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Case study: Istanbul in Turkey

As a former imperial capital, Istanbul comprises numerous layers of historical heritage.
Hello, everybody. Today we will look into the case of Istanbul, and we will see how this city’s rapid development has affected its heritage. Istanbul is a millenary city with many layers of history. The Greeks established it as a colony named Byzantium. The Romans changed its name to Constantinople, making it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire first, and later of the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman sultan Mehmed II conquered this city in 1453 and made it the capital of his empire. Nowadays, Istanbul is a global metropolis. Since the middle of the 20th century, its population has surged from 1 to 14 million. The city has undergone massive expansion and numerous transformations.
In this context, the dynamics of urban change and the construction of this city’s cultural heritage are closely intertwined. Let’s see how. As this city grew and expanded, the historical peninsula that had always been a multi-functional space became increasingly specialised as a centre for heritage tourism. This space, once protected by the Theodosian Walls, was the core of the imperial city, and hosts major remains, as the Valens Acqueduct, the Karnak Obelisk, Hagia Sofia, and Hagia Irene, as well as key Ottoman heritage sites, like the Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar, as well as the Suleymaniye Mosque.
Four zones within the historical area were inscribed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1985, the Archaeological Park, the Suleymaniye Quarter, the Zeyrek Area surrounding the former Church of the Pantocrator, and the area along the former city walls. This recognition, along with heritagization policies, led to a growth of tourism in the area to the rise of high concentration of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Following the externalisation of industrial activities to peripheral areas, the conversion of industrial heritage dating back to the 19th century became necessary. These processes particularly affected the area along the Golden Horn. Formerly dedicated to industry, it was labelled as a cultural valley in the late ’90s.
Private investors and patrons were involved in numerous conversion projects of industrial facilities into cultural centres. The Rahmi Koc industry museum was established in the former Ottoman Navy Anchor Foundry. The Kadir Has University was settled in the Cibali Tobacco Factory. The SantralIstanbul Museum was set in a rehabilitated power plant. Finally, all the way towards the Bosphorus coast, the Istanbul Modern, Turkey’s first contemporary art museum, was established in a former warehouse. That said, beyond the conservation of the existing urban fabric, heritage serves the construction of the narratives behind new developments.
Since the 2000s, Ottoman heritage has represented a key discursive resource, from the naming of the second and third bridges on the Bosphorus after two Ottoman sultans, the Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge, completed in 1988, and the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, completed in 2016, to the creation of new cultural institutions, such as the Panorama Museum, displaying the conquest of the city by the Ottoman in 1453, and opened in 2009, or the Miniaturk, a park showcasing monuments of the Ottoman era, which opened in 2013. As we have seen in the case of Istanbul, urban development changes the way a city relates to its past and its cultural heritage.

Watch this video, where we discuss the interactions between urban transformation and heritagization in Istanbul.

Istanbul is, on the one hand, a millenary imperial city that contains the layers of numerous civilizations, from the Greek colony Byzantium to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, eventually conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. On the other hand, Istanbul is now a global metropolis that has undergone massive expansion and transformations, with a population that rose from one million inhabitants at the midpoint of the 20th century to 14 million today.

In this context, the dynamics of urban change and the construction of the city’s cultural heritage are closely intertwined.

Share your thoughts: Does urban development appear as an asset or as a threat to the preservation of heritage?

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Cultural Heritage and the City

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