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Mar 21 2019

Are restorations destroying Istanbul’s treasures? - Atlantic

Critics fear that efforts to restore Istanbul’s historical structures, like the ancient Valens Aqueduct, could instead compromise their integrity, after several recent disastrous restorations, the U.S. magazine The Atlantic reported on Thursday.

The Valens Aqueduct is one of the city’s most recognisable monuments, a fourth-century Roman-built fixture that stretches across busy Atatürk Boulevard on Istanbul’s European side and is a source of pride among Istanbulites, according to the Atlantic.

“When news broke, however, that the aqueduct was slated for restoration, many residents were alarmed, concerned that efforts at preservation would instead compromise its integrity,: the Atlantic wrote. “That fear is not unfounded: Historic buildings and structures dating from the Byzantine era to the 20th century have been subjected to disastrous restorations in recent years here, prompting public outcry and fostering a cynical attitude toward planned projects.”

“We have seen examples of so many botched restorations that we have lost faith,” said Ebru Erdem-Akçay, a Turkish American political scientist. Erdem-Akçay wrote in a tweet that she hoped to see the aqueduct again “before they restroy it,” coining a portmanteau of restore and destroy that many say is apt, the Atlantic added.

Istanbul is a city of 15 million people blessed with a rich architectural heritage and an ideal location on the shores of the Black and Marmara Seas, between which runs the Bosporus strait. In recent years, the noise of construction has become more prevalent.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have presided over a wave of economic growth due in no small part to a construction boom that has nearly gone bust,” said the Atlantic, pointed to hundreds of shopping malls, housing projects, new airports, universities and transit systems.

“Ambitious restoration and development projects were launched one after the next. But many have not turned out well, speaking to concerns here that Istanbul’s long history is not sufficiently respected, worries that extend beyond urban planning and have real political implications,” the Atlantic said.

Turkey heads to the polls for municipal elections on March 31, and Erdoğan is keen to maintain power in the city that he grew up in and where he rose to prominence as mayor in the 1990s. His former prime minister Binali Yıldırım is the AKP candidate for Istanbul mayor, and a loss would be a strong statement from voters, likely rooted in concerns for their city and its governance, according to the Atlantic.

Istanbul’s pedestrian-only thoroughfare, Istiklal Avenue, and the surrounding neighbourhood of Beyoğlu have seen rampant development in the AKP years, emerging as a hub of nightlife amid the addition of new malls, chain stores and fast-food restaurants, according to the Atlantic.

Anger over unbridled development led to the May-June 2013 Gezi protests against Erdoğan’s plan to construct a shopping centre over Gezi Park, the largest green space in the area.

“Ill-advised restorations, however, continued full speed ahead,” said the Atlantic, citing a jarring addition to Beyoğlu municipal headquarters and a former Russian embassy on Istiklal repainted “a regrettable shade of peach”. “Many Istanbulites were horrified when they saw the building in its restored state in 2017,” said the Atlantic.

A popular Twitter account called Ugly Istanbul, which documents restoration disasters and other instances of aesthetically questionable urban planning and development, dubbed the restoration of a century-old building near Taksim Square one of the most hideous efforts of 2018.

“Unfortunately there is an understanding that prioritises the reuse value or real-estate value of these buildings—particularly if they are in centrally located, high-rent neighbourhoods—rather than protecting them as cultural assets to be inherited by future generations,” said Mücella Yapıcı, an architect with the Istanbul branch of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB).