A Broken Silhouette
Istanbul's new Metro Bridge and the political battle over the city's historic panorama
One month ago, on February 15th, Istanbul's new metro line officially went into service. The project, initiated by the Greater Istanbul Municipality in 2005, unites the city's various metro lines, extending trains in Taksim Square directly into the old city, with connections to Atatürk Airport and the opposite Anatolian shore. [Fig. 2] While the majority of this new extension runs unseen underground, the most visibly prominent feature of the line is a bridge extending across the waters of the Golden Horn (Trk. Haliç). This past autumn, residents watched as the two 65-meter-tall pylons, supporting the bridge in a cable-stay system, slowly rose into the sky. At the opening ceremony last month, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyıp Erdoğan was quoted saying "for this metro line, we constructed a bridge on the Haliç that will enhance Istanbul's beauty." The Prime Minister was also careful throughout his speech to stress that every precaution was taken so as not to harm any of the monuments "in an area harboring a history spanning thousands of years." These platitudes about the importance of protecting Istanbul's cultural patrimony were no doubt crafted in direct response to the backlash of scathing criticism that the bridge design faced from not only the local press and academic community, but also a UNESCO mission whose findings threatened to land Istanbul on the list of "World Heritage Monuments at Risk." The main concern lodged against the new Metro Bridge is that certain features (particularly the tall pylons, suspension cables, and rail station in the center of the bridge) block the view from the north towards the historic peninsula of the old city, especially the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque Complex. [Fig. 3] Erdoğan would call this addition to the old city's skyline an enhancement; others, an obstruction. As the deadline for the March 30 municipal elections approaches and the city's top-brass ensure that major projects are rushed to completion, the Haliç Metro Bridge and Istanbul's historic skyline are a case study in how the current government's massive infrastructure projects have become a tense political battleground.
 Different profiles of the new Metro Bridge across Istanbul's Golden Horn, showinghow the bridge would affect the different silhouettes of the surrounding site.
Adapted from a graphic by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 2009.
| Map Showing the new metro extension from
Taksim to Yenikapı. Drawn in Google Earth.
| The Haliç Metro Bridge, March 2014. Looking from the shore of Beyoğlu onto the historic peninsula, the bridge partially obstructs the view to the Süleymaniyye Mosque. Photo by Emily Neumeier.
| Original design proposed for the Haliç Bridge, 2007.
Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
The mission was informed that 11 alternative designs [for the bridge] had been presented to the Conservation Council, but the alternatives were produced 10 years ago and were not studied proposals – they were only suggestions. Some of the suggestions were just copied and pasted from books on bridges. It seems clear that no alternative design has so far been seriously considered and, with regard to the design of the current proposal for a cable-stay bridge, during the meeting it was stated that the intention was to 'introduce a new work of art – a new contemporary element in the area.' In 2011, UNESCO finally approved the construction of the Metro Bridge, lending legitimacy to the project's backers. (Congratulating themselves on a job well done, the organization proceeded to be completely out to lunch on the destruction of the Yedikule gardens and the lightning-fast construction of a 270,000 square meter platform protruding into the Marmara Sea, slated to be inaugurated with an 1.5 million-person rally on March 23.) Many local critics, however, still felt that the changes in the design did not adequately address the primary concern of blocking the northern view to Istanbul's peninsula [Fig. 5], again summed up in the 2009 report:
The overall design of the bridge, with pylons and cable stays and the thickening of the deck through the incorporation of a station, will have a significant visual impact on key attributes of the property such as the silhouette of the Historic Peninsula...the design of the bridge is inappropriate for this position, both because it will impede irreversibly on many important views of the World Heritage Site and because the bridge, presented as a 'work of art,' will compete with the Süleymaniye Mosque, identified at the time of inscription as a work of human genius, designed by Sinan. [34-35]
| View of Istanbul's historic peninsula, looking from Galata.
Abdullah Fréres, ca. 1880-93, Library of Congress.
| View of the Inner Courtyard of the Süleymaniye
Mosque. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.
| View from the Süleymaniye Mosque Complex to the Golden Horn. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.
As the UNESCO report alludes, and commentators frequently point out, the silhouette under question is an Ottoman contribution to the city. When Sultan Süleyman commissioned the Süleymaniye (c. 1550-1558) on the top of Istanbul's third hill, he was following the precedent established by his predecessors Sultan Mehmed II and Bayezid II, who had constructed their own mosque complexes along the ridges of the peninsula in the 15th century. Significantly, the Süleymaniye complex was originally designed so that the auxiliary buildings flanking the mosque on its northern side, towards the Golden Horn, were constructed on a lower terrace so that the monument would have an unobstructed view of Galata, Üsküdar, and the Bosphorus [Necipoğlu, 106]. [Fig. 7] In this unmistakable declaration of power, the mosque, as a stand-in for its sultanic patron, commanded a wide gaze and likewise demanded to be seen. It is certainly no coincidence that the "audience" on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn was largely composed of foreigners and non-Muslim communities, who from their perch in Galata were always to some extent on the outside looking in to the city proper. Throughout the centuries, European cartographers and artists endlessly recorded this view, the Golden Horn panorama becoming its own veritable genre in the imagery of Istanbul. Now that the heart of the modern city has shifted to the area around Taksim Square, it could be argued that what was once the purview of foreigners, and Ottoman elites in the 19th century, has now been democratized (or, more cynically, commodified), becoming a monument deserving preservation in its own right.
| An sign advertising the opening of
the Haliç Metro Bridge. The slogan
reads "The Metro Everywhere, the Metro
to Every Place." Under the slogan is the
name and signature of the Istanbul Mayor,
Kadir Topbaş. Photo by Emily Neumeier.
| A view approaching the station on the
bridge. Photo by Emily Neumeier.
EMILY NEUMEIER is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania.
**The report of the joint UNESCO/ICOMOS 2009 visit to Istanbul can be found here.
ALTINYILDIZ, Nur. "The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation." Muqarnas 24 (2007), pp. 281-305.
GUIDONI, Enrico. "Sinan's Construction of the Urban Panorama." Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2 (1987): pp. 20-41.
KORKUT, Sevgi. "Istanbul's silhouette to change as metro line comes into view." Today's Zaman, 12 November 2012.
NECİPOĞLU, Gülrü. "The Süleymaniye Complex in Istanbul: ِAn Interpretation." Muqarnas 3 (1985), pp. 92-117.
VARDAR, Nilay. "Tüm İtirazların Ardından Haliç Köprüsü." Bianet, 24 January 2014.
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