs a hybrid of a master plan and a strategic plan (cf., London, Paris, Barcelona), and that is its IMP (Istanbul Metropolitan Plan) for 2023 (for the 100th anniversary of the Republic): multi-dimensional (finance, culture, tourism; water resources, forest preservation, ecology; and a limitation on new industry).  [In addition to the pressure on water resources and air pollution, Istanbul—and Turkey as a whole—has several pressing ecological problems that were never discussed: water pollution from dumping of chemicals and detergents; deforestation; concern for oil spills from increasing Bosphorus ship traffic.]


Ricky:  How do private developers relate to all of this?


Anthony Williams (Wm H. Bloomberg Lecturer in Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School and Mayor of Washington, D.C., 1999-2007):  To make it a reality, there occasionally needs to be the exercise of authority over government and non-governmental realms—this needs to be done sparingly (consensus building is the usually preferable and always important main alternative), but it is at times necessary.  It requires relentless focus on the part of a leader, and great management:  “There is no distinction between vision and management.”


Ricky:  Do you believe you should back a long-term plan?


Tony Travers (Director, Greater London Group, LSE):  One needs to try; but one needs also to concentrate on the short- and medium-term.


Erdoğan Yıldız (Representative, İstanbul Neighborhoods Association Platform)  This city has been presented on a golden plate to the upper class and the rich.  Gypsies have been dispossessed; people are treated like city furniture.  To create comfortable opportunities for the wealthy to live in the city, the less well-to-do are told, “This is the value of your house,” are paid peanuts, then what had been their property is re-sold at a high price. The people have no voice; this is the real problem.


Ricky:  Does the master plan deal with these issues?


İbrahim:  We are facing a big earthquake risk, and much of the housing is not in very safe condition even without an earthquake. 


Ricky:  Aren’t you talking about something like 70% of the housing stock?


İbrahim:  One has to consider: first, Istanbul has the kind of people who prefer to live in rural conditions instead of city conditions; second, if you ask people, they want to get some quality of life for the future.


[In the statements from İbrahim, the Director of the IMP, one can hear all the prejudice against the slum dwellers and residents of the former gecekondus:  these are people whose values are essentially rural, and therefore to be discounted.  In the name of making the city more modern (Law 5366) and of increasing earthquake protection, Istanbul is about to embark on the destruction of more than half of the existing housing stock.  And it is clear that much of the motivation for this actually comes from the financial desires of the construction industry, the mayor, and now also the financial community, too—all of whom are poised to profit from this rebuilding, and all of whom are unhappy with the fact that the popping of the most recent real estate bubble has temporarily halted such development.  More on this in my section on the urbanization history of the city.]


Albert Speer (Managing Partner, Albert Speer and Partners Architects, Frankfurt am Main):  we architects are only consultants to society; only responsible for ~5% of the picture.  For the most part, architects just put things down on top of other places, without regard for the need to have a broader understanding of all the parts of society involved over time.


Tony:  Planners were experts, telling people what to do; we have now moved to a much wider view of planning than ever before: how to cope with societal things more generally. People who have successfully run cities know how to harness developers, planners, et al., to create a civic coalition.  London: Governing the Ungovernable City” [borrowed, of course, from NYC Mayor John Lindsay’s 2001 book title]


Ricky:  OK, without good politicians, we don’t get things done; but we just heard a complaint about the lack of democratic participation and control.  In London, it seems that the only way to get things done has at times been to take it out of the democratic process.


Andy:  We need to focus on “What do you want to accomplish,” and whose city is it?


Tony:  The Olympics was done by eminent domain—just sweeping things off the site; it otherwise could not have happened.  Only politicians are in the position to do this.  There is a tension between the great planner Daniel Burnham’s famous dictum, “Make no little plan” and the kinds of “petits projets” we have been discussing.



Retrofitting Cities  Co-Chairs: Enrique Norten (Founder, TEN Arquitectos, New York) and Hüseyin Kaptan (Former 1st Director, Istanbul Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Centre and Partner, Atelye 70 Planning and Design Group, Istanbul)


Hafencity Hamburg: Re-Modeling the Post-Industrial City

Kees Christianse* (Partner, Kees Christianse Architects and Planners, Rotterdam and Professor of Architecture, ETH Zurich) discussed the concept of the open city, using the Hamburg harbor city project as his model, as contrasted with the traditional “city as tree”:  spatially, the latter employs separation, while the open city is multi-directional; socially the latter is segregated, while the open city emphasizes co-existence; and programmatically,  the latter is mono-functional, while the open city is diverse.  We are not talking about a simply upgraded 19th Century city.  Structural vision as a political covenant—an overall idea of how the city should be; reduces focus on juridical plans (zoning, etc., is less meaningful because of the political covenant between the stakeholders).  Hamburg is a little like London, with a river running through it; but the harbor is so big that it swallows the inner city.


Retrofitting Mexico City

Jose Castillo (Principal, Arquitectura 911 SC and Professor, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico) noted that the economy of Mexico was down 9% this year.  Mexico City has 19.2 million people in the metropolitan area, with an incredible 400 cars/thousand people.  Retrofitting becomes a creative technique—post de facto urbanization.  Jose described the idea of the architect as public intellectual.


New Ideas for Retrofitting in Istanbul

Ömer Kanıpak* (Founder, Arkitera Architectural Centre, Istanbul) What is the architect’s position in the urban scheme?  As architects, we do not know what cities are demanding of us.  There is a particular lack of connection within the illegal settlements.


These three presentations were followed by panel comments and discussion.


Faruk Göksu (Founding Partner, Urban Strategy, Istanbul):  Has been a planner for 25 years, at first in a slum in Ankara.  He has learned that you cannot impose things from the top to the bottom.  There are no efficient standards to make the re-use of urban land possible:  how will we address the re-use?; how will transfer take place? How do we reconcile the interests of the financial sector, real estate sector?


Melkan Gürsel Tabanlıoğlu (Partner, Tabanlıoğlu Architecture, Istanbul):  Against quick fix transformations—they can kill the nature of a region.  Need to let things change on their own to a certain extent.  The old and the new are integrating in our city.


Richard Brown (Programmed Director, 2012 London Olympics Legacy):  Yap sat construction had a life in Istanbul:  a DNA which produced something colorful.  Other forms were quite the opposite, evolutionary dead ends.  One can set the rules so as to insure adequate density and what is necessary to create the infrastructure and the public space.


Klaus Bode (Founding Partner, BDSP Partnership, London):  There has been a lot of discussion on what is visible and physical, but very little on infrastructure (water, sewage, etc.)  The costs we pay for things are often not the real costs (the process in London is often controlled by private companies).  In dealing with urban planning, we need to deal with the environmental.  There is a close relationship between the macro and the micro; and sustainability deals with the interface between the two.


Richard Sennett (Professor of Sociology, LSE and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology):  Retrofitting an existing structure assumes that what exists can be repaired, and that it can be done by manageably small things.  We should always prefer to retrofit; it assumes the people there are capable of recreating the space they inhabit.  Infrastructure development, of course, often requires major surgery.  In practice, regeneration—retrofitting—helps people make and sustain their own lives.



Closing Remarks


Şevket Pamuk (Chair in Contemporary Turkish Studies, LSE) gave a beautifully personal overview of Istanbul’s recent history.  Since he was a child, the city’s population has grown more than tenfold.  As a child, he used to feel he know all of the districts, if not all of the neighborhoods, of Istanbul.  In the 50s and 60s, the city attracted millions of people looking for better jobs, healthcare, and, most of all, better education—if not for themselves, at least for their children.  In the 70s, the city was deeply immersed in its political problems.  Since the 80s, it has been looking outward again:  Turkey has opened itself up to the rest of the world, and Istanbul has become a global city.  What he has learned in the past two days is that while we differ in individual history, we all share a common present and a common future.  Global cities have a lot to learn from each other’s experience.


Wolfgang Nowak (Managing Director, Alfred Herrhausen Society) then gave some final remarks, thanked everyone, and brought the proceedings to a close.


Informal Closing Party


The evening of 6 November Friday was the occasion of the Closing Party.  We boarded the Swissotel Boat from the Hotel through the ceremonial gate of the Çirağan Palace.  The vessel was a huge, luxury yacht, with its main salon comfortably seating the sizable group of rather exhausted Urban Age participants.  We set out for a cruise up and down the Bosphorus, on the first truly warm, beautiful, moon-lit night of the week.  The food and drink was wonderful—but the company was even better.  Spending the evening with old friends and new, we could look at the lighted palaces and mosques along the Bosphorus, enjoy the moon light reflecting on the water, while continuing to discuss and make sense of all what had gone on at the conference.








[I put together the following overview of the city’s long, important, and complex history for myself to help me establish my bearings in time and in political reality so I could have a better chance to understand Istanbul’s complicated present.  Since it was useful for me, I am including it in this piece, as it may prove similarly of use to others.  I apologize in advance to those of you with more sophisticated historical knowledge than I—as there may well be some inaccuracies and examples of my naïveté—and to those sources from which I have drawn far too heavily were this to be a scholarly venture—particularly the wonderful Lonely Planet Istanbul City Guide, the beautiful The Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600, Surhan Cam’s “Institutional Oppression and Neo-Liberalism in Turkey,” and the ever-useful Wikipedia.]



During the Ice Age, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea were freshwater lakes.  Ca. 6,000 B.C., with the melting of the ice caps, the two valleys which separated them became filled with the water from the rising seas and formed the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles straits.  Recent archeological digs have discovered evidence of pre-historic settlements on the site of Istanbul dating from this period.


From more historically-established records, we know that the region of we now call Istanbul has been inhabited for at least three millennia, with the earliest known settlement, called Semistra, dating from ~1,000 B.C.  That was followed by a fishing village named Lygos, on Saray Point, the site of the current Topkapi Palace.  Chalcedon (now called Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus) was colonized from the ancient Greek city of Megara (near Corinth),  and became one of a dozen Greek fishing villages along the shores of the Sea of Marmara.




In 657 B.C., new Megarian colonists established themselves on the European side, on the site of Lygos (on Saray Point).  Legend has it that King Byzas, son of the god Poseidon and the nymph Keroesan (daughter of Zeus and Io) founded this colony:  told by the Delphic Oracle to establish a colony “opposite the blind”—the meaning of which being revealed when he sailed up the Bosphorus and saw “how blind” the colonists at Chalcedon must have been not to have occupied the far superior opposite shore.


In reality, the Golden Horn (the estuary that separates Saray Point from the land to its north) is the best natural harbor on the Bosphorus, located on one of the world’s most historically important trade routes—and easily fortified from the high ground on both sides of its mouth.  Due to this privileged position, it has always been able to control trade on the route and charge tolls and harbor fees; and thus it has prospered mightily.


In 512 B.C., Emperor Darius of Persia captured the town during his campaign against the Scythians; but, after the retreat of the Persians in 478 B.C., the town came under the control of Athens; and it remained back and forth in the sphere of Greek and Macedonian control for the next three centuries—mostly, after 355 B.C., as an independent state.


Roman Control


In the mid-2nd Century B.C., Byzantium finally came under Roman influence, and, in 79 AD, was officially incorporated into the Roman Empire under Vespasian.  Towards the end of the 2nd Century A.D., the city made one of a series of mistakes—repeated at crucial moments throughout the long course of its history—of backing the wrong side in a conflict:  this time, it sided against Septimius Severus in a war of Roman succession.  After he emerged victorious, Septimius Severus besieged the city, razed its walls, and burned it to the ground, thus destroying the ancient city completely.  Due to its strategic and commercial importance, however, he then set about rebuilding it at twice its previous size (building the original version of its Hippodrome.).  Byzantium then continued under Roman rule.


Rise of Constantinople as Capital of the Roman Empire (330 – 395)


In 324 A.D., Constantine triumphed in the civil war resulting from Diocletian’s having split control of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western domains. Constantine reunited the Roman Empire and then ruled it from 324-337.  He rebuilt a new, still larger city on the site of Byzantium, and, on 11 May 330, dedicated it as “New Rome” and the new capital of his empire.  (The population of the city soon rose to ~200,000.)  The city soon came to be called Constantinople, in honor of the Emperor.  It was now the capital of the Eurasian world, and it would remain so for the next millennium.


At his death in 337 A.D., Constantine converted to Christianity.  His support for—and use of—it began much earlier, however:  in 313 he had declared the Edict of Milan, which had mandated the tolerance of Christianity throughout the Empire; in 325 he called the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (İznik), in which he solidified imperial power by establishing the Empire’s control over church affairs.


The Byzantine Empire (395 - 1453)


Following the death of Theodosius I in 395 and the permanent partition of the Roman Empire between his two sons, Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire (the eastern Roman Empire).  In the ensuing years, Constantinople continued to grow.  Threatened by the forces of Attila the Hun, a formidable circle of new defensive walls were built around the city for fortification by Theodosius II in the 5th Century.  These “Theodosian Walls” successfully protected against invaders for 757 years—and still in part stand today, albeit in bad repair.  [q.v., in my section on Our Touring Istanbul]  When Rome fell in 476, Constantinople became the dominant capital of the Empire.  It should be noted that the citizens of Byzantium, though predominantly Greek, always considered themselves to be Roman and maintained a Roman style of administration.


Throughout the 5th and 6th Centuries, while Europe was being sacked by barbarians and was in general decline, the Byzantine Empire continued to prosper, growing stronger and wealthier.  It reached its pinnacle under the rule of Justinian (ruled  527-565).  He consolidated control over Anatolia, the Balkans, Egypt, Italy, and North Africa.  During his reign, he built some of Constantinople’s greatest buildings:  the Küçük Aya Sofya Camii (the “Little Aya Sofya”) in 527-536; the Hagia Eirene (the Church of the Divine Peace) in the 540s; the Basilica Cistern in 532; and the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya; Church of the Holy Wisdom of God) in 527-535.  These are my favorite buildings in Istanbul today, and the Hagia Sophia is among my favorite buildings in the world!  [q.v., in my section on Our Touring Istanbul]  Nevertheless, his wars of conquest and extensive building campaigns financially exhausted the Byzantine Empire, which never again would be as large, rich, or powerful as it was under him and his Empress Theodora.


For centuries after the end of Justinian’s reign, the Empire struggled to keep invaders at bay.  There were assaults from the Persians, the Bulgarians, and a series of attacks from the growing Islamic empire.  Religiously (politically?), there was the great Iconoclastic Crisis—ostensibly over the veneration of icons—which began in 726 when Leo III attempted to “rid the Empire of all forms of idolatry,” and which ultimately in 1054 resulted in the Pope’s severing all remaining ties between Byzantium and the West.  Distracted by this religiously couched infighting, the Byzantines were unprepared for the onslaught of the Turkish threat from the East.  The Byzantines were disastrously defeated in 1071 by the Seljuk Turks, who soon established control over Anatolia, with their capital at Nicea (İznik), and later established the Sultanate of Rûm (“Rûm” coming from the Arabic word for the Roman Empire) at Konya.  Meanwhile, Venice, to the east, was rising in power.


A Crusade—in this case, the Fourth; using, as was often the case, the supposed mission of recapturing the Holy Land from the Infidels as a pretext, actually was more focused on pillaging and interfering in regional politics along the way—allied itself with Venice (and its merchants, whose eyes were on the riches of the eastern trade routes).  Led by Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, the Crusaders sacked and plundered Constantinople in 1204, creating the Latin Empire of the East, and causing the citizens of Constantinople to flee east to set up a small empire at Nicea.  The Byzantines retook Constantinople in 1261, ending the brief Latin Empire, but their territory was drastically diminished.  By 1450, the Byzantine Empire controlled little other than Constantinople itself.


 The Ottoman Empire


With the demise of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm (ca. 1300), Turkish Anatolia was divided into a patchwork of independent states, the so-called Ghazi emirates. At that time, the weakened Byzantine Empire had lost most of its Anatolian provinces to the Ghazi emirates. One of these Ghazi emirates was led by Osman I (the son of a Turkish warlord named Ertuğrul) who inherited control of his father’s small territory and proceeded to extend the frontiers of Ottoman settlement towards the edge of the Byzantine Empire.  Osman’s followers became known in the Empire as Osmanlıs, and in the West as the Ottomans.  Under Osman’s successors, the Ottomans continued to grow in power and size. 


As Pete Goldman writes in The Turks: A Historical Overview,” (in The Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600, ed. David J. Roxbury [Royal Academy of the Arts, London, 2005]) p. 18 [emphasis added in bold]:


On 29 May 1453 Constantinople fell to the 21-year-old Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, henceforth ‘Fatih Mehmed’—‘Mehmed the Conqueror’ (r.1444-46,1451-81).


Mehmed, born most probably of a slave mother…was the third son of Murad II (r.1421-44, 1446-51), a ruler who had been victorious over Christian and Muslim foes alike.  Murad II had brought Mehmed to the rulership at age twelve, trusting that able advisors would manage affairs and that he could cast a benevolent eye from afar should difficulties arise.  The youngster’s failure to deal with competing court factions, Balkan rebellions, and Hungarian threats brought Murad out of retirement.  Regaining power in 1451, Mehmed, anxious to prove himself, staked everything on success at Constantinople.  His 100,000 troops, huge cannons and large fleet overwhelmed the city’s 7,000 defenders.


A mere shell of its former imperial splendor but still a potent symbol of universal rule, Constantinople was rebuilt and populated with Muslims, Christians and Jews.  Mehmed’s successors would adopt the mantles of caesar, gh­āzī and khan.  While the claims to the Roman-Byzantine legacy could be made by right of conquest, the other titles, those of gh­āzī (‘Islamic fighter for the faith’) and khan (ruler of the steppe world whence the Turks derived), are more complex.  What lay behind these claims?  What was the ethnic, political and cultural baggage that Mehmed brought with him to the walls of Constantinople?  What were Ottoman origins?


These are complicated questions raised by Golden.  He quotes a source from a  period close to Mehmed II’s rule claiming,


the Ottomans “were descended from shepherds of Tartary of the race of one called Ogus”[; further adding] that their ancestor, an “Ogus” peasant, having bested a Byzantine champion in combat, was rewarded with the territory of “Ottomanzich” (probably to be identified with the town Osmancık in northern Turkey, “from which his descendents took their family name of Ottoman.”  The account, despite its fanciful elements, points in certain directions.  The ancestors of the Ottomans of Mehmed’s day were of diverse origins, but at least in part, came from “Tartary,” the turko-Mongolian steppe world of Inner Asia.  “Ogus” refers to the Oghuz, a medieval Turkic tribal confederation of the steppes that gave rise to the Seljuks, among others.  After 1071, Oghuz tribes spearheaded the conquest of Anatolia, which became the base of the Seljuk sultanate of Rûm.  Post-conquest Ottoman accounts…mention the service of Mehmed’s ancestor, Ertoghrul, to cAla’ al-Din Kay Qubad, seeking legitimation in Seljuk ties.


He further points out that,


The Turkic languages–Turkish, Tatar, Kazahk, Uzbek and others—spoken from Siberia and Xinjiang to the Near East and Balkans, belong to the Altaic ‘family.’  The latter includes Mongolic, Manch-Tungusic and , perhaps more distantly, Korean and Japanese.  Manchuria appears to be the ancient homeland of these languages, except for the Turkic group…[which] was probably found in adjoining areas in Mongolia and Siberia.


Golden notes that, “The collapse of the Northern Wei (386-534), a dynasty that ruled northern China…[marks the] time that the ethnonym “Türk”…is first encountered.”  He writes further that, “The Türk people rapidly expanded into the western Eurasian steppelands…under Ishtemi (r.552-75)…establishing contact with Iran and Constantinople.”  As for the question of the Türks becoming Muslim, Golden writes,  “The latter half of the tenth century was marked by…mass conversions to Islam.” Eventually, by the12th Century, the majority of the Oghuz were Islamized to one degree or another.


Even though many Turkic peoples became Muslims under the influence of Sufis, often of Shī’ah persuasion, most Turkic people today are Sunni Muslims.  These include the majority of Balkan Turks, Balkars, Bashkorts, Crimean Tatars, Karachay, Kazaks, Kumuk, Kyrgyz, Nogay, Tatars (Kazan Tatars), Turkmens, Turks of Turkey, Uygurs, and Uzbeks. The Azerbaijanis of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan are the only major Turkic-speaking people that traditionally adhere to the Shī‘ah sect of Islam. The Qashqay nomads and Khorasani Turks as well as various Turkic tribes spread across Iran are also Shī’ah.  It is very important to note than today almost all of Turkey’s Muslims are Sunni.


The Empire prospered under the rule of a line of committed and effective sultans: Selim I (1512–1520) dramatically expanded the Empire's eastern and southern frontiers and established Ottoman rule in Egypt and naval presence in the Red Sea; and Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–1566) conquered Belgrade and southern Hungary and other Central European territories—going as far as the gates of Vienna, which was unsuccessfully besieged in 1529—and taking control of Transylvania, Wallachia and, intermittently, Moldavia, taking Baghdad 1535, and gaining control of Mesopotamia and naval access to the Persian Gulf. By the end of Süleyman's reign, the Empire's population reached about 15,000,000.  The Empire had become a dominant naval force, controlling much of the Mediterranean Sea—with victories over Christian navies leading to the conquest of Tunis and Algeria from Spain, the capture of Nice from the Holy Roman Empire in 1543, and the evacuation of Muslims and Jews from Spain to the safety of Ottoman lands during the Spanish Inquisition.


At the height of its power in the 16th–17th Centuries, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. With Constantinople (increasingly called İstanbul) as its capital city, by the time of Süleyman the Magnificent (r.1520-66) ruled over a vast lands empire—and the Ottoman Empire could reasonably be seen as the Islamic successor to what had been the once mighty Byzantine Empire.


Decline and attempts at Reform


The Empire remained a major expansionist power until, in May 1683, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha led a huge Ottoman army to lay siege to Vienna for the second time.  The assault was resoundingly defeated by an alliance of Habsburg, German and Polish forces.  The alliance pressed its advantage over the ensuing 15 years, culminating in the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699—after which the Austrian and Ottoman emperors divided up the Balkans, and the Ottoman Empire went on the defensive.  Thereafter decline set in for good.  The Empire had reached the end of its ability to effectively conduct an assertive, expansionist policy against its European rivals, and it was to be forced from this point to adopt an essentially defensive strategy within this theater.  The Empire lost territory on all fronts, and there was administrative instability because of the breakdown of centralized government, despite efforts of reform and reorganization  


During this period, the Empire faced challenges in defending itself against foreign invasion and occupation. The Empire ceased to enter conflicts on its own and began to forge alliances with European countries. As an example, in the 1853 Crimean War, the Ottomans united with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Second French Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Russian Empire. 


The long period of Ottoman stagnation is typically characterized by historians as an era of failed reforms—but also as an era of modernization.   Whereas Ottoman science and technology had been highly advanced in medieval times (as the result of Ottoman scholars' synthesis of classical learning with Islamic philosophy and mathematics, and knowledge of such Chinese advances in technology as gunpowder and the magnetic compass), by this period these areas had become regressive and conservative, and Europe was well ahead of Turkey in politics, technology, science, banking, commerce and military development.  Selim III (1789–1807) made the first attempts to modernize along European lines, including Ottoman major efforts to reform the military.  These efforts, however, were hampered by reactionary movements, partly from the religious leadership, but primarily from the Janissary corps.


The Janissaries (from “Yeniçeri, meaning “new soldier”) were a force which had been created by the Sultan Murad I, mostly from male Christian children (preferably aged 14-18), levied through the devşirme system from conquered Christian countries (originally Greeks and Albanians, later Bulgarians, Armenians, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, and later still, Romanians, Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians, southern Russians, and Black Africans) in the 14th  Century.  They became the Ottoman standing army, an unusual thing in the world at that time; and the Janissaries were far more effective as a fighting force because of their intense loyalty and high morale—due to the fact that they were paid regular and generous cash salaries by the Sultan himself, were provided with an amazing level of logistical support, comfort, and medical care, and were forbidden to marry, and therefore unable to establish family or dynastic loyalties of their own.  The Janissaries began enrolling outside the devşirme system during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1546-1595), and abandoned devşirme recruitment completely during the 17th Century, after which they enrolled volunteers, mostly of Muslim origin.  As Janissaries became aware of their own importance, they began to desire a better life. By the early 17th  Century, Janissaries had such prestige and influence that they dominated the government:  they could mutiny and dictate policy and hinder efforts to modernize the army structure; they could change Sultans as they wished through palace coups; they made themselves landholders and tradesmen; and, most significantly, in 1566, Sultan Selim II was forced to give the janissaries permission to marry—undermining their loyalty to the dynasty.  There were many Janissary revolts, often in reaction to attempts to reform their corps, which had become anarchic and ineffectual.  A major attempt by Selim III to modernize the army along Western European lines led in 1807 to a Janissary revolt in which he was deposed and killed.


By 1826, his successor, Mahmud II, informed the Janissaries that he was forming a new army, organized and trained along modern European lines.  In a way that almost certainly had been calculated by the Sultan, the Janissaries mutinied and advanced on the sultan's palace.  In the fighting that followed, the Janissary barracks were destroyed by artillery fire, resulting in 4,000 Janissary fatalities; and the survivors were either exiled or executed, and their possessions were confiscated by the Sultan, in what  is called the Auspicious Incident. The last of the Janissaries were then put to death by decapitation.


In 1839, Mahmud II started the modernization of Turkey by issuing the Edict of Tanzimat (Tanzîmât, meaning “reorganization”), which had profound Europeanizing effects on the style of clothing, architecture, education, and land reform, and which led to a modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, and the replacement of the old guild system with modern factories.  In 1856, Sultan Abdülmecid issued the Imperial Reform Edict (Hatt-ı Hümayun), which promised equality in education, government appointments, and administration of justice to all Ottoman citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.  Unfortunately, the Tanzimat Reforms proved too late to reverse the nationalistic and secessionist trends that had already been set in motion since the early 19th century


Ethnic nationalism


Nationalism was a rising force in many countries during the 19th Century, and it began to have profound effects on the Ottoman Empire.  For centuries, the non-Turkish ethnic and non-Muslim religious minorities in the sultan’s domains had lived side by side with their Turkish neighbors, governed by their own religious and traditional laws. Ottoman decline and misrule provided fertile ground for the growth of ethnic nationalism among these communities. The subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire rose in revolt, one after another, often with the direct encouragement and assistance of the European powers, who coveted parts of the sultan’s vast domains. After bitter fighting in 1831 the Kingdom of Greece was formed; the Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, Armenians and Arabs would all seek their independence soon after.


The Ottoman state’s ability effectively to deal with ethnic uprisings was severely compromised.   As the sultan’s empire broke up, the European powers hovered in readiness to colonize or annex the pieces. They used religion as a reason for pressure or control, saying that it was their duty to protect the sultan’s Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox subjects from misrule and anarchy.  For example, the Russian emperors put pressure on the Turks to grant them powers over all Ottoman Orthodox Christian subjects, whom the Russian emperor would thus ‘protect’. The result was the Crimean War (1853–56), with Britain and France fighting on the side of the Ottomans against the growth of Russian power.  (During the war, wounded British, French and Ottoman soldiers were brought to Istanbul for treatment at the Selimiye Army Barracks, now home to the Florence Nightingale Museum, and the foundations of modern nursing practice were laid.)


Economically, the Empire had difficulty in repaying the Ottoman public debt to European banks. Despite the increasing economic difficulties, the sultan continued the imperial building tradition. The vast Baroque Dolmabahçe Palace and its mosque were finished in 1856, and the palaces at Beylerbeyi, Çırağan, and Yıldız would be built before the end of the century. Though it had lost the fabulous wealth of the days of Süleyman the Magnificent, Istanbul was still regarded as the Paris of the East. It was also the eastern terminus of the Orient Express, the world’s first great international luxury express train which connected Istanbul and Paris.


By the end of the 19th century, however, the main reason the Empire was not entirely overrun by Western powers came from the Balance of Power doctrine:  both Austria and Russia wanted to increase their spheres of influence and territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, but they were kept in check mainly by the United Kingdom, which feared Russian dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean.


Abdül Hamit II & the Young Turks


Amid the empire’s internal turmoil, Abdül Hamit II (r 1876–1909) assumed the throne. Mithat Paşa, a successful general and powerful grand vizier, managed to introduce a constitution at the same time, but soon the new sultan did away both with Mithat Paşa and the constitution, and established his own absolute rule.  Abdül Hamit modernized without democratizing, building thousands of kilometers of railways and telegraph lines, and encouraging modern industry. However, the empire continued to disintegrate, and there were further nationalist insurrections.


The younger generation of the Turkish elite—particularly in the military—watched bitterly as their country fell apart. They reacted by organizing secret societies devoted to toppling the sultan. This era is dominated by the politics of the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihâd ve Terakkî Cemiyeti), and the movement that would become known as the Young Turks (Jön Türkler).  The Young Turk Revolution of  3 July 1908 forced the restoration of the 1876 constitution. In 1909 the Young Turk-led Ottoman parliament deposed Abdül Hamit and put his weak brother Mehmed V on the throne.  The Young Turk government had signed a secret treaty establishing the Ottoman-German Alliance in August 1914, aimed against the common Russian enemy, but aligning the Empire with the German side.  When WWI broke out, the Ottoman parliament and sultan made the fatal error of siding with Germany and the Central Powers—although, in reality, they were left little choice but to do this, given the long history of their alliances against Russia.  Donald Quataert, in The Ottoman Empire: 1700-1922 (Cambridge, 2005), has claimed that what has been described as a “paranoid style in twentieth-century Soviet politics” is very much attributable to Russia’s history of endless conflict with the Ottoman Empire:


For the Czarist Russian state based in Moscow the presence of a powerful Ottoman state long blocked the way to the Black Sea and Mediterranean warm water ports.  For centuries the Ottomans were the single most important foreign enemies of the Russian state; czars and sultans fought against each other in a seemingly endless series of wars between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, until both disappeared.  These wars had a powerful effect on the evolution and shaping of the emerging Russian power:  the Muscovite state’s deep fears of powerful enemies on its southern (and western) flanks permanently marked its polity with a need to seek safety in expansion and domination.  (p. 5)


Although the Ottoman Empire initially seemed to have the upper hand on the Middle Eastern front during the first two years of the war, the Arab Revolt (which began in 1916) turned the tide against the Ottomans there.


With the defeat of Germany and the Central Powers, the Ottoman Empire collapsed.  The Armistice of Mudros was signed on 30 October 1918, bringing hostilities in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I to a close and granting to the Allies the right to occupy forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, and the right to occupy “in case of disorder” any territory in case of a threat to security.  On 12 November 1918, a French brigade entered Istanbul to begin the Occupation of Istanbul, followed by a fleet consisting of British, French, Italian and Greek ships, deploying soldiers on the ground the next day. The sultan became a pawn in the hands of the victors.    A wave of seizures took place in the following months by the Allies, and soon the only parts of the Arabian peninsula that were still under Ottoman control were Yemen, Asir, the city of Medina, portions of northern Syria, and portions of northern Iraq—and these territories were handed over to the British on 23 January 1919.


Under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire was solidified. The new countries created from the former territories of the Ottoman Empire currently number 40.  [see table at right]  Turkish resentment of the Treaty of Sèvres and lasting distrust of European motives because of it still linger into the present, and they continue negatively to affected attitudes about admission to the EU from the Turkish side.


The Republic


The situation looked very bleak for the Turks as their armies were being disbanded and their country was taken under the control of the Allies.  Nevertheless, what at first seemed to be a catastrophe actually provided the impetus for rebirth.


Since gaining independence in 1831, the Greeks had entertained the Megali Idea (Great Plan) of a new Greek empire encompassing all the lands that had once had Greek influence – in effect, the reestablishment of the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. On 15 May 1919, with Western backing, Greek armies invaded Anatolia for the purpose of realizing these ambitions.


Even before the Greek invasion, an Ottoman general named Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938), the hero of the WWI battle of Gallipoli, had decided that a new government must take over the destiny of the Turks from the ineffectual sultan. He began organizing resistance to the sultan’s captive government on 19 May 1919.


The Turkish War of Independence (Kurtuluş Savaşı), in which the Turkish Nationalist Movement forces fought off Greek, French and Italian invasion forces, lasted from 1919 to 1922. Victory in the bitter war put Mustafa Kemal in command of the fate of the Turks. The sultanate was abolished on  1 November 1922, and the last sultan, Mehmed VI Vahdettin (r.1918–1922), left the country two weeks later.  Thus ended the Ottoman Empire.


On 24 July 1923, the Turkish revolutionaries forced the Allies to abandon the Treaty of Sèvres and negotiate the Treaty of Lausanne, leaving Anatolia and Eastern Thrace to form a new Turkish state.  The Allies recognized the newly independent Grand National Assembly of Turkey, which on 29 October 1923, declared the Republic of Turkey—and thus the new country was born.  The Caliphate was constitutionally abolished several months later, on 3 March 1924.


Mustafa Kemal, the nation’s triumphant hero, was proclaimed Atatürk (“Father Turk”) by the Turkish parliament.  In a move to distance himself and the Republic from the imperial memories of Istanbul, both metaphorically and physically, he established the seat of the new republican government in Ankaraan inland city that could not be threatened by foreign gunboats. Robbed of its importance as the capital of a vast empire, İstanbul lost much of its wealth and glitter in succeeding decades.


Atatürk had always been ill at ease with Islamic traditions and he set about making the Republic of Turkey a secular state. The fez (Turkish brimless cap) was abolished, as was polygamy; Friday was replaced by Sunday as the day of rest; surnames were introduced; the Arabic alphabet was replaced by a Latin script; and civil (not religious) marriage became mandatory. The country’s modernization was accompanied by a great surge of nationalistic pride, and though it was no longer the political capital, İstanbul continued to be the centre of the nation’s cultural and economic life.


Atatürk died in İstanbul in 1938, just before WWII broke out, and was succeeded as president by İnönü.  Earlier, he had served as the Prime Minister of Turkey for several terms, maintaining the system that Atatürk had put in place. He had tried to manage the economy with heavy-handed government intervention, especially after the 1929 economic crisis, by implementing an economic plan inspired by the Five Year Plan of the Soviet Union. In doing so, he took much private property under government control.  Due to this, to this day more than 70% of land in Turkey is still owned by the state.  Desiring a more liberal economic system, Atatürk had forced Inönü to resign as Prime Minister, and had appointed Celal Bayar, the founder of the first Turkish commercial bank Türkiye İş Bankası, as Prime Minister.  Still scarred from the calamity of its involvement in the Great War, Turkey managed to successfully stay out of the new conflict until 1945, when it entered on the Allied side.


The Post World War II Years


Surhan Cam has written, “ Although Mustafa Kemal proclaimed a secular republic at the end of the Great War, he also became bogged down in monopolizing the reins of power through the single party rule of the center-left Republican People’s Party until his death at the outset of World War II.” (“Institutional Oppression and Neo-Liberalism in Turkey,” Cardiff University, School of Social Sciences, Working Paper 81 [www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/resources/wrkgpaper-81.pdf], p. 3)


At the end of WWII, the Allies made it clear that they believed that Turkey should introduce democracy.  Ismet Inönü presided over the infamous 1946 elections, in which votes were cast in the open with secret police onlookers able to observe to which party the voters had cast their votes and ballots were tallied behind closed doors by only his own party's officials.


In 1950, Inönü’s party lost the first free elections in Turkish history.  The first opposition party in Turkey’s historythe Democratic Party, led by Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes—won the first of these elections in 1950 with a huge majority (408 seats went to the Democratic Party and only 69 to the Republican People’s Party, breaking its unbroken dominance since the founding of the republic); and the Republican People’s Party retained the mandate in the elections of 1955, increasing its parliamentary majority.  (İnönü served for ten years as the leader of the opposition.)  As expected, the Menderes government's economic policy reduced reliance on state control while encouraging private enterprise and foreign investment in industrial development. Though he started as a democrat, Menderes became increasingly autocratic and repressive. 


In 1960, the military staged a coup against the Menderes government and convicted him and two of his ministers of treason for abrogating the constitution and instituting a dictatorship. All three were hanged in 1961.  [This coup marks the beginning of Turkey’s National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu), q.v., below and in “Current Political Situation” section.]  The military—with the support of the Republican People’s Party), now joined by pro-industrialists and modern leftists—claimed the “irrational use of natural resources” as the “legitimate ground” for its intervention.  In return for leftist intellectual support for this coup, the military introduced a relatively democratic constitution in 1961, with labor being granted the right to organize and strike.  The support for labor was in line with the growing need for “effective demand” due to industrialization, and the shift contributed to the growth of industry (the portion of GDR represented by industry went from 15% in 1960 to over 25% by 1978).  The National Security Council becomes a part of Turkey’s constitution, however, from 1961 on.


Even though the opposition was imprisoned during the 1961 elections, Inönü still did not win a majority and had to form coalition governments.  (Eventually in 1972, Inönü lost his party's leadership race to Bülent Ecevit.)  New elections were held in 1963 and a government was formed.  This government and ensuing administrations (eventually the Justice Party, a moderate descendent of the Democratic Party, led by Süleyman Demirel, who formed a coalition government in 1965, and became its Prime Minister) were dogged by corruption charges and claims of constitutional violations.  The Justice Party attracted support from the business community and from artisans and shopkeepers, but its real strength lay in the peasantry and in the large number of workers who had recently arrived in the cities from the countryside:  although it never disavowed the principle of secularism enshrined in Kemalism, the Justice Party promoted the open expression of the traditional Islam that appealed to many in these latter groups.  In the 1969 general election, both major parties lost votes; but right-of-center parties, led by the Justice Party, outpolled the Republican People’s Party and the small left-wing parties by nearly two to one, and the Justice Party was able to increase its Grand National Assembly majority by sixteen seats. To some observers, the election results indicated a polarization of Turkish politics that would pull the Justice Party and Republican People’s Party in opposite directions and aggravate political extremism.


In 1970, the military staged another coup.  According to Cam,


Despite the objections of Republican People’s Party cadres, the military also arrested sympathizers of a so-called ‘National Democratic Revolution’ that sought to promote an ‘anti-imperialist Kemalism.’  The National Democratic Revolution’s supporters, especially those in bureaucratic positions, were not ‘compatible’ with a ‘technocrat cabinet’ assigned by the military until the 1973 elections in order to make structural adjustments to the economy for the implementation of the low tariff  prescriptions of the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development].  Students of the National Democratic Revolution doctrine argued that reductions in trade quotas would undermine the independence of industrial development.  Notably, imports had increased from a 7% annual average of GDP in the 1960s to 14% in 1978, the year that saw the initial acceptance of a neo-liberal program.  Intermediate goods [goods used as input in the production of other goods, such as partly finished good—used in production of final goods; in the production process, intermediate goods either become part of the final product or are changed beyond recognition in the process—and therefore not counted in a country's GDP, as that would mean double counting, as only the final product should be counted; the  term can be misleading, since in advanced economies, about half of the value of intermediate inputs consist of services] were responsible for 90% of this rise, forging ahead a ‘montage industry.’  (ibid., pp. 3f)


Leftist intellectuals were disillusioned by the 1970 coup, and began to distance themselves from the military.  They made increasing overtures to the rapidly increasing working class.  Under the leadership of these intellectuals, a left wing trade union confederation (DISK) was formed in the 70s to counterbalance the power of the Association of Businessmen (TUSIAD).  According to Cam, during the period 1960-78,


real wages surged by half, and the share of the bottom quartile in national income doubled to 5.7%.  When these occurrences are considered along with the abandonment of totalitarian monarchism for a republican and secular state and then the introduction of multi-party elections, it would be fair to refer to a democratizing process in Turkey from the end of the Great War to the 1970s, albeit not an easy one.  Such a process, however, was encroached upon by institutional repression in conjunction with the introduction of neo-liberalism.  (ibid., p. 5) 


The global conditions of the 1970s made Turkey an ideal target for export substitution policies and capital outflows (especially in light of Soviet Bloc restrictions).  The OECD weighed in on the side of capital liberalization.  Since, as Cam points out, however, “Turkish industrialists had just committed themselves to the ‘montage industry’ through the increased imports of intermediate goods at the beginning of the 1970s [, l]arge capital holders were against the sudden shift of the West to neo-liberalism, since the prospect of competition with foreign investors threatened the ownership of companies by domestic entrepreneurs, which had been safeguarded through the protectionist regulations of the government up until then.” (ibid., p. 7)


In 1972, Mustafa Bülent Ecevit succeeded İnönü as the leader of the center-left Republic People’s Party and became Prime Minister in a coalition with the pro-Islamic National Salvation Party of Necmettin Erbakan.  An anti-Western stance grew in Turkey, particularly after the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in 1974 (following a Greek attempt to annex the island), to which the U.S. reacted in 1976 with a military embargo on Turkey.  Ecevit always claimed that the aim of the U.S. was more to pressure Turkey in the direction of neo-liberal policies than to deal with its invasion of Cyprus.   The following Prime Minister, Süleyman Demirel, moved toward closer ties with the USSR, obtaining financial credits and grants that contributed to economic growth in the period.


The tensions between the extreme right and far left factions in the country became increasingly polarized.  Starting in 1978, the growing pressure to adopt the principles of neo-liberalism was countered by strong resistance from labor and protectionist capital.  What ensued was what Cam described as “a bloody transitional period” during which there was a violent suppression of opposition leading to the eventual triumph of the neo-liberal agenda. (ibid. p.5)   Ecevit and Demirel had been unable to stabilize the situation.  What resulted was the military coup of 12 September 1980, led by Kenan Evren.  Parliament was dissolved, and the National Security Council ruled Turkey as a military junta (under Evren) for three years before new elections were held.  In 1982, Kenan Evren was elected the President of Republic of Turkey, and a new constitution was adopted by the military junta to replace the relatively democratic constitution of 1961.  This 1982 constitution introduced a number of laws that deregulated financial and commodities markets, strengthened the powers of the National Security Council, instituted the 10% electoral threshold (in which a party has to exceed 10% of the votes cast in national elections order for the result to translate into any seats in parliament—even if the amount they received would otherwise entitle them to some seats), and suspended many forms of civil liberties and human rights on the grounds that it was necessary to establish stability—Evren had said that the old constitution had had liberties "luxurious" for Turkey.  During his military regime, many people were tortured and executed due to their political beliefs.  Evren took strong measures to ensure that the division between the political left and right would not again turn into violence.


In 1983, the military permitted national elections (perhaps, in part, due to the fact that in 1982 Brussels had frozen EU economic relations with Turkey pending the restoration of elections).  The National Security Council stacked the deck by disqualifying all but three of the fifteen parties that existed prior to August 1983 on the grounds that they had ties to banned political leaders such as Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit (barring, for example, the Justice Party and the Republican People’s Party, which had had most of the seats in Parliament from the 1977 elections) from participating in the elections—and, for a variety of other political reasons, the National Security Council also vetoed several proposed candidates on the lists presented by the three approved parties.  Although the military openly supported the Nationalist Democracy Party, headed by retired general Turgut Sunalp (an ally of National Security Council chair and president Kenan Evren), victory went to the Motherland Party, headed by economist Turgut Özal.  (The Nationalist Democracy Party won only 23.3% of the votes and only 71 of the assembly's 400 seats; Özal's Motherland Party won 211 seats, an absolute majority.)  Under Özal’s presidency, the 1980s saw a wild expansion of the free market economy and a tourism boom in Turkey and its major cities.  Özal’s government also presided over a great increase in urbanization, with trainloads of peasants from eastern Anatolia making their way to the cities—particularly Istanbul—in search of jobs in the booming industry sector. The city’s infrastructure couldn’t cope back then and is still catching up, despite nearly three decades of large-scale municipal works being undertaken.  [q.v., my discussion in the “History of the Post-World War II Urban Development of Istanbulsection.]


In 1987, Mustafa Bülent Ecevit became the chairman of the Democratic Left Party.  The party failed to enter the National Assembly at the 1987 national elections, and in spite of passing the electoral barrier in 1991 managed to win only 7 seats in parliament. The Democratic Left Party's fortunes changed after the 1995 elections, when the party won 75 seats (out of 550). After two short-lived governments (formed by the Motherland Party’s Mesut Yılmaz and the Welfare Party’s Necmettin Erbakan), Ecevit became a deputy prime minister in the last government of Mesut Yılmaz.  (Yılmaz made the Motherland Party more business-friendly and Europe-oriented, causing the more conservative, religious wing of the Motherland Party to switch to the Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan.)


The Welfare Party (Refah) was a right wing Islamist political party, which had been founded by Ahmed Tekdal in Ankara in 1983, and was heir to two earlier Islamist parties, National Order Party and its successor, the National Salvation Party, both of which had been banned from politics. The municipal elections of March 1994 shocked the political establishment because the upstart Welfare Party won elections across the country.  Its victory was seen in part as a protest vote against the corruption, ineffective policies and tedious political wrangles of the traditional parties. In Istanbul the Welfare Party was led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a proudly Islamist candidate.  He vowed to modernize infrastructure and restore the city to its former glory.  In the national elections of 1996, the Welfare Party polled more votes than any other party (23%), and eventually formed a government vowing moderation and honesty.  Emboldened by political power, Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and other politicians tested the boundaries of Turkey’s traditional secularism, alarming the military and the powerful National Security Council.


The coalition government of Erbakan was forced out of power by the Turkish military in 1997 (warned that if it did not resign, it would face a military coup), on the grounds of its having an Islamist agenda.  In 1998 the Welfare Party was banned for violating the principle of secularism in the constitution.  In Istanbul, Mayor Erdoğan was ousted by the secularist forces in the national government in late 1998.  In the 1999 national elections, Ecevit's left-wing Democratic Left Party gained the largest number of seats, leading to his final term as Prime Minister in a coalition with the Motherland Party of Mesut Yılmaz and the Nationalist Movement Party of Devlet Bahçeli.  After years under the conservative right of the Welfare Party, the election result heralded a shift towards European-style social democracy.  Ecevit's government undertook a number of reforms aimed at stabilizing the Turkish economy in preparation for accession negotiations with the European Union—resulting in the country’s successful bid to be accepted as a candidate for membership in the EU.  Unfortunately for the new government, there was a spectacular collapse of the Turkish economy in 2001, which, coupled with the short-term economic pain brought on by the reforms, lead to an electoral defeat in 2002.  The victorious party was the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), led Phoenix-like by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who—despite continuing tensions with military hardliners—has run Turkey ever since.


[The saga of the AKP figures so crucially in the questions about the current political situation in Turkey and Istanbul that I shall pick up its story in my section on “Current Political Situation.” q.v., ]


And, finally, a brief summary of Turkey’s current economic picture, from the CIA’s The World Fact Book:


Turkey's dynamic economy is a complex mix of modern industry and commerce along with a traditional agriculture sector that still accounts for about 30% of employment. It has a strong and rapidly growing private sector, yet the state remains a major participant in basic industry, banking, transport, and communication. The largest industrial sector is textiles and clothing, which accounts for one-third of industrial employment; it faces stiff competition in international markets with the end of the global quota system. However, other sectors, notably the automotive and electronics industries, are rising in importance within Turkey's export mix. Real GDP growth has exceeded 6% in many years, but this strong expansion has been interrupted by sharp declines in output in 1994, 1999, and 2001. Due to global contractions, annual growth is estimated to have fallen to 1.1% in 2008. Inflation fell to 7.7% in 2005 - a 30-year low - but climbed to over 10% in 2008. Despite the strong economic gains from 2002-07, which were largely due to renewed investor interest in emerging markets, IMF backing, and tighter fiscal policy, the economy is still burdened by a high current account deficit and high external debt. Further economic and judicial reforms and prospective EU membership are expected to boost foreign direct investment. The stock value of FDI stood at nearly $130 billion at year-end 2008. Privatization sales are currently approaching $21 billion. Oil began to flow through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline in May 2006, marking a major milestone that will bring up to 1 million barrels per day from the Caspian to market. In 2007 and 2008, Turkish financial markets weathered significant domestic political turmoil, including turbulence sparked by controversy over the selection of former Foreign Minister Abdullah GUL as Turkey's 11th president and the possible closure of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Economic fundamentals are sound, marked by moderate economic growth and foreign direct investment. Nevertheless, the Turkish economy may be faced with more negative economic indicators in 2009 as a result of the global economic slowdown. In addition, Turkey's high current account deficit leaves the economy vulnerable to destabilizing shifts in investor confidence.



Current political situation


[This section builds directly on the latter part of my section on “History of Istanbul (And Turkey),” q.v., ]


Before I went to Istanbul, I had thought I had an understanding of the political situation in Turkey from the research I had done in preparation for the Conference.  While I was there, my preconceptions were profoundly shaken by some of what I learned, standing much of what I had assumed on its head.  Subsequently, after more research and extensive reflection, I have come to yet another view of all of it.  To understand these complex issues, it is first necessary to lay out a basic understanding of the 21st Century role of the military in Turkey and that of the ruling Justice and Development Party (which I shall refer to here, as everyone does there, as the AKP), along with a general understanding of the Neo-Liberal Agenda.  And all of this must be understood against the backdrop of the issue of Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union.  But first, a quick summary of the Turkish political structure.



The Basic Situation


The constitution vests executive authority in the president, who is the designated head of state, and who is elected every five years by the Grand National Assembly. The president does not have to be a member of parliament. The current president, Abdullah Gül, was elected by parliament on 28 August 2007.  Executive power rests with the prime minister and the council of ministers.  The prime minister is appointed by the president from among the elected deputies of the National Assembly (in practice, the president asks the head of the party with the largest number of deputies to form a government) and is elected by the parliament through a vote of confidence in his government.  The prime minister is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Islamic conservative AKP first won a majority of parliamentary seats in the 2002  general elections.  The council of ministers, or cabinet, is headed by the prime minister who then nominates ministers for appointment by the president, who then must receive a vote of confidence from the full assembly.  The ministers don't have to be members of Parliament.  The Chairman of the Parliament is Köksal Toptan, from the AKP. The current president of the Constitutional Court is Haşim Kılıç.  The Chief of Staff of the Turkish military is İlker Başbuğ.  Legislative power is invested in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The members are elected for a five year term by mitigated proportional representation with an election threshold of 10% (to be represented in Parliament, a party must win at least 10% of the national vote; independent candidates may run, and to be elected, they must only win 10% of the vote in the province from which they are running). Political parties deemed anti-secular or separatist by the judiciary can be banned.  In October 2007, Turkish voters approved a referendum package of constitutional amendments including a provision for direct presidential elections.


Since Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) founded the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, the Turkish military has perceived itself as the guardian of Kemalism (the official state ideology—even though Atatürk himself insisted on separating the military from politics) and especially as the guardian of the secular nature of the republic.  The military has been an important force in Turkey’s continuous Westernization and the maintenance of its unique standing as a secular Islamic country; but at the same time it also has been a dictatorial, conservative force, that presents a major obstacle to Turkey’s entry into the EU.  The military, in partnership with a closely related Kemalist portion of the Judiciary, still maintains an important degree of influence over Turkish politics and the decision-making process, and it has had a long history of intervening in politics:  it assumed power for several periods in the latter half of the 20th Century (the coups of 1960, 1971, and 1980), and most recently, it maneuvered the removal of the Islamic-oriented prime minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997.  At one point, the military enjoyed a high degree of popular legitimacy, with opinion polls suggesting that the military had been the most trusted state institution in Turkey;  currently, however, it is profoundly distrusted, and is often seen as having been deeply involved with corruption and the suppression of civil liberties.


November 3, 2002 General Election Results - Turkey Totals


 Registered Electors 








 Valid Votes 












 Justice and Development Party (AKP) 




 Republican People's Party (CHP) 







 True Path Party (DYP) 



 Nationalist Action Party (MHP) 



 Young Party (GP) 



 Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) 



 Motherland Party (ANAP) 



 Felicity Party (SP) 



 Democratic Left Party (DSP) 







The AKP (the Justice and Development Party) was new to the political scene at the beginning of the 21st Century.  It was established mostly by former members of the Virtue Party, which was itself the inheritor an unbroken political Islamist tradition—from the National View to the National Order Party, to the National Salvation Party, to the Welfare Party—all parties essentially banned from the political process for violating the secularism of the Turkish Republic.  The AKP thus has a clear—albeit avowedly moderate—Islamic agenda that is central to its appeal and its electoral support.  The spectacular collapse of the Turkish economy in 2001, coupled with the short-term economic pain brought on by the reforms of Bülent Ecevit and his Democratic Left Party government, resulted in the victory of the AKP in the national elections of 2002, led by the long-time Islamist candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had been the former mayor of Istanbul.  (Looking at the table [at left] which presents the results of those elections, one can see clearly what a powerful effect the 10% electoral threshold had on the outcome:  almost half of the votes casts did not result in a single parliamentary seat, as they were nullified because the parties they were cast for did not reach the 10% threshold; thus only two parties received any seats from the elections.  The electoral threshold has functioned to consolidate control in the hands of far fewer parties.)  Erdoğan sought to temper his party’s Islamist image by building a broad-reaching coalition with members of center-right parties, and by promising to further Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.  His AKP emphasized democratic and economic reforms, in addition to stressing moral values through the communitarian-liberal consensus; and they positioned themselves as the opponents of what had been the rampant corruption of the past.  Erdoğan also positioned the AKP as the opposition party to the old, secular, state-driven development parties that had been proven ineffective by the repeated economic crises of the 1990s and early 2000s.  The AKP also has become a spokesman for the neo-liberal agenda that had been becoming the rising economic ideology in Turkey over the preceding two decades. 


July 22, 2007 General Election Results - Turkey Totals


 Registered Electors 








 Valid Votes 












 Justice and Development Party (AKP) 




 Republican People's Party (CHP) 




 Nationalist Action Party (MHP) 








 Democrat Party (DP) 



 Young Party (GP) 



 Felicity Party (SP) 







In the elections of 2007, the AKP scored an even greater victory, garnering an impressive 46.6% of the votes cast.  Due to the fact that there was a third party (Nationalist Action Party) that made it over the 10% electoral threshold, this victory actually resulted in 21 fewer seats in the parliament than in 2002.  [at right. Both sets of election results are from http://electionresources.org/tr/.] 


Western countries such as the US and UK liberalized capital transactions in the early 1970s, terminating the basic principles of the international monetary settlement of the post-war period and igniting an expansion in the global movement of capital.  Since the time of Republican Ronald Reagan and Conservative Margaret Thatcher leading the governments of their respective countries, the principles of neo-liberalism have become ascendant in the world economic and political scenes.  In general, the following principles define this approach:  a shift of control from the public to the private sector; the privatizing of state enterprises; the belief in the unbridled power of free markets and an accompanying deregulation; the lowering of marginal tax rates and the shift of tax burden away from the wealthy; the liberalization of trade; and, finally, the financialization of capital (in which financial leverage tends to override equity and financial markets dominate over the traditional industrial economy).  All of this has been done under the belief  that it will produce more efficient government and improved economic performance for nations.  A neo-liberal agenda has been adopted on both major sides of the political power structure of Turkey—solidly embraced both by the military and by the AKP—and opening the fast-expanding emerging economy of Turkey to the forces of global capital.  As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, however, “Liberalizing the movements of capital worldwide since the Bretton Woods system, essentially dismantled from the early 1970s, has proved a powerful weapon against democracy.”  (“Finance and Silence,” in Le Monde Diplomatique, 1999.)  



The Conflict between the AKP and the Military


Under the banner of meeting EU's political demands for starting membership negotiations (the 1993 Copenhagen criteria, requiring that a state have the institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights, have a functioning market economy, and accept the obligations and intent of the EU), Turkey, under AKP leadership, passed a number of reforms aiming at strengthening civil control over the military, focused mainly on reducing the military’s control of the National Security Council (NSC), and diminishing the power of the NSC to control important government actions in the country.   Passed by the Grand National Assembly on 23 July 2003, these measures are known as the “seventh reform package,” and are viewed as clearly being a major assault by the AKP on the military.


During the rule of the AKP, Turkey has experienced rapid economic growth and an end to its three decade long period of hyperinflation.  The AKP has also instituted many changes that are non-secular and Islamist: In 2005, the AKP banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in a section of Ankara which was mostly occupied by bars and restaurants (this ban was soon lifted due to the response from the area's business owners; however, a licensing requirement still remains for the establishments); it has also been accused of placing anti-secular individuals in government offices and giving out government contracts on the basis of Islamic allegiances; and in 2007 the AKP passed a bill lifting the headscarf ban in all universities.  After the party's attempt to lift the headscarf ban, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya, formally asked the Constitutional Court to close the party on 14 March 2008:  “According to the laws in effect, if a party is committing crimes and has really become a ‘hotbed of anti-secular activities,’ in accordance with the constitution, the office of the chief prosecutor is left with no other choice but to file this closure lawsuit.” The Constitutional Court reviewed the file and unanimously accepted the indictment, which called for the disbanding of the AKP and a five-year ban on involvement in politics for 71 senior AKP officials, including Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül.


Upon being indicted, the AKP government struck back forcefully:  it made multiple arrests in the secular population;  on 5 August 2008, President Abdullah Gul assigned 21 new deans to all government Universities, all of whom reported to support the end to the headscarf ban;  on  9 August 2008, Edibe Sozen, an AKP parliament member, proposed establishing a prayer section in all schools, and a series of anti-pornography rules.  (In 2004, Muammer Guler, the mayor of Istanbul, had passed a bill banning all publicly displayed images containing even partial nudity, such as swim suit advertisements.)  


In the court verdict of 30 July 2008, the AKP was found guilty of becoming the focus of anti-secularist actions; but the court fell one vote short in the move to disband the party (a qualified majority of seven votes out of the eleven members of the Court is required to disband a political party, and only six voted in favor of disbanding the AKP, thus falling short by one vote), and thus the Court did not ban the AKP.



The Current State of Affairs


The AKP made its move on the power and control of the military—which have been at least moderately successful; and the military made its attempt to outlaw the AKP—which narrowly failed in the courts last year.  The struggle is continuing, with the AKP government actually currently succeeding in bringing a general in the army to stand trial in a civilian court (unheard of in Turkish history—and unusual for any place in the world) in the incredibly charged Ergenekon case (q.v., below), and with the ever-present sense of the possibility that the military may actually intervene at some point through the exercise of direct force—as they have often enough in the past.


From afar, it had appeared to me that the AKP was, not unlike the Republican Party in the U.S., a unrestrainedly pro-business group working to advance the neo-liberal capitalist agenda for the benefit of its wealthy supporters, while at the same time pandering to its fundamentalist religious electoral base—in this case, Islamic.  While the leaders of the AKP are from a modern, educated, religiously moderate elite, the mass of voters they count on for support are basically the less educated, more religiously driven poor—particularly from rural areas.  My general assumption was that the AKP would move Turkey in an increasingly more fundamentalist Islamic direction unless the country’s proponents of secularism (which is enshrined in the country's constitution) acted to restrain such a movement—the traditional defenders of Turkey’s status as the one major secular Islamic country having been the Kemalists of the military and the judiciary, the intellectual and academic communities, and the leftist factions in the country.  The fear is that the AKP will not adequately be restrained by these forces in their push for greater Islamic presence and tone in the government, and that the result will be a military coup.  The going leftist view from outside Turkey sees the situation as a potential Algeria—as Deyan Sudjic, in his article in the Urban Age Conference Newspaper wrote, Turkey is “a country with an army committed to secularism, which, in some extreme cases, shades away from Atatürk's ideals towards authoritarianism. If the generals miscalculate, it has the potential for an insurgency that could make Turkey a kind of Algeria and Istanbul its Algiers.” (p. 3)


On closer examination, it still seems clear that the AKP does openly support an increasingly Islamic Turkish society—and all the evidence supports the idea that covertly it supports an even more extreme, fundamentalist shift in that direction; and that the party’s intentions are to be anything but restrained in pursuing this.  The outward signs of this shift are everywhere to be seen in Istanbul:  it is most visible in the significant increase in the ubiquity of the headscarf—and it was described to us that the last several years could be characterized by the headscarf inching its way forward on the heads of the women of Istanbul (moving from the stylish gesture at the custom by covering the back portion of the head, and progressively approaching the more devout adoption of the covering of the complete head, and even working its way down women’s foreheads); flying in the face on the Republic’s long-standing ban on wearing the headscarf in public institutions, the AKP has been promising to remove the ban on it in the universities, and the wife of the country’s president, Abdullah Gül, has appeared at state functions wearing one; and now, in certain neighborhoods, one sees groups of women veiled from head to toe in black, completely covered except for a narrow opening for their eyes—a style we are told was unheard of in the City only a few years ago.


What I was completely unprepared to learn, however, was that the left in Turkey actually is supporting the AKP!  When I first heard this, I thought my informant had gotten the information wrong.  I immediately set about trying to ascertain the reality for myself, speaking with several academics and politically involved figures in Istanbul; and I discovered that left wing support for the AKP was a wide spread and deep.  The opinion seems to be that the really dangerous force in the country is the military, and that the AKP is seen as having been successful in neutralizing the power of the military and limiting the regressive control of the old Kemalist regime for the first time in Turkey’s history.  They point to the fact that the AKP has been successful in subordinating the military to civilian legal jurisdiction (the AKP government having passed an amendment to the Penal Code enabling civilian courts to try army personnel for serious crimes again, paving the way for the prosecution of the current Ergenekon Case, q.v., below), and they link the military to the forces of corruption in the country, and point to its long history of collaboration with the U.S. military, as well.  It should not have been surprising to me that the left would be anti-military, of course, and the growing anti-American drift has been clear of late; but I was surprised at how strongly they seemed to embrace the AKP.  The left is clear in its view that the conservative social agenda of the AKP is vile, and it is understandably contemptuous of its financial policies—and it seems aware that the AKP’s anti-corruption promises increasingly seem to have been empty campaign rhetoric.  Nevertheless, they think it is worth overlooking these problems to free the country from Kemalist control.  The left maintains that the AKP is really quite moderate religiously, and that they are actually a force of moderation in the Islamic communities of Turkey—drawing their more fundamentalist religious supporters into the sphere of identifying with being Turkish, rather than identifying primarily as Muslims.  Most importantly, the left asserts that there is no meaningful threat from the religious right in Turkey, and that radical political Islam has no chance of taking root in the country, as has been happening in other parts of the Islamic world.


For a while, I felt I had gotten the situation completely wrong.  Then, thinking much more about it and discussing it with numerous knowledgeable friends upon my return home, I came to yet another understanding.   I believe that the left in Turkey is making a grave and potentially fatal error:  they are pursuing a strategy in which they believe they will be able play off two dangerously repressive right wing forces against one another to achieve their own goals.  They are traditionally committed to opposition to the Kemalists and the military establishment on the one hand; and, on the other hand,  they are fundamentally opposed to  the programs of the AKP—socially and economically, as well as politically.  Nevertheless, they have convinced themselves that they can use the AKP—overlooking the fact that the AKP  should be equally objectionable to their principles, while at the same time reassuring themselves of its limited danger.  I have come to the conclusion that the correct metaphor for understanding what is going on here is not Algeria—it is Iran!  Chills ran up my spine when I recalled that the left in Iran had actually supported the Ayatollah  Khomeini, believing 1) that backing Khomeini (who was focusing his call for revolution on the socio-economic problems and corruption of the Shah's regime, specifically covering up his plans for clerical rule and shift to a more fundamentalist Islamic stance) would be a good strategy for effecting the left’s aim to rid the country of the Shah (who, it should be remembered, was seen as allied with the U.S., and whose regime was characterized by his autocratic control and his disregard for religious and democratic institutions in Iran), and, further believing, 2) that the religious fundamentalism and clerical control would ultimately not be a real, lasting threat.  Ah, how wrong they were—and how wrong it looks to me that the left in Turkey is going to be.



Two Recent Articles in the New York Times which Highlight the Problems


In the past week, two unrelated articles about Turkey appeared in the New York Times.   Each in its own way is extraordinarily illuminating about the current political situation.



Gay Honor Killing


The more recent article (27 November; click here for the full text), “Soul-Searching in Turkey After a Gay Man Is Killed,” by Dan Bilefsky, recounts the murder of an openly gay 26 year old man who was killed by his father in Üsküdar (a neighborhood in which secular and religious Turks live closely side by side that we visited on the Asian side of Istanbul [q.v., my section on “Our Touring Istanbul”]) in what is being described as the “first gay honor killing in Turkey to surface publically.”


Gay rights groups argue that there is an increasingly open homophobia in Turkey. The military, which is the guardian of Turkey’s secular state, regards homosexuality as a disorder.


Firat Soyle, a human rights lawyer for Lambda, who was advising Mr. Yildiz before his death, said that three months before the murder, Mr. Yildiz had filed a complaint at the local prosecutor’s office that he was receiving death threats from his family. Mr. Soyle said the prosecutor’s office had refused to investigate or provide Mr. Yildiz with protection


The case, which has caused a bout of national soul-searching, has underlined the tensions between the secular modern Turkey of cross-dressing pop stars and a more traditionalist Turkey, in which conservative Islam increasingly holds sway.


That clash of values permeates Turkish society.


Moreover, as the article notes, while it may be true that gay honor killings have previously been unheard of in Turkey, such honor killings are not unusual in Turkey when it comes to women, “who face being killed by male relatives for perceived grievances ranging from consensual sex outside of marriage to stealing a glance at a boy. A recent government survey estimated that one person dies every week in Istanbul as a result of honor killings.”


Whatever else may be true, the simple fact that Turkey is a place where this form of fundamentalist religious madness occurs, is tolerated, and is even on the rise indicates that there is serious trouble brewing from the religious right.



The Ergenekon Trial


The other article  (22 November; click here for the full text), “In Turkey, Trial Casts Wide Net of Mistrust,” also by Dan Bilefsky, concerns the trial which has just begun in Istanbul that “has brought into relief the larger strains in Turkey between a secular elite seeking to hold on to its waning influence and a growing, increasingly assertive population of observant Muslims.”  In what is commonly referred to as The Ergenekon Trial, the indictment alleges links between an armed attack on the Turkish Council of State in 2006 that left a judge dead, a bombing of a secularist newspaper, threats and attacks against people accused of being unpatriotic, as well as plans of some groups in the Turkish Armed Forces to overthrow the present government. According to the investigation, Ergenekon had a role in the murder of Hrant Dink, a prominent journalist of Armenian descent.  Among the thousands of pages of other allegations, there are charges of plotting to foment unrest by assassinating intellectuals, politicians, judges, military staff, and religious leaders, with the ultimate goal of toppling the pro-Western incumbent government  in a coup that was planned to take place this year.  Hearings began on 20 October 2008.  Bilefsky writes,


194 people have been charged, accused of trying to overthrow the government as part of Ergenekon, named after a mythic Turkish valley. Prosecutors contend that they planned to engage in civil unrest, assassinations and terrorism to create chaos and undermine the stability of Turkey as groundwork for a coup.


300 people have been detained during the investigation…including a writer of erotic novels, four-star generals and other military officers, professors, editors and underworld figures—some of whom appear to have committed no offense greater than speaking in favor of Turkey as a secular state.


On the side of prosecuting the case:


Proponents of the investigation argue that the trial is a long-overdue historical reckoning aimed at bringing to account what Turks call “the deep state”: a murky group of operatives, linked to the military, thought to have battled perceived enemies of the state since the cold war. The military, which sees itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular state, has overthrown four elected governments in the past 50 years.


Violence for which the authorities blame Ergenekon includes an armed attack on a senior state court in 2006 and the 2007 bombing of a leftist newspaper in Istanbul, Cumhuriyet.


For those who believe in its existence, the Deep state (or “state within the state”) is a group of influential anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary, and mafia.  The ideology of the deep state is seen by leftists as being anti-worker or ultra-nationalist; by Islamists as being anti-Islamic and secularist; and by ethnic Kurds as being anti-Kurdish.  Rumors of the deep state have been widespread in Turkey since 1973, when then prime minister Bülent Ecevit revealed the existence of “Counter-Guerrilla,” a Turkish branch of Operation Gladio (a code name denoting the clandestine NATO “stay-behind” operation—initially started in Italy after WWII as anti-communist resistance to the possibility of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe, and eventually used as an informal name for all stay-behind NATO organizations).  As one of the nations that prompted the Truman Doctrine, Turkey was one of the first countries to participate in Operation Gladio and, some say, the only country where it has not been purged—the Turkish stay-behind forces being seen as two-pronged:  the military “Counter-Guerrilla” (an inheritor to the Special Warfare Department funded by the U.S. Military Mission for Aid to Turkey [JUSMMAT] program, and the civilian “Ergenekon.”  The most recent allegations come from the current AKP Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, on a. television show, stated his belief in the existence of the deep state: “I don't agree with those who say the deep state does not exist. It does exist. It has always has - and it did not start with the Republic; it dates back to Ottoman times. It's simply a tradition. It must be minimized, and if possible even annihilated.” Some see the Ergenekon investigations, under Erdoğan's watch, as the execution of this purge


Opposed to it:


Government critics say the Ergenekon case is a concerted effort by Justice and Development [AKP] to restore its dented credibility by demonizing its opponents.


“Ergenekon has become a larger project in which the investigation is being used as a tool to sweep across civic society and cleanse Turkey of all secular opponents,” said Aysel Celikel, a former justice minister and president of a charity that finances the secular education of underprivileged rural girls. “As such, the country’s democracy, its rule of law and its freedom of expression are at stake.”


In an extensive study of the case for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, a Washington research institute affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, Gareth Jenkins, a Turkey specialist, noted the pervasive fear among Western analysts of Turkey that Ergenekon “represents a major step, not, as its proponents maintain, towards the consolidation of pluralistic democracy in Turkey, but towards an authoritarian one-party state.”  …Mr. Jenkins, who has analyzed the first two of three vast mass Ergenekon indictments — 2,455 and 1,909 pages — argued that some allegations were absurd.


Professor Suheyl Batum [who teaches constitutional law at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, and who is advising a team of lawyers for several defendants] said Ergun Poyraz [who has written more than five books critical of the government] had been detained for 29 months and Tuncay Ozkan [a secular journalist and critic of the governing party] for 13 months without any evidence that either had committed a crime.  He argued that snippets from their recorded cellphone conversations—like “What should we do about antisecular policies?”—were construed as evidence that they were plotting to overthrow the government.


It appears to many that the AKP is utilizing this legal action to intimidate, attack, and potentially destroy its opposition; and, to these same people, that seems completely consistent with other tactics of the party—all in the direction of fighting the Kemailst forces of secularism, continuing restrictions on minority rights (most hotly contested, Kurdish ones), and generally attempting to suppress dissent.  As for the last, since September Turkey has been abuzz about the struggle between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Aydin Doğan, the country’s biggest media tycoon.  Doğan’s media giant, Doğan Yayin, was fined an unbelievable 3.75 billion Turkish Lira ($2.5 billion) for alleged tax evasion—totally out of scale for a fine, and seemingly designed to bankrupt the media conglomerate, which has been extremely vocal in the claim Erdoğan’s AKP is leading the country towards Islamic religious rule.  The Economist , in a piece on 10 September, raised the question:  “Is it an attempt to muzzle the press or a simple matter of punishing a tax-dodger? Public opinion remains divided…”  Nevertheless, this move has the distinct feel of an attempt to punish and repress the expression of political dissent in the media.


The fact that the AKP has managed to change the Penal Code to allow the prosecution of high ranking military officers in civilian courts certainly represents a major step in reducing the power of the military:  in Turkey, as in most countries, it is presumptively true that the military justice system has jurisdiction over military personnel, and that therefore the military is usually heavily insulated from more general accountability.  Liberal supporters of the AKP rightfully point to the fact that a four-star general has been indicted by a civilian court and is going to stand trial before a civilian judge in the Ergenekon case as a major inroad of civilian control into  the long history of the invulnerability of the impervious Turkish military establishment.  It is also extremely significant that the military was unable to get a closure vote last year to outlaw the AKP, as this has been its historic way of dealing with what it sees as threats to Turkey’s status as a secular state.  The fact that in 2003 the AKP-led Grand National Assembly was able to enact the seventh reform package may be even more significant, in that it substantially reduced the powers of the National Security Council and reduced the military’s control over it—leading in August 2004 to the appointment of a civilian Secretary General of the NSC for the first time.  (Some of the people in Istanbul I spoke with in Istanbul see the NSC as it was previously constituted being very much involved with the “deep state” issue; and all see the NSC as having been a major force in limiting the extent of change in the country).  And, whatever else may be true, having a country controlled by its military is not conducive to democracy.   The conspiracy-minded are concerned that the military may create a “terrorist incident” (like the alleged plot to set off a bomb in Taksim Square) to supply the excuse for a military coup by force; and, of course, such a takeover is always a possibility, given the history of it in Turkey’s post-WWII history.


On the other hand, there is a clear danger posed by the Islamist direction—the covert version far more pernicious than the overt—of AKP policies and intentions; and the danger from the increasingly fundamentalist AKP electoral base is very real.  The contention that Turkey will be immune from the ravages of radical political Islam that have been sweeping the rest of the Islamic world seems totally ill-founded—not least because it assumes the continuation of an attitude towards and allegiance to “Turkish-ness” that actually have been supplied and enforced by the Kemalists, against whose policies and control the AKP is fighting.  Furthermore, the AKP has been proceeding in a style that is obviously repressive:  they have repeatedly sought to destroy critics and opposing forces, as may be the case with the Doğan case.


Whatever else may be true, the Ergenekon case certainly seems intertwined with other major battles over Turkey’s way forward—whether it be in a more Islamic or a more secular direction.



And now…


In the March nationwide local elections for provincial assemblies this year, the ruling AKP suffered its first major electoral setback since the party was founded in August 2001.  Whereas the party had predicted winning more than 50% of the votes, it actually won just 38.9%--losing almost 8% from its levels in the 2007 general elections—the first time that the party had failed to increase its vote in an election since it came to power in 2002 with 34.3 %.  Gareth Jenkins (a Turkey specialist quoted above in relation to the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute study of the Ergenekon case; he is the author of the recently published, Political Islam in Turkey: Running West, Heading East? [Palgrave Macmillan, 2008]) wrote in his article, “Turkey's AKP Loses Momentum in Local Elections” (World Politics Review, 31 March 2009, click here for full text), “For the first time in its brief history, the AKP suddenly appears to have lost momentum.”  Jenkins further writes,


there is no doubt that, in an election campaign largely fought on national rather than local issues, the AKP badly misread public perceptions of its record in office. It is likely that the AKP's popularity has been damaged by its failure to be seen as taking adequate measures to address the slowdown in the Turkish economy -- which was sliding into recession even before the global crisis broke in October 2008. However, the AKP also appears to have failed to take into account a shift in public perceptions of its attitudes towards clean government and Kurdish identity.


Despite AKP efforts to publicly assert its commitment to secularism, most of the domestic debates about the party since it was first founded have centered on religion—particularly about whether or not it ultimately plans to change the prevailing interpretation of secularism in Turkey. Its main national rival, the nationalist CHP [the Republican People’s Party], had previously based most of its opposition to the AKP on what it alleged were the party's ambitions to create an Islamic state.

But in September 2008, the CHP suddenly changed strategies and began publishing details of corruption scandals involving leading members and many local party officials of the AKP. The strategy undercut the AKP's subtle suggestions that the private religious values of its members made them immune to the corruption that had become endemic under previous administrations.


The AKP had devoted a great amount of time and money to winning these elections, which makes the slip in support even more significant.


In a most interesting piece by Jonathan Kolieb in the World Politics Review, he wrote,


The litmus test for the AKP is not how the headscarf issue proceeds, but how the party grapples with other glaring inconsistencies in the Turkish polity. The Alevi religious community suffers religious discrimination, the tiny Jewish community endures systemic and socially ingrained anti-Semitism, and the Kurdish population has long campaigned for greater representation in Ankara, official recognition of the Kurdish language and expansion of Kurdish language media programming. The traditional Kurdish heartland of southeast Anatolia, long neglected by the Turks of the Western cities (including politicians in Ankara), is in desperate need of greater economic growth. For many international observers, the repeal of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code remains a pressing concern. Article 301 is perhaps the most egregious affront to civil liberties in Turkish law, as it criminalizes the ill-defined act of “insulting Turkishness” and has been used in recent years to prosecute prominent Turkish artists and authors such as Orhan Pamuk and the subsequently assassinated Hrant Dink.

If the AKP's reform agenda begins and ends with loosening headscarf strictures and does not tackle these other pressing problems, then the AKP will be rightfully labeled parochial and narrow-minded and, at worst, be exposed as the Islamist party that many Turkish secularists fear it is.


Issues like Article 301 and the treatment of minorities in the country are problems that are not solely the province of the AKP or of the current moment.  If Turkey is appropriately to be welcomed into the European Union, it is reasonable to expect that these and other human rights problems be rectified.  Similarly, there are economic hurdles that are reasonably not the fault of the AKP alone which are legitimately seen as obstacles to membership.  The obstacle of the country’s move away from its position as a secular state is an obstacle correctly laid at the feet of the AKP.


Meanwhile, the EU has been anything but helpful in its approach to Turkey.  Were the EU able to state clearly a specific list of requirements for admission, it might have considerable weight in encouraging Turkey in the right directions.  Instead, the EU has presented a constantly shifting, seemingly endless set of suggestions; and this “moving target” has functioned as a distinct disincentive to the change process.  The Turkish people are starting to believe that nothing they can do will fully satisfy the EU—and they may be right.  It appears that certain important EU members are anything but sanguine about actually admitting Turkey into membership.  Both France and Germany—concerned about the already large number of Turkish residents within their borders, and skittish about the whole Islamic question in their own countries—and seemed downright hostile toward the idea.  (One wonders about why, in October 2006,  France—whose president Sarkozy openly opposes Turkish membership in the EU—felt it necessary to pass legislation making it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after WWI were genocide.  This is an extremely complex issue, and most highly charged for Turks; and, while it is certainly reasonable to look morally askance at the slaughter that did take place, the outlawing in France of its denial as a genocide seems to be far more an anti-Turkish provocation than any meaningfully needed piece of legislation—this even aside from how offensive all such prohibitions on speech are to me as an old, committed First Amendment liberal.)  In the standoff that has developed on admission to the EU, Turkey has become increasingly anti-Western, Anti-American, and anti-NATO in its political positioning—and increasingly supportive of and identified with more religious Islamic states in the region.














































































The population of Istanbul was only 300,000 as recently ago as 1830.  (The chart [at left]of Istanbul’s population at key moments in history is fascinating, given the tremendous vacillations of its size at key moments, and its exponential growth since the 1980s.)  Since WWII, it has grown more than tenfold to its current 13 million.  The city has always existed because of commerce and politics; and the commerce was due to its position on the trade route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean—on which the Golden Horn is the most important protected deep water harbor.  The prosperity of the city—and the relative poverty of rural Turkey—has made it a magnet for migration; and people have migrated in droves to Istanbul, much as they have to New York City.  They have come for work, for opportunity.  And this inward migration into the city is at the heart of the urban development of Istanbul.



The mass migrations from rural areas into Turkey’s cities became a major factor in the aftermath of WWII.  The extension of Marshall Plan aid to Turkey brought about the  modernization of its agriculture (introducing modern techniques and equipment), leaving many peasants unemployed.  The same aid tended to stimulate the economy of cities like Istanbul (providing new manufacturing opportunities and public work projects; 37.9% of the current economy of Istanbul is still based on manufacturing—the highest proportion of any of the cities the Urban Age has studied, and most unusual for a modern global city), improving the opportunities for employment there.  Until 1950, 82% of Turkey’s population had been rural; by 1990, 59% lived in cities. The arrival in increasing numbers of these rural migrants pursuing this relative financial advantage, led to a severe housing shortage in Istanbul.


This explosion of Istanbul’s population since the 1950s has led to massive residential building, which has resulted in a vast expansion of the inhabited area of the city (q.v., at right, a map of Istanbul’s urban footprint, in black, comparing the situations in 1950 and 2000)—a  large portion of Istanbul still remaining undeveloped (e.g., its vast Black Sea forest areas).

Moreover, the economic pressure of Istanbul’s insatiable and politically powerful construction business has, in itself, been a tremendously powerful force in driving development:  not only has the city expanded, it has also repeatedly been torn down and rebuilt.  The most astounding fact of the entire conference was that, in this city with all its ancient history—with all of its marvelous, well-preserved buildings, many dating from as early as the 6th Century (e.g., the Emperor Justinian’s magnificent Hagia Sophia, built in 537)—the proportion of the current buildings in Istanbul that are older than 1953 is only 7%!  The city has gone through two such major transformations since WWII—and, if current plans are allowed to continue, it is about to happen again in a way that will result in the demolition of as much as 60% of the current building stock (q.v., the discussion below).


What follows is my attempt to trace some of the patterns and issues in the urban development of modern Istanbul.  It is not adequately scholarly, and it borrows heavily and freely from many sources, the major ones being: Orhan Esen (from the excellent Urban Age tour of the various forms of urban development in Istanbul he provided for us on 4 November 2009, from his online article, “Learning from Istanbul” [www.metrozones.info/metrobuecher/istanbul/esen02.htm], which is an abbreviated synopsis of his well-regarded book, SELF-SERVICE CITY: ISTANBUL, which unfortunately only exists in German, from his article in the Conference Newspaper, and from some private conversations); Miranda Iossifidis’s 2008 paper, “A Study of the Gecekondu in Istanbul, Turkey”;  Ayşe Saraçgil’s  "The gecekondu and Turkish Modernity." In, Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2 (1997-98-99): 104-107; Mehmet Haluk Köksal’s article “Sector Analysis of the Turkish Economy,” in, Turkey Since 1970, ed. Debbie Lovatt (Palgrave, 2001); several of the writings of Çağlar Keyder (his piece in the Urban Age Istanbul Newspaper, and his “The Housing Market from Informal to Global,” in, Istanbul, between the Global and the Local [Rowman & Littlefield, 1999]) and Asu Aksoy’s piece in the Urban Age Istanbul Newspaper).


There is a history to legal urban development in Istanbul of course, but I begin here with the extremely important illegal version. 


The Gecekondu


The massive influx of migrants into Istanbul created an intense need for housing.  The Ottoman tradition of land ownership had been markedly different from the European model:  in Islamic tradition, God owns all property and men are merely trustees or custodians; therefore, when a state gave land to its subjects, it gave only the right to use the land and not full ownership; this form of “usage right” does not easily translate into the treating of land as a commodity, as in modern real estate development.  While the concept of State owned (Miri) land was officially abolished in the Republic (it was changed by the 1926 Turkish Civil Code) and thus the lands having possession provisions were transformed into private ownership, the great preponderance of land remained as public domain, in the control and disposal of the State.  According to Çağlar Keyder (1999), p.147, “The Kemalist state was prepared neither to build public housing nor to alienate state land to private-sector development—instead the vast inertia of populist clientelism prevailed.”  While there has been some central planning (from 1936-50, the Republic hired French architect and planner Henri Prost to create a master plan for Istanbul [q.v., his 1937 plan, at right]), but it consisted mainly of engineering boulevards and large roads through the city (which, in themselves, turned out to be inadequate to the growth that ensued), and paid no attention at all to the severe housing crises that were occurring in the city.


In the absence of any housing policies, these migrants started to build their own homes on any vacant land they could find. In most cases, the land was illegally occupied—or, at very least, illegally subdivided.  The name gecekondu (from “gece” meaning “night,” and “kondu” meaning “settled” or “landed”; thus “landed at night”) began to be applied to such buildings.  According to an Ottoman law of 1858, if one can find unused government land, and build a house on it in 24 hours, one owns it. Whether this law actually had any real legal standing in the modern urban situation in Istanbul is somewhat open to question, but it is part of the lore of the gecekondu.


The pattern was for an immigrant to arrive in the city and find some employment (whether directly in one of Istanbul’s burgeoning manufacturing industries, or simply as a street seller, shoe polisher, porter, waiter, etc.), then erect a hut on whatever spot of available land he could find, using makeshift materials, so the rest of his family would have a place to live;  in addition to the constructed dwelling, the plot would contain an area for a small garden; the structures were then progressively improved and expanded as time and resources permitted, eventually even becoming substantial, permanent brick and mortar buildings.  As these self-built garden towns of poorer rural immigrants proliferated, the gecekondu became the very symbol of the rural/agricultural-urban/manufacturing transition, as they contained elements of both city and village. Although the resident would now be working at some urban job, he could continue to raise some food for his family in the unit’s own small garden; and often, early on, he might even return to his village at harvest time to participate there.


Orhan Esen writes,


The gecekondus usually developed within walking distance to the industrial sites, mostly on the (steep) slopes surrounding industrial valleys like Dolapdere, Kağithane and Alibeyköy, or west of the old town walls of Zeytinburnu which was situated between two industrial zones by the Sea of Marmara, as well as along the southern slope of the Kayişdaği-Aydos range on the Asian side, parallel to İstanbul's eastern industrial zone stretching along the arterial road to Ankara. People would walk down the hills from the gecekondu settlements - which almost always had names ending with tepe, "hill" - thereby saving the fares for transportation to the workplace.  There rarely was adequate factory work, however, so gecekondu life was always precarious, and highly dependent on kinship ties for support.


Authorities at first tried to demolish these houses, but they were quickly rebuilt. Between 1945 and 1960, politicians began acting in ways that encouraged gecekondus.  Beginning with the Squatter Housing Law (Gecekondu Kanunu) passed in 1966, the issue of the gecekondu was at least acknowledged, and title to land began legally to be established.  They gradually spread over many parts of the city, and by 1970s they had long been recognized by city authorities.  In 1976, all gecekondus built before that date had been regularized; and in 1983 a general building amnesty was granted for all unlicensed buildings in the city (with the exception of the Bosphorus area). By 1985, most of the existing gecekondu plots had been legalized. 


According to Orhan Esen, by allowing the gecekondu process,


The state was able to save urbanization costs and counteract political conflicts resulting from the traumatizing impacts of urbanization. In calculating the cost of labor, businesses were able to disregard housing expenses. And politicians had come upon a treasure trove with a huge potential of new voters, whose loyalty to party structures could be secured against entry into the land register. Last but not least, the gecekondu people themselves had a chance to socially support their ‘becoming a city dweller’ while it was easy to finance and somewhat mitigated in its impact.


Orhan has suggested that part of the motivation behind the official acceptance of the gecekondu process—especially given developments in the Communist world— may have been to avoid the creation in the city of an alienated proletariat class, supporting the gecekondu dwellers’ continued connection to the land, even as he was becoming urbanized.


Eventually, every time there would be an election, there would be a new wave of concessions offered to gecekondu dwellers.  Services such as piped water, electricity, paved roads were traded for votes.  The disputed legal status was first dealt with by granting “amnesties,” and eventually by legitimization:  when a community reached the level of 2,000 residents, it could apply for status as an ilçe (district) or belediye (municipality); once that happened, land ownership was officially possible—individual residents could be granted a tapu (title deed).  I could not help but feel the comparison to a similar process that has taken place—and continues to take place— in Mumbai, where the granting of ownership of squatter-occupied land in return for political allegiance and votes is also a central mechanism of the development of the informal cities there—and which provides a subtle but pernicious mechanism for the disempowerment (if not outright disenfranchisement) of people and the neutralizing of what should be their enormous potential political power in the democratic process of the city.


It has been pointed out that the informal cities of the gecekondu are similar to the barrios and favelas of Latin America; and, indeed, they share a sense of vitality, community, and positive values.  Sociological research has shown the gecekondu dwellers tended to be optimistic, have high expectations in the future for themselves and their children.  Even though there was little integration in city life, they identified more with their city than their village of origin.  In 70s, gecekondu dwellers began to express their own sub-culture, called arabesk, mainly through music. “These huts, though badly built, are, with their colors, their little gardens, their chaotic but lively growth, somehow better looking than the rigid, formal ranks of massive apartment blocks which sooner or later take their place.” [Ayşe Saraçgil (1997-98-99), p.107].  Like the many of the favelas of São Paulo, conditions in the gecekondu often improved to an impressively high quality of life.


Because of the later developments described below, much of the original gecekondu development has long-since disappeared in Istanbul.  There still remain some “frozen gecekondus,” which have not been subject to redevelopment—often because they exist in areas where the land is already so valuable as to make the economics of the transition unfeasible (the developers are not willing to pay what the owners know to be the truly high value of the property, and further development has stalled).  We visited an example of such a frozen gecekondu, Karanfilköy (pictured at the right), near Istanbul’s prosperous European side central business district of Levent (the proximity of its location to the CBD being responsible having driven up property values in a way that accounts for its “frozen” status).  It was a completely beautiful community, well-maintained, with solid, substantial, of single-family housing—with its enclosed gardens, now essentially decorative courtyards—and quite obviously affluent.


Legal Housing


Better-off, middle-income people were attracted to live in Istanbul as well.  The main issue in this arena of development was the lack of mortgage financing.  Mortgages  had an extremely limited presence in the market, and, when present, were only available to the very few.  An exception was the financing provided by the Mass Housing Administration (TOKI), established in the early 80s; but, after some initial success, it turned out to be woefully inadequate, and applied only to those already urbanized for generations, not to newly arrived rural immigrants.  Therefore, aside from the houses of the landed wealthy, the legal urban development in Istanbul took place in the form of traditional apartman, multi-story buildings with owner-occupied apartments, built on a classic yap-sat system.


There were two main ways of building legal housing in Istanbul: 


1. through the yap-sat process (literally, “build-sell”), small-scale, middle-class capitalist construction paradigm:  those who had a developed or undeveloped plot would agree with a building contractor to construct a block of flats, a certain number (negotiated depending on land prices in the area) going to the original owner, the rest going to the builder, who would pre-sell them—often by monthly installments and down-payments—to cover the cost of construction.  In this system, quite common until the 1980, small and medium sized builders dominated this market.  After 1980, available land decreased significantly and the market was hit with an economic crisis and large companies entered into the housing construction market.  Nevertheless, the yap-sat process transformed the urban landscape in Istanbul, and still exists.  Most of the existing one- and two-story buildings were replaced by 3-8 story ones.  These “poorly designed and almost identical” apartments dominate the urban landscape.  This model transformed the greatest parts of the inner-city districts of Şişli, Beşiktaş, Fatih and Kadiköy and some parts of quarters like Beyoğlu, Eminönü and Üsküdar as well as the Bosporus districts Sariyer and Beykoz.


2. through the formation of a housing cooperative (kooperatif):  people in their work groups would get together and form a cooperative to buy a plot of land and arrange with a contractor to build it.  Members would pay monthly installments and down-payments set by the cooperative.  At the beginnings of this form of development in the 60s, most of the groups forming cooperatives were in government agencies and bureaucracies, and, consequently, the political patronage in this system was an enormous, with land often being transferred at extremely preferential rates. This cooperative movement was able to present an alternative of regulated urbanization which appealed to the middle classes.  Often the cooperatives took the form of large-scale high-rise buildings, increasingly on the periphery of the city.


Both the yap-sat process and the cooperatives contributed to the development of multi-story blocks, and  a drastic re-compaction of the already built-up city centre.  Low density areas were replaced by high-rise blocks during the process, and the city's old architectural heritage of single family houses has been driven to the point of near-extinction.  Increasing densities have strained the existing infrastructure, causing traffic congestion, air and noise pollution.  The low quality design of the buildings produced by these processes is due in part to the fact that the construction companies—on all levels, until quite recently—have rarely utilized any architectural input:  to economize and maximize their profit margins, design is something that is not paid attention to at all.


The Post-Gecekondu


There was an entire new wave of migration into the city in the 70s and 80s.  (In the 80s alone, Istanbul’s population doubled to close to 10 million.)  According to Orhan,


As the both yapsat system of the middle classes and the garden towns of the new workers came upon natural, geographic boundaries by the end of the seventies, they were facing a decisive crisis. There was no public land left for occupation, nor inner-city property for joint ventures with the yapsatçis. But immigration continued regardless, and the high demand for cheap housing persisted. The credit for recognizing the ‘huge potential’ inherent in the intersection of the two systems goes to the neoliberal head of state Turgut Özal and his ‘legendary’ mayor Dalan, who translated it into ‘straightforward political action.’ When in 1983 the neoliberal Mother Country Party (ANAP) won the first free election after the 1980 coup, the potential of the yap-sat model was adopted and used for the gecekondus. While the gecekondu amnesties of the fifties, sixties and seventies had been put forward for humane reasons, the protagonists now shamelessly came up with free-enterprise arguments. Under the ANAP government, an entire nation is re-trained to become speculators, stock exchange observers and brokers, and the gecekondu people - tired of the political turbulence of the past thirty years - voluntarily adopt the new course. This is a time of using money to make money. According to Özal, the legalized gecekondu estates are vintage seed capital. Moreover, the country is in the midst of a tough inflation - to keep afloat, people have to invest their capital to good account


This marked the beginning of an urban re-compaction which was to be far more extensive than that of the middle-class districts.


This post-1980 transformation of the gecekondu area into small scale capitalist enterprises via the yap-sat system is named by Orhan post-gecekondu development.  As a result, favorable gecekondu sites gave their residents the chance to produce a certain amount of wealth and enter into the new middle class. The less favored sites (like the slums of the old city they were turning into) accommodated the losers of the de-industrialization process and Neo-Liberal economic policies, and became a new lower class.)


orhan 235-40% of Istanbul is currently post-gecekondu development, which has become the predominant topography of current day Istanbul.  Much of it is quite attractive.  As part of our Urban Age tour, we walked the streets of the post-gecekondu neighborhood Çeliktepe [pictured at right], and were completely taken by the community feel, vitality, and desirability of the place:  it consists mostly of 3-6 story apartment buildings, lining gently winding, hilly streets; the street level of many of the buildings contained small shops, stores, and restaurants (I ducked into one of the local bakeries and bought some delicious bread for everyone, right out of the oven); there was an active, vibrant street life; and, while the architecture was quite pedestrian and uninteresting, the overall feel was colorful and pleasant—in short, we all felt that this would be a nice place to have an apartment for ourselves!  We came upon one local resident who was disturbed that we were being shown this community—fearing we were journalists and would present it as a negative picture of Istanbul (not at all believing that we liked the neighborhood—preferring we be shown the kind of gated community that was developing in Levent.  He had two complaints about Çeliktepe and places like it:  first, that it lacked green space (which, in fact, is a quite valid complaint, although the wide street areas at the intersections of some of the main streets did provide attractive, lively, active open areas for street life and socializing); and second, that there was inadequate parking!  (The desire for cars in Istanbul, and the growing use of private motorized transportation is a major issue for the city. q.v., the discussions in the conference proper.)  Quite clearly, post-gecekondu communities look and feel like cities and neighborhoods as we are accustomed to recognizing.


In 1984, a new administrative model, the Greater Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality was established, consolidating all of what had been the metropolitan region into a huge, single municipality of Istanbul, under the control of one mayor. According to this two-stepped administration model, each of the 39 districts (ilçe) within the metropolitan area was to have an individual elected mayor, all under the city’s mayor, who was granted enormous executive powers over the greater metropolitan municipality. In addition, a new Development Law (3194 Sayılı İmar Kanunu) transferred development rights directly to the municipality.  Orhan explained to us that in this new, post-gecekondu development paradigm, the mayor became a direct and integral player, actually functioning as the developer:  whereas formerly yap-sat development took place between a landowner and a construction company, in the 80s the mayor become a third party to these schemes, and the apartments thereby created now were divided into thirds, with the mayor getting his share.  This explains the anger apparent in the remarks in Orhan’s long quote above.  (His reference to the “‘legendary’ mayor Dalan” refers to the fact that  Bedrettin Dalan, who had been mayor of Istanbul from 1984-89, was so corrupt as to currently be a fugitive from justice—changing countries frequently, from South America to Russia, and now purported to be in hiding in London.)  According to Orhan, “After Mayor Dalan was voted out of office in 1989, his polices were basically adopted without change by his successors, social democrat Sözen and Islamist Erdoğan” (the current Prime Minister of Turkey).


Other Developments of the 1980s


The 80s also saw the increased development of high-rise mass housing for low-income immigrants who had not made it into the post-gecekondu process.  Starting in 1985, TOKI began building these towers, mostly at the far periphery of the city.  (At the right, in a photograph by Cemal Emden are the TOKI tower blocks in Ataşehir, near the endless traffic of the TEM Highway. )

Interestingly, 70% of the white collar population of the city began to locate on the Asian side, even though 70% of the jobs are on the European side.  This is simply because land prices skyrocketed everywhere in proximity to the most desirable commercial and financial district which follows the high ridge of the Büyükdere axis (Büyükdere Caddesi being the main road atop this high ground, separating the two parallel valleys of the Bosphorus and the Cendere)—an axis, by the way, that is an economic dividing line for the city (to the east of it is always affluent, to the west poor and proletarian) and File:Lev Ist Tur 1.jpgalong which all of the most prestigious high-rise office buildings most luxurious high-rise residential buildings (e.g., the Sapphire Tower;  as part of our Urban Age tour, we got to go to the 54th floor roof deck of this grand residential tower[which is still under construction, so it was in hard hats and neon-colored vests], and the photograph to the left is of  Büyükdere Caddesi from there; the nighttime view to the right is a stock photo) are currently being built in the 21st Century.  Rents drop proportionately to the distance one moves away from this axis—more precipitously to the west, of course, than to the east. In the neighborhood of Beşiktaş, for example, rents are quite high (€ 2,000/month, and as high as € 3,500/mo. for those with a view) due it its proximity this axis, despite the fact that the housing stock there is anything but fancy.  By comparison, far more desirable but much more affordable housing can be had on the Asian side for as little as € 1,400/mo. 



The 1990s and Beyond


In the 1990s, the rapidly growing migrant population had reached such heights that only 37 percent of the population in Istanbul had been born in the city, and Istanbul was having an increasingly significant economic impact on the rest of the country.  Nevertheless, the generated income was distributed in a way that widened the income gap between Istanbul residents.  A new professional and economic class emerged with the liberalized economy and a globalized social life, and this spawned new building developments in the city. Reflecting global influences, this construction included high-rise towers, luxury villa communities, and many gated communities (like the one in the picture at the left in a photograph by Cemal Emden)—a particularly odd trend, given the city’s low crime rates.  (Unlike places like São Paulo, where the prevalence of crime has engendered gated developments with high walls, topped with electrified barbed wire, the gated communities of Istanbul often have low walls that offer no meaningful barrier to entry.  The real point of the “gated-ness” of these communities is the symbolic status of its social exclusivity, not its protection!)  In the 90s, architects have also started to figure more meaningfully in construction in Istanbul, as the prestige value of design has begun to be monetizable.


According to Çağlar Keyder (in the Urban Age Istanbul Newspaper),


As a commodity, land became the favored object of speculation


Public sector infrastructure projects and motorway construction blazed the path, as in the residential and business development around TEM, the Trans-European Motorway. The central government’s Mass Housing Administration (TOKI) participated in this development by creating high-rise residential units for low-income groups in the far peripheries of the city. Roads connecting to the anticipated third bridge over the Bosporus will likely create another axis of expansion North of the city.”


Turkey is home to 26 of the top builders in the world—which is a staggering fact, given that this number is more than half that to be found in the countries with the very highest number of top builders (China, for example, has 47 such companies).  The accumulation of capital via real estate construction has been an essential driver of the recent history of Istanbul’s economy ever since land was successfully made a commodity in the system; and this has grown exponentially in importance with the rise  of global speculative investments in real estate in Istanbul—and the wealth and influence of Istanbul’s already powerful construction companies have skyrocketed proportionately.  According to Asu Aksoy (in the Urban Age Newspaper),


When the Directorate of Privatization Administration sold 100,000 square metres of National Highways Authority land in Zincirlikuyu to a Turkish business group for US$ 800 million in 2007, the price of land in this central business area increased substantially. Shortly thereafter, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality finalized the bidding process for a 46,000 square metre warehouse space belonging to the Istanbul Transport Authority, situated immediately adjacent to the Highway Authority’s land. It was sold to a Dubai-based real estate company for US$ 705 million, with future plans to build the Istanbul ‘Dubai Towers’, Istanbul’s tallest building, at an estimated cost of US$ 5 billion now on hold. With this municipal sale, the value of property in the area rose to US$ 15,000 per square metresurpassing average values in the central business districts of London and Tokyo. What was shocking was the speed with which the price of land almost doubled between these two sales, indicating the appetite of global real estate investors for sites in Istanbul.


According to Keyder, until the 1990s, it looked as if Istanbul would miss the global surge in speculative investment that made urban real estate development a leading sector around the world.


Things changed, however, when the conservative-Islamic AKP (Justice and Development) party—which won the 1994 local elections thanks to support from rural immigrants in peripheral neighborhoods—proved to be surprisingly pro-business.  In abandoning traditional populism they started looking for new ways to market the city; their adoption of the neo-liberal discourse found a perfect fit in projects preparing the city for showcase on the global stage.


All this led to a liberalization of the Turkish economy and a deliberate attempt to attract global capital and global networks to Istanbul.  Keyder further writes that, “Following the political ascendancy of AKP to central government in 2002, the former Mayor of Istanbul [Recip Tayyip Erdoğan] (now the Prime Minister) reinforced this strategy to position Istanbul on the global stage.”  In the capitalist strategies of the neo-liberal agenda, Istanbul could only be considered a success story.


This second wave of land-taking came  to a temporary standstill with the 1999 earthquake and the 2001-02 national economic crisis. This wave had been much more turbulent and powerful than the first one (1945-80), which was moderate and almost unobtrusive; and it was carried out under the banner of attracting what was seen as “distorted urbanization.” As  Esen writes,


In the wake of an ideological re-orientation affecting all milieus and strata, the “distorted urbanization” discourse in the nineties…met surprisingly broad acceptance, and even underwent the strange transformation into becoming a part of the official rhetoric.


Its intellectual renaissance sprang from the milieu of left-wing orientated architects, no less, following the example of “socialist town planning.” It became actual mainstream in the nineties when the post-gecekondu was in full bloom


Thus, the concept of “distorted urbanization” was accepted as a target value in the bureaucratic discourse although this kind of language, among other things, highlights the deficits of official functionaries. And finally, it was passed on by professionals of the building sector interested in jobs with the big building companies to the industry, which found it convenient to use. The final destination was its adoption by the media, which introduced the new non-place, the varoş and its inhabitants, the maganda.


All this led to a policy of “erase and rebuild.” 


These changing realities have required the development of a new discourse about the urban development of the city:  the old situation, with its huge numbers of small property owners, had necessitated smaller interventions and programs; to accommodate the large scale interventions needed to fuel the current real estate industry, a larger issue needed to be developed.  And Istanbul has found it in the mitigation of earthquake risk.


Now, it can be argued that there is, in fact, a reasonable desire in this to protect the inhabitants of the city in this earthquake prone region.  When the 17 August 1999 Marmara Earthquake (7.4 on the Richter scale) hit Istanbul, there was destruction and loss of life. According to the official records, 981 people lost their lives, and 41,180 residences and workplaces were damaged. (The overall loss in the country as a whole was far worse, however, with the death toll exceeding 15,000.)  Nevertheless, as Orhan Esen has pointed out, it is highly suspect that the government has embraced the issue with such zeal, given that it provides the opportunity to force the redevelopment of ~60% of the existing building stock of Istanbul—providing still yet again an opportunity to rebuild the city as has occurred twice before in the recent past, this time mostly the vast post-gecekondu areas of the city.  For the conspiracy-minded among us, it is worthwhile to look carefully at the map of the distribution of damage in Istanbul from the 1999 earthquake (the insert to the right being a map produced by the Istanbul Governorate Disaster Management Center [From Mustafa Erdik et al., “Earthquake Risk to Buildings in Istanbul and a Proposal for its Mitigation,” Department of Earthquake Engineering, Boĝaziçi University, Istanbul, 2001]), and to ponder the question of how much the redevelopment done in the name of earthquake risk mitigation will actually follow the actual pattern of risk, and how much it will follow socio-economic lines—which seem like they could be quite different from the areas of damage on this map.


To add to that projected program for urban redevelopment, there is what is perhaps an even more pernicious project afoot:  the 2005Urban Transformation Law” (Law 5366), which calls for the demolition of unsightly neighborhoods in core areas in the name of urban transformation.  Under the banner of providing better neighborhoods around the city’s historic monuments and creating wider streets to accomodate modern shopping and better traffic circulation and parking for private automobiles, this bill purports to be a kind of historic preservation—until one realizes that what is being discussed is at most preserving the façades of some of the original buildings, totally demolishing the structures and street plan, building characterless large blocks, and simply re-attaching some of the original façades to the lower floors along the new large block.  [Our old friend Alex Garvin has insisted that this form of building process should be termed “façodomy”!]  It is also made to sound like some kind of community renewal, although as in many such programs, the effect—and perhaps even the intent—is to destroy the existing neighborhoods and dislocate the current inhabitants. Many of the original owners, not be able to afford the 50-50 financing (which, characteristically in Istanbul since the 80s, results in half ownership of only 2/3, as 1/3 in such schemes has always gone to the mayor) will not get what they appear to be being promised; instead, the “nearby replacement” is likely for most to end up being one of the ghastly high-rise projects on the farthest periphery of the city.  Law 5366 is aimed directly at Istanbul’s poorest and most downtrodden residents.


With the global crisis and economic downturn, poverty and inequality have become more severe, creating more social exclusiveness, and perhaps the development of a permanent under-class—heavily populated by ethnic minorities, for example the Gypsies of the Roma community, Kurds, Armenians, and refugees from African countries.  No longer able to build a gecekondu, recent migrants have been relegated to marginality in derelict neighborhoods—and these are the neighborhoods primarily targeted for demolition under Law 5366.  It has been suggested that this round of redevelopment is actually more ethnic cleansing that urban renewal, with the current inhabitants relocated to farthest periphery of the city.


Asu Aksoy  writes,


The head of TOKİ, the Prime Ministry’s Housing Development Administration, declared that half of İstanbul’s housing stock (approximately 3 million buildings) would have to be replaced over the next 20 years; work would begin in 20 slum-housing areas. Istanbul’s residents – whether in Sulukule or in Süleymaniye within the historic centre’s city walls, in Tarlabaşı in the Pera district or Zeytinburnu to the West of the city are now subject to municipal programs involving the expropriation of private properties in return for cash compensation or relocation to new developments in the far periphery. Thus, the historic Tarlabaşı district in Beyoğlu, with its abandoned Greek Orthodox churches and its streets of dilapidated nineteenth-century houses – now occupied by Kurdish populations from the South-East of Turkey living side by side with local gypsy populations and illegal African immigrants is targeted for clean up. This will entail turning the houses into ‘attractive’ residences with parking spaces and shopping areas; façades being one of the few remnants to be retained of the area’s unique character. Across the city, construction companies are soon set to start pulling down entire neighborhoods.


The Roma community of Sulukule is an old settlement within the Fatih area of Istanbul’s historic peninsula, adjacent to the western part of the Theodosian Wall. Roma presence in this part of Istanbul dates back to Byzantine times.  Sulukule has been targeted for demolition under Law 5366 (along with other areas across the entire historic peninsula and 19th Century districts north of the Golden Horn)  This redevelopment is to take place despite the area’s status as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to Time Magazine, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Sulukule "ugly", and expressed bewilderment over anti-demolition protests. The Roma have been offered two options: They can sell their property at a rate far below market prices (or face having it expropriated), or they can move to public housing in Tasoluk, some 25 miles outside the city, for which they will have to pay a mortgage over a 15-year period that very few can afford.  British researcher Adrian Marsh sees a darker agenda at work: “What we have is the most religious municipality in the country confronting what it deems to be a historically irreligious, immoral group.” (again, according to the article in Time Magazine)


Orhan Esen has claimed that there is a level of fear and contempt that has arisen in the old middle-class of Istanbul that has shaped a new and different attitude towards both the new middle classes of the post-gecekondu and towards the growing under-class of the city, in which the term gecekondu, with its positive social connotations and associations, has become replaced by a new pejorative term, varoş—derived from the Hungarian meaning “little city,” it has come to connote “no-go zone,” used to designates a place of allegedly impenetrable chaos, and where safety is threatened—the assumption being that people who build illegally will not shy away from committing any other subversive acts either.  The concept of varoş reflects the anxieties of the old middle class, especially the wage-dependent, “white collar,” educated middle class, and reflects a growing tension between it and the new post-gecekondu middle class, the two groups having progressively drifted apart since the 80s. As Orhan has written,


The varoş is now a perfect culprit for anything the middle class is worried about: deficient quality in buildings and the associated earthquake risks, colonization of water reserves, pollution, infrastructural shortcomings, rural machismo and discrimination of women, the mafia. Never before have the intra-urban boundary lines been so clear-cut: On the one hand, the apartman milieu, outwardly politically correct and cosmopolitan, always voting left-national, often impoverished; on the other, the post-gecekondu milieu, seeking to safeguard its economic status, where people increasingly like to see themselves as İstanbuler and always vote right-wing (with Islamic, liberal, and conservative undertones) or Kurdish-leftist (e.g., Gazi) parties. These two antagonists aggressively strive for a dominance of their respective cultural code of conduct in public space. The rift between the two urban milieus is evident in symbolic debates, revolving for instance around the headscarf or barbecuing in public spaces… It diverts the educated citizens’ attention from the true war arena. The aggressive activities and projects of the new big players—especially in the ecologically sensitive north, the water protection zones and the rural environs—is in sharp competition to those of the "mafia-style" post-gecekondu milieu.


Istanbul is poised on the brink of massive demolition and reconstruction, an “erase and rebuild” campaign in the name of earthquake risk mediation and urban renewal of inner city urban “slums.”  Significantly driven by the hunger for financial gain and wealth accumulation, and now in the form of speculative real estate development with substantial investment of global capital, this development is taking the all-too-familiar path of relocating the city’s poor to dreary high-rise apartment towers being built at the extreme periphery of the city, with a concomitant development of affluent, gated communities in the more desirable, central neighborhoods—with a frightening air of ethic cleansing, to boot. 


According to Çağlar Keyder (in the Urban Age Istanbul Newspaper),


The current crisis…exhibits a less benign aspect of this spatial expansion in the form of real estate development fueled by the global wave of speculative investment. Coalitions formed during the last 15 years facilitated and profited from this development; the financial explosion that accompanied economic growth contributed to it. As a result, Istanbul ended up with an enormous bubble of excess real estate – office buildings, shopping centers, and middle-class residential developments – just as occurred in East Asian cities prior to the 1997 financial crisis and the United States in the run up to the 2008 global economic collapse.


The bursting of the bubble in the credit market, however, has dashed the dream. There is likely to be a long wait before the existing stock finds utilization through attrition, upgrading and expansion. The danger is that the cessation of new construction and land development will rob the city of its major motor of growth in terms of absorbing investment and creating employment, leading to an unavoidable period of relative stagnation.


There are always tensions in the growth of cities:  between the need for modernization and the desire to preserve the past;  between the encouragement of economic development and the prevention of the development of economically disadvantaged under-classes;  between the rights of wealth accumulation and the right to basic human dignity and healthy existence of the poor; between the building of roads and the preservation of the fabric of the city; between a high-tech lifestyle and ecological concerns about climate change.  Nevertheless, it is clear that in Istanbul there has been a dreadful disturbance in the balance of these tension in the direction of development and wealth at the expense of the other side of the equation.


















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[When touring Istanbul, I relied heavily on the Lonely Planet Istanbul City Guide; and I often use their guides when travelling, as I find them to be an excellent source of accurate information, with a level of historical and art historical sophistication that I like.  Many of the facts about the sites on our tour are drawn from this guidebook.  I occasionally refer to Frommer’s guides, as well, particularly for restaurant information—about which the Lonely Planet guides are less good.  N.B.: certain of the images in this section can be clicked on for higher resolution versions; unfortunately, the only way to tell is by putting you cursor on the image to see if it is one it works for—you will know if the form of your cursor changes when you do that.]


Day 1:  31 October Saturday

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet > Angled view of facade of Hotel from street level. After a ten hour non-stop flight from New York, we arrived at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport at 9 AM on Saturday morning. We were driven into the city, arriving shortly after 10 at our hotel to our hotel, the Four Seasons Sultanahmet [at right].  The hotel is housed in a century-old building that at one time was the notorious Sultanahmet Prison—although it is now the very epitome of luxury, with service designed to make up for its infamous past abuses.  Although the Conference was to be held along the Bosphorus, far out from the center of town, we chose to stay at the Four Seasons for our first three nights so as to be within walking distance of the main historic monuments. It is located in Sultanahmet, right in the very heart of the Old City—between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and a block away from the entrance to the Topkapi Palace.  After waiting decades to see the Hagia Sophia, my first view of it was from the window of our room at the hotel! [photo at left]


The weather was very wet and cold (7°C), with a driving, drenching rain that persisted throughout the day.  Nevertheless, we were in Istanbul for the first time in our lives, and I was so eager to see its treasures that by 10:30, armed with study umbrellas from the hotel, we were out and on our way to an ambitious day of sightseeing.


We first headed for the Hagia Sophia, but, as there were long lines to get in (a warning: cruise ships dock in Istanbul; and when they disgorge their huddled masses, that retched refuse makes straight for the best known of the tourist attractions; it is best to visit such places either earlier or later in the day), we walked through Sultanahmet Park to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) [at right].  Commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I to rival the nearby Hagia Sophia, and built between 1606-16, the Blue Mosque is an imposing structure.  Quite controversially, it was designed to have six minarets.  (The number of minarets a mosque has is meant to reflect the importance and stature of the person for whom it was named—the more important the person, the greater number of minarets.  Having six was deemed irreverently audacious, as this is the only mosque in the world outside of Mecca to have that many.)   One more properly approaches the Blue Mosque from the Hippodrome to the west of it, (and we did so on our second visit, a week later when the weather was more hospitable), through a series of domed gates [at left, from a sunnier day].  It has a huge courtyard, and through that one is visually led into the main entrance, through a series of domes and semi-domes, into the massive, domed central space of the mosque.  (This, as many of the mosques of Istanbul, is still functioning as a mosque; and one is required to remove ones shoes before entering, and women are required to cover their heads.  It is also closed to visitors during the times of prayer.)  The “Blue Mosque” gets its name from the profusion of blue Iznik tiles that adorn its interior [at left and right]—flooded by light from the many stained glass windows.  While very imposing—and originally striking us as quite beautiful, it being the first of our historic buildings in Istanbul—it is actually less aesthetically pleasing than many of the others we eventually visited, being a bit too intensely decorative and busy for my  taste, and a tad heavy-handed architecturally (the central dome is relatively small for the size of the building, and it is supported by four massive interior columns that are a far less elegant solution than the structure of the Hagia Sophia, on which it was modeled).

Hippodrome 1

We then proceeded to walk in the downpour through the Hippodrome, the ancient center of life in Byzantium.  The chariot races are long gone, but it remains a rather lovely elongated green space, between the Blue Mosque and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art on its western flank.  At the northern end is Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain, a stone gazebo presented to Abdül Hamit II by Kaiser Wilhelm II at the start of the 20th Century.  (Kaiser Wilhelm’s presence is recorded in several spots in Istanbul, and is an indicator of the long and complex history the city has with Germany.)  Towards the southern end of the Hippodrome was our favorite of its monuments: the Obelisk of Theodosius:  a marvelously well-preserved, beautiful granite obelisk carved in Egypt ca. 1450 B.C.  The inscribed hieroglyphics declare it to commemorate the victories of Thutmose III.  Theodosius had it brought to Constantinople in  390 A.D., and placed it on a base carved with scenes from his own life.

From the southern end of the Hippodrome, we wended our way to the Küçük Aya Sofya Camii (the “Little Aya Sofya”), one of the real “finds” of our trip.  Built by the Emperor Justinian (and Theodora) ca. 527-536, this little former church (converted to a mosque ca. 1500) is an elegantly proportioned irregular octagon.  It has balance, quiet beauty, and tasteful decoration—a  true gem of a building.  We spent over an hour soaking in the experience of this building, wandering around every inch of it, including its upper galleries, unrestricted in a way not possible in most of the city’s major mosques (where there are barriers preventing non-worshippers from entering either the central space or the apse of the building).  When the call to prayer came (it is a functioning mosque, despite the apparently small size of its congregation), we stayed quietly at the back through the service; and this, too, was a lovely, moving experience.  It is not to be missed!


From the Küçük Aya Sofya, we walked north along Küçük Aya Sofya Cadessi, through a lovely residential area, quickly through the uninteresting Arasta Bazaar, to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyüksaray Mozaik Müzesi).  Over the years, the ground level of the Old City has risen as a result of millennia of building, decay, and rebuilding; and, during an excavation in the 1950s, a team of archeologists unearthed  a vast, stunning mosaic pavement dating from Byzantine times—perhaps added to the Great Byzantine Palace by Justinian in the mid-6th Century.  The museum structure was built to cover the more than 250 m2 of mosaic floor that is still intact, as well at to display on its walls many beautiful fragments, not part of the floor as it now exists. [e.g., at left and right]


From there, we walked through the torrential downpour, past the Blue Mosque, and back across the Hippodrome to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (Türk ve Islam Eserli Müzesi), housed in the 1524 Palace of İbrahim Paşa, the friend and brother-in-law of Süleyman the Magnificent.  We first went to the museum’s café and had the first of many wonderful cups of çay—delicious Turkish tea, served piping hot in small, handle-less glass tulip cups; and a quite restorative moment of relaxation and warmth.   This was the second great “find” of our day:  the museum’s magnificent collection displays the entire sweep of the Turkish and Ottoman Empire history through objets—pottery, inlaid wooden Qur’an stands, calligraphy, writing sets, illuminated manuscripts, tiles, etc., and the most magnificent carpets I have ever seen anywhere—from the 8th through the 19th Centuries.  We were enthralled and blown away by the beauty and magnificence of the collection.  This place is a “must see.”


File:Basilica Cistern, Constantinople.jpgWe continued south to the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı). [at left] The largest surviving Byzantine cistern, this vast underground reservoir (65m x 143m; once holding 80,000 m3 of water) was built by Justinian in 532.  It has 336 columns in twelve rows, supporting a series of high barrel vaults.  It is an eerie, beautiful place, attractively lit.  One wanders along raised walkways, over the dark water, filled with ghostly carp.  The more recent history of the Basilica cistern is quite fascinating [quoted from the Lonely Planet Istanbul City Guide]:


the cistern seems to have been forgotten by the city authorities some time before the Conquest. Enter scholar Petrus Gyllius, who in 1545 was researching Byzantine antiquities in the city and was told by locals that they were able to miraculously obtain water by lowering buckets in their basement floors. Some were even catching fish this way. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the neighborhood and finally discovered a house through whose basement he accessed the cistern. Even after his discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Saray) didn't treat the underground palace with the respect it deserved - it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. Fortunately, later restorations, most notably in the 18th century and between 1955 and 1960, saw it properly maintained. It was cleaned and renovated in 1985 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987.

And we saved the best for last:  the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya; the full Greek name is Ναός τς γίας το Θεο Σοφίας, Church of the Holy Wisdom of God; therefore, “Holy Wisdom” would be the name in English), which I had been waiting most of my life to see...and it did not disappoint!  The church was built  by Justinian in 537 on the site of two former Hagia Sophias.  It commands the view from what was the Byzantine acropolis on Saray Point, and it is prominently visible from just about everywhere (q.v., the wide-angle photograph at the beginning of the “Introduction” section).


The exterior of the building seems to be related to the Romanesque times in which it was built:  it has a rather heavy, simple massing that expresses the interior volumes, beautifully, if somewhat roughly.  It is only when one enters the interior space, however, that the experience becomes transformative and transcendent:  it is not easy to describe, and even harder to capture in a photograph (so I present, here, on both sides, a series of shots of the interior).  As one moves into the building from the courtyard, one passes trough the wide, shallow Outer Narthex, and then though the similar Inner Narthex, and finally through the Imperial Door (assuming, during the 900 years of its actual existence as an imperial church, you were part of an imperial procession—lesser beings never being permitted to enter through this central doorway).  The space one enters is vast and overwhelming, yet centering and containing; it is dark and mysterious, yet brilliantly pierced by the light that penetrates though the many small windows; it is heavy and massive, yet it seems to float weightlessly and balloon skywards.  It is as if this space was what the word “sublime” was created to describe.


The structure of the building inspires wonder.  There is an abundance of strongly articulated but incredibly graceful architectural forms:  arcades of tall columns, topped by rounded arches, supporting the second arcade of columns and arches of the upper gallery—reduced in scale so as to magnify perspectivally the recession off into the distant heights above, but also to lend progressive lightness to the upward movement of the central space; and above this level the pendentives spring to support the enormous (30m in diameter) but apparently weightless central dome—floating ethereally above the circle of light of the ring of windows at the base of the dome; and the spaces between the pendentives on the east and west ends of the church balloon gracefully out into hemi-domes, each in itself opening out into three semi-domes beneath—and beneath the three semi-domes of the eastern end, the spaces continue down into an elegant apse and two flanking side chapels, each with the same horizontal articulation as the central space.  Structurally, the pendentives subtly transfer the weight of the dome onto the four corners of the side walls, removing the need for visible columns or any other obvious supporting members—creating  the vast openness and magnitude of the central volume, which at once seems too great for the actual structure, yet at the same time serenely part of the floating weightlessness of the whole.


The detail that remains is similarly fabulous:  the awesome seraphim painted in the pendentives [q.v., at left], the elegant marble, and the magnificent mosaics—the Madonna and Child in the apse, the Deësis Mosaic (a 14th Century Christ flanked by the Virgin May and St. John the Baptist) [q.v., below, at right] in the upper gallery, and the one of Constantine the Great, the Virgin May, and the Emperor Justinian over the doorway where one exits the church  (One might inadvertently miss this last masterpiece, as it was positioned for entering the building; but they have cleverly positioned a mirror that reflects its image and draws attention to its existence.)


Walking up the ramp to the upper gallery is a treat all its own.  One weaves back and forth through the very fabric of the massive 6th Century masonry of the building as one moves up through it.  Don’t miss the experience!  (And the trip down is similar.)


When Istanbul finally fell to Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453, he took it for Islam and converted it into a mosque.  The gigantic 19th Century circular medallions which adorned the mosques were done by master calligrapher Mustafa İzzet Efendi—and, as in other mosques, are inscribed with the names of Allah, Mohammed, Ali, Abu Bakr, File:Deesis Hagia Sophia.jpgUsman, and Umer .


In 1934, as part of the secular reforms of the new Turkish Republic, Atatürk proclaimed the mosque a museum, and it has remained so ever since.  So, no need to remove shoes, no need for women to cover their heads, and no closures for prayer times.  Long lines to get in, at times, however.


After a deeply moving, satisfying couple of hours there, I was finally able to tear myself away from the Hagia Sophia, and we made the short walk back the Four Seasons.


That evening we had a delicious, if rather Western, dinner at Seasons, the beautiful restaurant in the courtyard of out hotel.  For me, the main food treat of the evening was my appetizer of Hamsi—fresh anchovies—grilled in a traditional local preparation; quite delicious.  Perhaps more importantly, we found an excellent Turkish wine: Kav: Bogazkere-Ökúzgozü 2006 by Doluca.  In addition to the pleasure of discovery, the find was important since French, Italian, and Spanish wines are absurdly expensive in Istanbul—a real downside of Turkey not being admitted to the EU!  This relatively inexpensive wine (a blend of two Turkish grapes (Bogazkere and Ökúzgozü), was both delicious and easy to find:  we had it at every meal thereafter—and always for significantly less than at the Four Seasons!


Day 2:  1 November Sunday


Our second day was also cold and rainy, but not nearly as cold and rainy as the first—so it seemed much less difficult to be out and about in.

File:Tram in Galata Istanbul.jpgIn the morning, we took the Tram from Sultanahmet over the Galata Bridge to Karaköy.  [The Tram is pictured at right, at the Karaköy (Galata) station]  The Tram— which runs from Zeytinburnu on the west, through the peninsula of the Old City, and thence across the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, and north along the File:Galata Bridger.JPGBosphorus to Kabataş—is a wonderful, efficient way to get around most of the tourist areas in Istanbul.  Although it is soon to be replaced by a card system, the city’s wonderful Akbil is usable on the Tram. (The Akbil is a small plastic object with a coded metal disk, designed to go on a keychain, and able to be pre-loaded with cash, and which effortlessly provides entry into virtually all of the city’s mass transit—including its many ferries.  It provides discounted rates, and it can be used multiple times on a single trip for all the people travelling with you—a great feature to be rescinded with the new system]).  The view from the Tram crossing the Galata Bridge [at left] is spectacular: to the left (westward) one looks up the Golden Horn (the estuary off the Bosphorus which forms the protected, natural harbor the helped make Istanbul the economic and political world center it has always been, and which divides the peninsula of the Old City from the European-side neighborhoods to its north); to the right, down the Golden Horn to the turquoise expanse of the Bosphorus.  One can also easily walk across this bridge, passing by the innumerable people fishing off it (but with much more room to pass them than on the Atatürk Bridge, the next bridge crossing the Golden Horn upstream, and on the which we walked back across), and savoring the view in a more languorous fashion.


We got off at Karaköy and began the walk uphill through the area called Galata.  Home to traders from  Genoa and Venice throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the area functioned almost like a separate colony.  From the 16th Century on, Galata was home to a substantial Jewish population; and it still has a number of synagogues.  During the 19th Century, the arriving European émigrés built many masonry homes, offices and banks (reminding us of the time when all of the empire’s bankers and businesspeople were non-Muslims)—all with a distinctly European flavor that remains today, although the chic-ness has faded and the neighborhood has declined. We wended our way through the narrow, steep streets to the Galata Tower [at right], originally built in 1348 in the Genoese fortifications on the high point of the area.  It still is the dominant structure on the skyline north of the Golden Horn.  Once it provided one of the better scenic views of Istanbul; but there are now much better ones to be had form many of Beyoğlu’s tall hotel; and climbing the Galata Tower has become solely the province of tourists who don’t know better.


From the Tower, we continued our way on to upper Tünel (named for the antique funicular that carries passengers up the steep hill from File:Istiklal Avenue.jpgKaraköy; it is actually a fairly short walk—albeit a steep one—so it is not all that necessary, but we took it on Day 8, just for the experience).  From Tünel then took historic tram [at left] along Istiklal Cadessi (“Independence Avenue to Taksim Square, in many ways the heart of modern Istanbul.  “Taksim” means “distribution,” and refers to “water distribution,” because of the stone reservoir on the side of the square that used to be part of the city’s old water system.   Taksim Square is also the site of the Atatürk Cultural Center, the Republic Monument (Cumhuriyet Anıtı), and a bus terminal—and it does not look particularly impressive as a public space.  Nevertheless, it is an immensely popular gathering place for the local population.  We then walked back down Istiklal Cadessi  [at right] to Tünel.  Istiklal Cadessi is a pedestrianized avenue which is a major shopping area and an extremely popular place for an enormous number of tourists and locals to promenade.  We diverted briefly off into the Çiçek Pasaji (The Flower Passage), a glass canopied arcade, and then to the Balık Pazar (Fish Market).  We continued on Istiklal Cadessi to Tünel, and from there, walked down the hill through several neighborhoods to the Atatürk Bridge, walking over it across the Bosphorus. 

Wooden palace of the marine minister prior to restoration

Back on the historic peninsula, we wended our way southeast, up the hill through several extremely poor neighborhoods (destined for demolition under Law 5366 [q.v., in my section on the “History OF The Post-World War II Urban Development of Istanbul”])—including one with dilapidated and burned-out wooden three-story houses, with the second and third floors overhanging the first by 3 ft (a style we saw repeated elsewhere in some older neighborhoods) [e.g., at left].  It was often impossible to tell which of the houses were abandoned and which inhabited, as there often was little difference in the conditions of the two.  There was one small neighborhood in which there was a project going on to restore a block of these wooden houses were being renovated (perhaps called Karak, or Konak, or “The Block” [?]).


Eventually we ended up at Sülimaniye Camii (Mosque of the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent), built atop one of the seven hills of Istanbul in 1550-57 by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, at the order of  Süleyman I.  The Süleymaniye [at right] was the fourth of İstanbul’s imperial mosques, following the Fatih, Beyazıt and Selim I.  Sinan, ever challenged by the technical accomplishments of the Hagia Sophia, took the floor plan of that church and here perfected its adaptation to the requirements of Muslim worship.  Unfortunately, the mosque is currently under construction, and we were only able to enter the interior of one of its side aisles—the main space and the surrounding gardens all being closed.  From what we could see, the interior [the photo at right showing the central space we never got to enter] is wonderfully light, and decorated with an elegant simplicity.  It is one of those places we shall need to return to on some future visit to Istanbul.


From the Süleymaniye, we walked to the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) [at right]—constructed in 1660, it is a bustling spot with shops selling spices, nuts, honeycomb, figs, and dried fruit.  Then we walked through a neighborhood full of shops selling flowers, plants, and song birds, to Yeni Camii (The New Mosque) [at left], built in 1597 under a commission from Valide Sultan Safiye, mother of Sultan Mehmed III.


We took a quick look at this mosque before getting the Tram at the Eminönü stop and returning briefly to the Four Seasons for a refreshing and warming cup of delicious apple tea—always available in the afternoons in the entrance to the hotel—and a brief respite in our room, before heading out again.


We took a taxi west from the Four Seasons to take a brief look at the Erdine Gate of the Theodosian Walls at Edirnekapi. [an intact section of the walls is shown at left].  These fortifications were built starting at the beginning of the reign of Theodosius II in 408.  The taxi then took us to Fatih, a very poor neighborhood, and one of the most fundamentalist of Muslim areas in Istanbul.  Here one sees a profusion of headscarves; but, what is more striking, is that the women here cover far more of their faces than is common elsewhere even in the conservative areas of the city—and one even sees a number of women dressed completely  in black, totally covered except for a small area around their eyes.  I am told that this last form of dress was unheard of in Istanbul until very recently.

Fethiye (Pammakaristos) museum in Istanbul - click to enlarge

We then went to the Fethiye Camii (Mosque of Victory) [at left], built in the 12th Century as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos (Church of the Joyous Mother of God), it was converted to a mosque in 1573 and is still in use.



The side chapel, “The Parecclesion,” [at right] has been restored to its

 Byzantine splendor and converted to a museum.   The Parracclesion is a truly marvelous space.





Within it are some beautifully restored Byzantine mosaics





Adorning the dome is the Christ Pantocrator (the most common translation of Pantocrator is “Almighty” or “All-powerful”; another, more literal, translation is “Ruler of All” or, less literally, “Sustainer of the World.”) and 12 Prophets [at right].



From the Fethiye Camii, we went to the Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi).  Literally translated, the church's full name (γιου Σωτρος ν τ Χώρ, hē Ekklēsia tou Hagiou Sōtēros en tē Chōra) is “the Church of the Holy Savior in the Country,” referring to the fact that the site was originally outside the fortified walls of the city.  When Theodosius rebuilt the walls in the 5th Century, the area of the Chora Church was enclosed within the fortified city, but the name remained.

File:Chora Church Constantinople (6).JPG

While there seemed to us to be a treasure trove mosaics at the Fethiye Camii,  the sheer magnitude of what awaited us at the Chora Church was staggering:  this 11th Century church houses a truly unbelievable collection of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes, and we spent over an hour and a half taking them all in.  The common assertion is that all of the artwork dates from 1312.  It was funded by Theodore Metochites, a man of letters who was auditor of the Treasury under Andronikos II (between 1282 and 1328). One of the wonderful mosaics, found above the door to the nave in the Esonarthex (inner narthex), depicts Theodore offering the church to Christ. [at left]



Over the inside of the main door to the Naos (nave) of the church is the very beautiful Koimesis (the “Dormition of the Blessed Virgin,” the last sleep before her Assumption to Heaven) [at right, with detail, below]. The well-composed, subtle mosaic riveted our attention more than any of the other magnificent works at the Chora Church.  I was particularly taken—and bothered—by the almost Masaccio-esque faces of some of the men to the right of the Virgin’s feet.  They seemed to have too much humanity and character than what should have been found in a work from 1312; and Nancy agreed.  We studied it extremely carefully, and we decided that these faces simply could not have been created in 1312.  (There were one or two details in a couple of the other mosaics in the church which also seemed to be of a later date; but most of the rest were quite consistent with the date claimed as the origin of these works.)  A couple of days after returning home, I was having dinner with Jim Marrow, an art historian friend of ours, and when I told him about our observations, he said that it was because some of these mosaics had been rather extensively redone in the 15th Century!  That, of course, would be far more consistent with the quality we had been so taken with in certain of the faces.



On the left are two other examples of the many superb mosaics which adorn the Exonarthex (outer narthex), Esonarthex, (inner narthex), and Naos (nave) of the Chora Church.

File:Chora Church Constantinople 2007 013.jpg


File:Chorachrist.jpgIn the Parecclesion (side chapel), there are frescoes that deal with the themes of death and resurrection, depicting scenes taken from the Old Testament. The striking painting in the apse known as the Anastasis (“Resurrection”) [at right] shows a powerful Christ raising Adam and Eve out of their sarcophagi, with saints and kings in attendance. Though no one knows for certain, it is thought that the frescoes were painted by the same masters who created the mosaics. Theirs is an extraordinary accomplishment, as the paintings, with their sophisticated use of perspective and exquisitely portrayed facial expressions, rival those painted by the Italian master Giotto, the painter who more than any other ushered in the Italian Renaissance.

We left the Chora Church, wandered about the quaint neighborhood for a few minutes, and we then ate dinner at Asitane, a restaurant just across the street from the Chora Church.  The menu of this attractive, large-ish but comfortable, up-scale restaurant describes the cuisine as follows:


Ottoman cuisine  is a buried treasure, the heritage of a great empire which lasted 700 years… A synthesis of Central Asian, Anatolian, Middle Eastern and Balkan flavors.


Here at Asitane, we have made it our mission to reintroduce authentic Ottoman cooking to the world.  Since 1991, dedicated staff have hunted down lost tastes with academic zeal.  We have consulted a variety of sources, including the budget ledgers of the three main palace kitchens—Topkapi, Edirne and Dolmabaçhe—and the memoirs of foreign diplomats and visitors to try and recreate authentic Ottoman cuisine.  It is with great pleasure that we offer you long-forgotten dishes which we have based on Ottoman documents that lay in the palace archives for 500 years.  The dishes in the menu are prepared from these historic resources and prepared using original ingredients and cooking methods.


It is moderately priced, and Nancy and I wildly over-ordered to sample a wide variety of the tasty treats (the dates in square brackets “[ ]” are the ones the menu indicates as the dates of origin of the recipes they are using):  appetizers—Vişneli Yaprak Sarma [1844] (Vine leaves with a blend of sour cherries, rice, onions, and pine nuts, seasoned with black pepper and cinnamon), Istridye Mantarli İsli Çerkez Peyniri Izgarasi (Grilled Circassian cheese with oyster mushrooms), Ciğer Köftesi [1695] (Fried liver patties with spring onions and fresh herbs), Beyza Be Cihet-i Börek-i Makiyan [15th Century] (Chicken Bourek—Puff dough with chicken, eggs, and fresh herbs); main courses:  Mutacana [1539] (Diced lamb with dried apricots, raisins, honey, and almonds, baked slowly in an earthenware casserole) and Itırlı Bitkerle Dinlendirilmiş Dana Kebabı [1539] (thinly sliced veal filet, served with aromatic ginger, cinnamon, and cumin sauce).  Not all of the dishes were great—but some were; and they all were extremely interesting, and all were quite tasty.


We took a taxi back to the Four Seasons, and retired for the night.



Day 3:  2 November Monday

Monday began dry!  Overcast and cool, but not raining…yet…

We walked the couple of blocks up Bab-ı Hümayun Cadessi to the entrance to the Topkapi Palace (
Topkapı Sarayı)—the Imperial (Bab-ı Hümayun) Gate—where we met up with our Urban Age friends from Delhi, Sanjeev and Smita Sanyal, with whom we shared the rest of our touring this day.


The palace is huge, and it is stunningly situated on Saray Point.  In the following panoramic photograph—with the Golden Horn in the foreground and Eminönü on the low ground behind it, the Bosphorus to the left with the Asian side of Istanbul to the left of that, and the Sea of Marmara in the background), one gets the view one sees from everywhere north of the Old City that has a view—from all the way up the Bosphorus.  Standing on the highest ground is the commanding Hagia Sophia (with the Blue Mosque, with its provocative six minarets, to the right), and everything on the high ground to the left of that is essentially the Topkapi Palace. 




Mehmed the Conqueror (Mehmed Fatih) built the first stage of the palace on this site shortly after he took Istanbul in 1453, and he lived here until his death in 1481. Subsequent sultans made this the site of their palaces until the 19th century (Mahmut II (r 1808-39) was the last sultan to live in Topkapı), when there began to be a move to European-style palaces to the north on the shore of the Bosphorus.  (Descriptions of those places—Dolmabahçe, Çirağan  and Yıldız are included in later Days’ touring.)


Through the Imperial Gate, we entered the Court of the Janissaries. On the left is the Hagia Eirene (the Church of the Divine Peace) [at right], built for Justinian in the 540s. It is almost exactly contemporaneous with the Hagia Sophia (and is immediately to the left of it in the photo above). It is now completely closed to the public except on rare occasions when it is open as a concert hall, and we were unable to get into it—despite my begging, pleading, and attempting to bribe a guard. 

We continued through this sprawling first courtyard to the Gate of Salutation (Bâb-üs Selâm) [at left].


File:Gate of Salutation Topkapi Istanbul 2007 Pano.jpgThis Middle Gate (built for Süleyman the Magnificent in 1524, utilizing Hungarian architects and workers) has inscribed on it a self-description by Mehmed the Conqueror:


Sultan of the two Continents, and Emperor of the two Seas, Shadow of God in this world and the next, Favorite of God on the two Horizons [ i.e., East and West], Monarch of the Terraqueous Orb, Conqueror of the Castle of Constantinople, Son of Sultan Murad Khan, Son of Sultan Mehmed Khan.


This clearly sounds the Ottoman Empire’s theme of world dominion, with sovereignty over the East (of the Islamic regions) and the West (of the  Eastern Roman regions).  It was no accident that Mehmed chose as the site for his palace a promontory that commanded views of both continents.


Just outside this entrance to the Second courtyard is the ticket office for the Topkapi Palace.  (N.B.:  this place is a major tourist attraction, and lines can be extreme; and the antidote is either to hire an official guide who can cut the lines [here and at the separate ticket office for the Harem, inside the Palace], or to come at 9 AM when it opens.  We did both—actually having the Four Seasons hire us an extremely expensive guide who was supposed not only to be able to get us through the lines, but also to have a high level of both historical and art historical knowelge, appropriate to our specific needs  It turned out to be a bad plan:  in the first place, it was unecessary, as there were no lines at 9 AM on a cloudy, cool morning; and, more importantly, the guide knew nothing other than her pre-set spiel—we knew more than she, and her answers to our questions were invariably incorrect.  Fortunately, she was so bad, that it became obvious almost immediately, and we were able to dismiss her within minutes of beginning.  The moral of this story is to go early, and bring The Lonely Planet Istanbul City Guide, which is more than enough to negotiate the place very knowledgeably!  There is reasonably good signage within the Palace, but it leaves many File:Pałac Topkapi ze Złotego Rogu RB1.jpgquestions unanswered.)


The Second Courtyard is a much more formal, park-like setting, surrounded by several large buildings:  to the right are the enormous the Palace Kitchens, and to the left are the Imperial Council Chamber, the Inner Treasury, and the Tower of Justice. [In the image at the right of the Topkapi Palace from the water the tower is visible to the far right of the compound.]    At the inner end of left side of the Second Courtyard is the entrance to the Harem.  [To any real visitor of the Palace, this would have been an impossible detour; and, while it is the appropriate direction to take when touring the place, everyone suggests then back-tracking to the Second Courtyard in order to enter the Third Courtyard in the proper way, through the Gate Felicity.  I shall pick up the narrative of that journey below, after our visit to the Harem.]


We paid the separate admission fee and entered the Harem [a small version of the diagram of this dense complex is at the left; a larger version, complete with a legend for File:Harem Topkapi Palace plan(2).svgthe numbered rooms, is available by clicking on the image].  Unfortunately, I know personally nothing about harems, so I shall quote here The Lonely Planet Istanbul City Guide:


The word harem literally means 'private'.   Every traditional Muslim household had two distinct parts: the selamlık (greeting room) where the master greeted friends, business associates and tradespeople; and the harem (private apartments), reserved for himself and his family.  The Harem, then, was something akin to the private apartments in Buckingham Palace or the White House.


File:Sadirvanli Sofa Harem Topkapi Istanbul 2007 Pano1.jpgThe women of the Harem had to be foreigners, as Islam forbade enslaving Muslims. Girls were bought as slaves (often having been sold by their parents at a good price) or were received as gifts from nobles and potentates. A favorite source of girls was Cssia, north of the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, as Cssian women were noted for their beauty.  Upon entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading, writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the sultan's mother and finally, if they were the best, to the sultan himself.


Ruling the Harem was the valide sultan, the mother of the reigning sultan. She often owned large landed estates in her own name and controlled them through black eunuch servants. Able to give orders directly to the grand vizier, her influence on the sultan, on the selection of his wives and concubines, and on matters of state was often profound.


The sultan was allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, who received the title of kadın (wife). If a wife bore him a File:Imperial Sofa Topkapi March 2008pano2.jpgson she was called haseki sultan; haseki kadın if it was a daughter. The Ottoman dynasty did not observe primogeniture (the right of the first-born son to the throne), so in principle the throne was available to any imperial son. Each lady of the Harem contrived mightily to have her son proclaimed heir to the throne, to thus assure her own role as the new valide sultan .


As for concubines, Islam permits as many as a man can support in proper style. The Ottoman sultans had the means to support many, sometimes up to 300, though they were not all in the Harem at the same time. The domestic thrills of the sultans were usually less spectacular, however. Mehmed the Conqueror, builder of Topkapı, was the last sultan to have four official wives. After him, sultans did not officially marry, but instead kept four chosen concubines without the associated legal encumbrances, thereby saving themselves the embarrassments and inconveniences suffered by another famous Renaissance monarch, King Henry VIII. The exception to this rule was Süleyman the Magnificent (r 1520-66), who famously married his favorite concubine, Roxelana.


The chief black eunuch, the sultan's personal representative in administration of the Harem and other important affairs of state, was the third-most powerful official in the empire, after the grand vizier and the supreme Islamic judge.

File:Fruit Room Topkapi March 2008.jpg

The rooms of the Harem are varied and beautiful.  At the right, above, is the Hall of the Ablution Fountain.  At the left, above, is the Imperial Hall with the throne of the sultan.  (Believed to have been built in the late 16th Century, this grand room served as the official reception hall of the sultan as well as for the entertainment of the Harem.  At the right is the Privy Chamber of Ahmed III.


File:Veliahd Dairesi Topkapi Istanbul 2007 panorama.jpgThe richly beautiful Twin Kiosk Apartments of the Crown Prince [at left, with detail at left below] consists of two privy chambers, built in the 17th Century.  The structure consists of single story, built on an elevated platform to give a better view from inside and shield views from the outside.  The crown prince lived here in seclusion; therefore, the apartments were also called kafes (cages).  The space north of the Apartments of the Crown Prince is the Courtyard of the Favorites [at right, below], which overlooks a large pool and the Boxwood Garden, and has it its opposite end the Apartments of the File:Favourites courtyard Topkapi March 2008.JPGFavorites, where the Sultan's favorite consort would reside.  (There seems to be some debate as to whether the shuttered apartments on the second floor may have been kafes [cages] for the unwanted brothers or sons of the sultan.)



On the right side of Courtyard of the Favorites the is Golden Road.  It extends between the Courtyard of the Harem Eunuch and the Privy Chamber (Has Oda). , and the sultan used this passage to transit the Harem




We exited the Harem  into the Third Courtyard, but—as suggested above—we went back into the Second so as to be able to re-enter it through the appropriate entrance, the Gate of Felicity (or Gate of the White Eunuchs).



File:Topkapi Palace plan.svgWe now entered into the sultan's private domain the Third Courtyard, into which only a few very important people ever would have been granted entry when it was the sultan’s palace.  [For orientation, there is, at the right, a small version of a diagram of the second, third, and fourth courtyards—moving from the second courtyard on the left side of the diagram, to the fourth on the right; a larger version, complete with a legend for the numbered areas, is available by clicking on the image]


The Audience Chamber [at left] is located right behind the Gate of Felicity, in order to hide the view into the Third Courtyard.  Dating from the 15th Century, it was further decorated under Süleyman I. Here the sultan would sit on the canopied throne and personally receive the viziers, officials and foreign ambassadors who presented themselves. 


Along the right side of the Third Courtyard are a series of buildings housing the museum galleries in which many of the Palace’s treasures are displayed.  The first of these buildings is the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force (Seferli Koğuşu), which houses the Imperial Wardrobe Collection, a costume collection, including many precious kaftans of the Sultans. It also houses a collection of ceramic objects.


The next building is the Conqueror’s Pavilion, which houses The Imperial Treasury (constructed by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1460), which contained a vast collection of works of art, jewelry, and heirlooms of the Ottoman dynasty—mostly gifts, spoils of war, or pieces produced by palace craftsmen. It is now a museum used to exhibit these treasures, among are:  in the first room, the File:Sarayi Album 10a.jpgarmors of Sultan Mustafa III, the jewel-encrusted sword of Süleyman the Magnificent, several Qur’an covers belonging to the sultans, and the Throne of Ahmed I, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and designed by Mehmed Ağa;  in the second room, the tiny Indian figures, mainly made from seed pearls, the walnut throne of Ahmed I inlaid with nacre and tortoise shell;  in the third room, two huge gold and diamond candlesticks, each weighing 48kg; in the fourth room, the Topkapı Dagger, the throne of Sultan Mahmud I.


Adjacent to the north of the Imperial Treasury lays the pages dormitory, which has been turned into the Miniature and Portrait Gallery (Müzesi Müdüriyeti). This is the stuff I was most looking for in the Topkapi museums—but I couldn’t find it, and no one there could direct me to it.  Perhaps it was closed, or perhaps I just missed it; but I was devastated that I didn’t get to see it.  (Oh, well…next trip!)  I was particularly interested in seeing the illustrated Ottoman histories.


Just to give an idea of the beauty of these treasures that I was searching for, here are three items concerning Mehmed II:  the Scroll of Sultan Mehmed II (1458) [at left]; The  Portrait of Mehmed II, attributed to Shiblizade Ahmed (ca. 1480) [at right, above], and, perhaps most fascinating of all, the Sketchbook of Sultan Mehmed II, folios 14b-48a (ca. 1440) [at right, below]—drawings done by the Sultan himself!




The Neo-classical Enderûn Library (Enderûn Kütüphanesi), also known as “Library of Sultan Ahmed III,” [at left] is located directly behind the Audience Chamber.  İznik tiles decorate the interior.


Opposite the Treasury on the other side of the Third Court, we entered the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms (Kutsal Emanetler Dairesi), a set rooms richly decorated with İznik tiles, housing what are considered to be the most sacred relics of the Muslims.  During the empire, this suite of rooms was opened only once a year so that the imperial family could pay homage to the memory of the Prophet on the 15th day of the holy month of Ramadan; and this is still a pilgrimage destination for Muslims.  The entry room contains the carved door from the Kaaba in Mecca and the gilded rain gutters from the same place.  To the right there is a room containing many holy relics of  the Prophet Mohammed:  a hair from his beard, his footprint in clay, his sword, his bow, etc.  Several other sacred objects are on display:  the swords of the first four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, and Ali—whose names, along with those of Allah and Mohammed, appear on the round medallions in the mosques); the staff of Moses and the turban of Joseph (Muslims venerate the major figures of the Hebrew Bible, as they figure crucially in the Qur’an as well; think what you will of the historicity of “holy relics” in general, however, the idea that there are physical artifacts from the lives of Moses and Joseph is quite far fetched); and a carpet of the daughter of Mohammed.  Within the building is an imam who continuously chants passages from the Qur’an which are played over the sound system throughout the building. The Holy Mantle of the Prophet is kept in a golden casket in a small adjoining room along with the battle standard.



The Fourth Courtyard, also known as the Tulip Gardens, was the innermost private sanctuary of the sultan and his family, and consists of a number of pleasure pavilions, kiosks (köşk), gardens, and terraces. (It was originally a part of the Third Courtyard.)


A late addition to Topkapı, the Mecidiye Köşkü, was built by Abdül Mecit (r 1839-61) according to 19th-century European models. (Beneath it is the Konyalı restaurant.)  File:Circumcision room interior Topkapi March 2008pano.jpgWest of the Mecidiye Köşkü is the sultan's Chief Physician's Room. Interestingly, the chief physician was always one of the sultan's Jewish subjects. (Some things seem to be universal…)  Nearby, is the Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha (Sofa Köşkü). Outside the kiosk, during the reign of Ahmet III, the Tulip Garden was filled with the latest varieties of the flower. Little lamps would be set out among the tulips at night.


On the west end of the terrace is the Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası) [its interior is pictured at right], used for the circumcision of young princes.  Built by İbrahim in 1641, the outer walls of the chamber are graced by particularly beautiful tile panels, many of which had once embellished ceremonial buildings of Sultan Süleyman I.


The Baghdad Kiosk (Bağdad Köşkü) [at left] was built to commemorate the Baghdad Campaign of Murad IV after 1638.  The façade is covered with marble, strips of porphyry and verd antique. The marble paneling of the portico is executed in Cairene Mamluk style.  The recessed shelves and cupboards are decorated with early 16th century green, yellow and blue tiles. The blue-and-white tiles on the walls are copies of the tiles of the Circumcision Room.


The gilded İftar Pavilion, also known as İftar Kiosk (İftariye Köşkü), offers a view on the Golden Horn and is a magnet for tourists for File:Istanbul.Topkapi048.jpgphoto opportunities. Its ridged cradle vault with the gilded roof was a first in Ottoman architecture with echoes of China and India. The sultan is reported to have had the custom to break his fast under this bower during the fasting month of Ramadan.  The marbled terrace gained its current appearance during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim (1640-48).







After spending over 4 hours exploring the Topkapi Palace, we then went for a Turkish coffee and Baklava break.  We continued to walked toward the docks at Eminönü, along the same busy commercial street that the Tram travels on its route to the Galata Bridge.  We boarded the ferry for Üsküdar (using my Akbil to pay the 1.50 TRY [Turkish Lira; equal to $1.50] per person cost for each of us) and took a 10 minute ride across the Bosphorus to Asia! It was quite a beautiful trip—despite the lowering clouds and approaching rain storm—out from the Golden Horn (with the Sea of Mamara off to starboard), across the Bosphorus.


Arriving at  the docks in the port of Üsküdar with Sanjeev and Smita, a torrential downpour had begun, and we had to find umbrellas for the two of them.  Once adequately equipped, the four of us walked through the bustling, very non-touristy, non-European neighborhood.  I found a clothing store in which I was able to buy a pair of gloves for Nancy (who has been dealing with the cold and rain without any for three days).  Sanyal found a small local street food place and bought one of the tastiest döner I had during the trip. (“Rotating roast” is the exact translation of “döner kebap,” which is a type of kebab prepared with lamb [although nowadays chicken and a mixture of beef and mutton are also quite popular], marinated slices of which are stacked onto a vertical skewer and then the outer part of the döner roasts, and which is thinly sliced off with a long knife and served on pita-like bread and garnished with a yoghurt sauce and melted butter.  After this experience I adopted Sanjeev’s quest for the perfect kebap as part of my goals for our tour of Istanbul!)


The rain diminished, and we proceeded to walk up from the center of the town along Hakimiyet-I Milliye Cadessi, through a series of different neighborhoods—several fountain in Atik Valide Mosque's garden, Şadırvanmiddle class (upper though lower), and some working class.


Eventually we wended our way up to the highest point around (an area called Tabaklar), to the Atik Valide Camii, one of the grandest of the mosques built by Sinan (the master architect of Süleyman the Great).  It was built in 1583 by Murat III for his mother Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) Nubanu (wife of Selim II).  It was extremely beautiful, and the four of us and one friendly guard were the only people in it.  It was very reminiscent of Sülemaniye Camii, with a beautiful courtyard lined with a colonnade and 38 surrounding domed bays.  A central dome flanked by five semi-domes tops the central space, and four smaller domes top the side bays. [at right, the fountain in the courtyard of the mosque]


Then we walked back down to the ferry by a slightly different route.  Taking the ferry back across the Bosphorus to the European side, we had an even a more beautiful crossing:  the rain had stopped, and the sun—having made its first real appearance of our visit, began to sink below the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace, looming over Saray Point.  From the harbor at Eminönü, we left Sanjeev and Smita and took the tram back to the Four Seasons.


We took a cab to the Pera Marmara Hotel, in the neighborhood of Beyoğlu, where we met our Urban Age friend Dieter Läpple for dinner at Mikla.  Our meal at Mikla was by far the best food we had in Istanbul.  The restaurant is in a fabulous setting, on the top floor of the Pera Marmara Hotel in Tepebaşi (a physically high point in the generally high area), with 270° views through ceiling to floor windows looking out over a breath-taking vista: across the Golden Horn to the lit up mosques and palaces of the Old City, across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul.  The food of chef-owner Mehmed Gürs was spectacular:  after my appetizer of Hamsi—fresh anchovies, this time grilled atop a hard pastry base, with an exquisite sauce—we had an array of delicious lamb dishes—from Dieter’s slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, to Nancy’s delicately spiced, perfectly medium-rare roasted lamb loin—all in the vernacular of Istanbul, but each prepared with a certain European flair.  And with it we drank a bottle of our by now traditional and reliable Kav: Bogazkere-Ökúzgozü 2006 by Doluca.  After dinner the skies cleared, and we went onto the outdoor terrace (outside the restaurant’s stylish bar) to enjoy the even more spectacular view from there,  under the nearly full moon:  it was very still, and the lights of the Old City were glimmering as they were reflected in the calm waters of the Golden Horn—it was completely incredible!


From there were took a taxi back to our hotel and retired for the night.



Day 4:  3 November Tuesday

Divan Yolu Caddesi, Istanbul, Turkey

File:Grand bazaar interior.jpgThe first day it really wasn’t raining!  We walked past Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque (our regular path); down the main street of Divan Yolu [at left]—“the Road to the Imperial Council,” once the imperial road from Constantinople to Rome; past Çemberlitas (site of one of Istanbul’s historic Hamams, but unfortunately one you cannot see without taking a Turkish bath to do so).


We quickly walked through Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı, meaning Covered Bazaar”) [at right], one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world (the world’s first shopping mall?), with more than 58 covered streets and over 1,200 shops. Opened in 1461, in the time of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the bazaar was vastly enlarged in the 16th  Century, during the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.  From there we walked to and through the smaller, but to me far more interesting Book Bazaar (Sahaflar Çarsisi), nestled in an ancient, courtyard between the Beyazıt Mosque and Fesciler entrance to the Grand Bazaar, and filled with dusty piles of books—antiques and copies of antiques, Qur’ans and secular books—and pages of illustrations and illuminations.


InteriorExterior We walked from there to the Beyazit Camii [exterior at left, interior at right].  Ddating from 1501-1506, it was the second imperial mosque to be built in the city (after Mehmed the Conqueror's Fatih Camii) and was the prototype for other imperial mosques—a transitional stage between the Hagia Sophia (which inspired it) and Süleymaniye Camii (which is a design more fully accommodating Muslim worship).  Beyazit Camii is quite beautiful, especially its interior, with its rich use of fine stone—marble, porphyry, and rare granite.  It has an especially lovely garden behind it, containing a soup kitchen that has been turned into a gorgeous library. We proceeded to walk through Beyazit University (which was a very interesting experience—our only exposure to campus life in Istanbul) while looking for the Museum of Turkish Calligraphic Art, which, unfortunately, is closed for renovations.  (It was actually built from the medrese of the Beyazit Camii.)

From there we took the Tram back to Gülhane, and went to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum (next to the Topkapi Palace, and originally part of its outer gardens). The complex has three buildings.  The first, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, is full of the most special antiquities imaginable, collected from the vast expanse of the Ottoman Empire —from as early as the 3rd and even 4th millennium B.C. on, and including Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, Egyptian, and Anatolian pieces from various periods (remembering that the Ottomans ruled most of these places at one point or another).  It houses a copy of the oldest surviving political treaty, the Kadesh Treaty (drawn up in the 13th Century B.C. between the Egyptians and Hittites). There are also cuneiform clay tablets bearing Hammurabi's famous law code.  It may not the largest collection of such ancient Near Eastern art, but it is certainly one of the finest and most important anywhere.  We skipped the Archaeology Museum, which is the largest building in the complex, featuring an extensive collection of Hellenic, Hellenistic and Roman statuary and sarcophagi.   We moved on to the  third building, the Tiled Pavilion of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, built in 1472 as an outer pavilion of the Topkapi Palace.  Its façade is covered with fantastic tiles whose geometric patterns and color (turquoise, white, black) show obvious Seljuk influence.  The recessed central entrance area [at right] is covered with tiles of extraordinary beauty—some with white calligraphy (sülüus) on blue.  On display inside there is an incredible collection of Seljuk, Anatolian, and Ottoman tiles and ceramics, dating from the end of the 12th Century to the beginning of the 20th. The collection includes İznik tiles from the period in the 17th and 18th centuries when that city produced the finest colored tiles in the world.  [a selection of details from four that caught Nancy’s eye is found to the left]

We returned to the Four Seasons and checked out, bidding adieu to our first, wonderful home in Istanbul.


We took a taxi for the ride from Sultanahmet, across the Galata Bridge, and up the Bosphorus to our second hotel, the Çirağan Palace Kempinski, where the Urban Age was staying for the Conference.   This rather huge, modern hotel is attached the ornate Çirağan Palace, which had been the grand residence of Sultan Abdül Aziz  (r 1861-76), continuing the mid-19th century tradition of building ornate, western palaces along the Bosphorus, begun by  Sultan Abdül Mecit with his horrendously mannered, ornate Dolmabahçhe Palace, just down the shore.  We had been sad to leave the small, intimate Four Seasons where we had been so happy…until we got to our room [interior at right] and saw the view looking out from its balcony [at left; at far right of this photograph, one can see the Çirağan Palace itself, and, just to the left of it, Saray Point—on which, on a clear day, we could see the Hagia Sophia!] at the Bosphorus and Asia beyond.

File:Ortakoey Istanbul Bosporusbruecke Mrz2005.jpgWhen we were able to tear ourselves away from the new-found joy of out new room, we went out for a stroll.   We walked up the road to Ortaköy, a lovely little part of town with cafes and a mosque lining the shore of the Bosphorus [at right], where we stopped and drank far-too-expensive Turkish coffee along the water’s edge.  Away from the Bosphorus, in the center of the town, there were many stores, little local restaurants, bakeries, shops—and a busy little dive where I had a delicious döner and a diet coke and Nancy had a bottle of water—all for 4.50 Turkish Lira ($3).

File:İstanbul 5716.jpg

After walking around there, we headed back to Yildiz Park, which began as an Imperial reserve for the Çirağan  Palace, but is now an expansive, hilly, well-maintained public park.  When Sultan Abdül Hamit II (r 1876-1909) built Yıldız Şale [at left] (“şale” is pronounced “sha-lay, and thus is a phoneticized version of “chalet”) as his palace, the park was planted with rare and exotic trees, shrubs and flowers. It also gained carefully tended paths and superior electric lighting and drainage systems, designed by French landscape architect, G. Le Roi.  We briefly visited the Yildiz Sale, at the top of the park—a 64 room "guesthouse" built by Abdül Hamit in 1875 for two visits by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany during state visits.  We then descended through the park part way down the File:Ciragan interior March 2008 pano.jpghills to Çadir Köskü [at right], an ornate pavilion (now an elegant little restaurant) nestled by a small lake. We walked down from there and back to the Çirağan Palace.


After relaxing a bit at the Çirağan Palace, we walked through the hotel to the Palace section, where there was an informal reception to kick off the Conference.  It was so great to see my old friends from the Urban Age team.  And what an elegant setting for us to meet in [photo at left].

After the reception, we took a taxi with our Urban Age friend Dieter Läpple to dinner at Borsa Lokantası (Lütfi Kırdar Congress Centre +90 212 232 42 01), in the upscale neighborhood Harbiye, not far from Taksim Square.  We had fantastic appetizers of grilled octopus and roasted quail (both prepared quite spicy) and roasted eggplant and a shepherd’s salad.  What this place is really famous for, however, is what our friend Ricky described as “serious authentic Turkish meats”—and, indeed, he was right!  Dieter had a fantastic slow-roasted lamb shoulder in a sauce of apricots, and Nancy and I had two different selections of kebaps—hers spicy lamb ones, and mine a selection of various sorts; and everything was delicious.

Afterwards, we took a cab back to our hotel together.



Day 5:  4 November Wednesday


Today was the day of our six hour Urban Age bus tour of development and re-development of Istanbul (mostly areas to the north), led by historian Orhan Esen  I shall here just sketch out the geographic territory the tour covered.  The details of what we observed and were told about can be found in my section, “History OF The Post-World War II Urban Development of Istanbul,” which has its original foundations in the information from this tour


We left from the Çirağan Palace at 9AM, and from there drove through Beştikaş (a transport hub on the Bosphorus, the next area south from the hotel) and Akaretler (an area of state led gentrification in the 1850s) to the Macka Valley (site of the People’s Park for Sports and Culture and the International Conference Center), where we got out to look around.  From there we drove through the fashionable district of Nişantaşı, then the Fulya valley (site of 1980s yap-sat buildings and 2000s residential high-rises), through Gayrettepe (site of 70s coop housing), through Zincirlikuyu (a highway junction with a Metrobus station), through Akatlar/Etiler (with its 60s-70s upper middle class housing, which is transforming into gated communities today), to Karanfilöy—where we walked around the frozen gecekondu of the 1950s.    We then drove through Levent (garden city of the 1950s-60s) to the Sapphire Tower, where we had a chance to go to the top of this residential skyscraper (still under construction) and enjoy the marvelous view from the top (we could see from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara).  After a short lunch break, we strolled through Çeliktepe (a post-gecekondu community).  We then drove via Cendere to Upper Kagithane (site of coop mass housing).  We then took the bus back to the Çirağan Palace via the Çağlayan neighborhood and Inner Highway ring.



Days 6 and 7:  5-6 November Thursday and Friday


These two days were completely taken up by the Conference.



Day 8:  7 November Saturday

The Urban Age Conference ended last night with a dinner cruise on a luxury yacht on the Bosphorus. (Moonlight on the Bosphorus is pretty spectacular!).  The weather here turned beautiful a couple of days ago—warm and sunny. 


After breakfast Nancy and I took a taxi into town with Richard and Ruthie Rogers, who just had time for a quick visit to the Hagia Sophia.  On the way in, I told them that I had been longing to see the Hagia Sophia ever since I had heard Vincent Scully lecture about it in my first History of Art course at Yale in 1965—that the image of it had haunted me for decades, because I had been able to see how transcendently beautiful it was, and I could understand what Scully had explained about it, but how I couldn’t quite get my mind to comprehend the actual experience of it.  I also told Richard and Ruthie how the night before on the dinner cruise on the Bosphorus I had mentioned this to Çağlar Keyder (a Turkish academic who had given one of the major talks on Day One of the Conference, and with whom I had been deep in conversation about the current political situation in Turkey) and his wife, and that Çağlar had said that he had taken that same course that very same year, and that he had similarly been profoundly affected by Scully’s lecture on the Hagia Sophia!  Richard told me that he and Vince are friends, that respects him enormously, and that not only were some of the best architects who have worked for him been trained by Scully, but that some of his best clients were as well!  He said that only at Yale did the sort of person who would someday be a financial tycoon or a major real estate developer take History of Art courses.  (Retelling the whole story to Dan and Joanna Rose and their daughter Emily and her husband, Art Historian Jim Marrow, two days after my return to NY, Dan informed me that he had taken that course the very first time that Vince had taught it—while Scully was still a graduate student in the early 50s—and that it had affected him more profoundly than any other course he had ever taken; and Jim told stories of Scully’s kindness to him and support of him when he was a young faculty member in that department at Yale.)  What an incredible man Vince Scully is—and what an incredible influence he has had.


We shared an hour or so drinking in the splendor of the Hagia Sophia together.  The brilliance of the sunlight of this gorgeous day heightened the sublime effect of the light piercing the masonry of this ethereal space.  It is a place I could spend many, many days in; and it is one of the main reasons I’d be eager to return to Istanbul at any time.  We walked north from there to the Hippodrome, where Richard and Ruthie left us to go to the lunch meeting they had scheduled.


Istanbul Tunel TrainNancy and I made a quick return visit to the Blue Mosque, primarily to see what the interior looked like with sunshine streaming in through its many stained glass windows.


From the Blue Mosque, we took the Tram to the Karaköy (Galata) stop in order to take the Tünel, an antique funicular. [at right]  (On our second day of touring, we had walked up, but I wanted the experience of riding this very early underground funicular.)  Built by French engineers and inaugurated on 17 January 1875, the Tünel underground train allowed European diplomats and businessmen to ride between their waterside offices in Karaköy and their hilltop residences in Beyoğlu on steam-powered, gas-lit cars in 90 seconds.  It was only the third underground railway built in the world by that time, and was the shortest.

 From the top, we wended our way down toward the Bosphorus, through winding streets of older European style buildings [at left], until we came to Trophane, a more recent, dockside community.  In Trophane, we walked through a rather nice little playground [at right].  On the Bosphorus side of this playground, there was the major Kameraltı Cadessi, with our old friend the Tram running down the center of it.  [In the photograph on the left, you can see one direction of the Kameraltı Cadessi, the Tram, and a mosque beyond.]


From the Trophane stop, we took the Tram along the Bosphorus two stops to its northern terminus at Kabataş.  From there we walked along the Bosphorus.  We walked past the Dolmabahçe Palace [at right].  Built between 1843 and 1856 for Sultan Abdülmecid I, the Dolmabahçe Palace is a rather hideous combination of  Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical elements, blended with traditional Ottoman—reelecting the increased European influence of the Tanzimat period.  It did not even tempt me to go inside.


We continued along to the next palace, the Çirağan  Palace, now part of the hotel where we were staying.


Nancy and I spent the next hour and a half taking advantage of the warm, sunny day by taking a swim in the Çirağan’s well-heated Ciragan Palace Kempinski & Bosphorusinfinity pool, right alongside the Bosphorus. [at left and right]  In between swims, we sunned ourselves in poolside lounge chairs, looking across the pool to the Palace building, and to the left of it, in the distance, to Saray Point with the Hagia Sophia clearly visible on its high ground.


After the pool, I spent another hour in the hotel’s sauna. [I’ll omit the picture of this!]


That evening Nancy and I and Dieter Läpple and Gerry Frug took the young staff from the LSE out for dinner.  For this we returned to Borsa, where we had had a delicious dinner on Tuesday—and the place did not disappoint on our second visit. 


Back at the hotel, we packed for our departure the next morning.


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