World Bulletin / News Desk
New hotels going up every single day on İstanbul’s historical peninsula, the part of the city located within the old city walls, has alarmed many who think that the new construction is turning the area into a “tourism ghetto,” harming the region’s cultural, social and historical fabric.
The historic peninsula was declared an archeological site in 1995 and the Council of Monuments banned new construction. The number of hotels in the region today exceeds 1,500, but the number of registered hotels and pensions in the region is currently 1,236 and only 200 of these lodgings have a tourism certificate, Fatih Municipality Mayor Mustafa Demir told Sunday’s Zaman. According to a new zoning plan, it will also be possible to turn historical houses in the area into hotels.
Writer Beşir Ayvazoğlu is one of those who is very critical of hotel construction in İstanbul’s historical peninsula and thinks the region should not be a “tourism ghetto” but a center of education, arts and culture.
“If the historical peninsula is reunited with its historical identity, I believe this will serve for tourism [more than the construction of hotels]. One would need to be blind to not see that the only way hotels can survive in the apple of the eye of our history and culture is with increasing rents. I wonder, is there no other place in İstanbul to construct hotels that these buildings are being constructed on the historical peninsula? The Ministry of Culture and Tourism should immediately take action and bring restrictions to hotel construction in that area,” he said.
According to Tayfun Kahraman, head of the İstanbul Chamber of City Planners, the construction of hotels in the historic area is being allowed in order to promote tourism, but, mirroring Ayvazoğlu’s words, he says if this construction continues, the area will turn into a tourism ghetto.
“This has nothing to do with protecting the area but with ravaging it. The region should not only be seen as a tourism spot, but the daily life there should also continue,” he said.
Mehmet Nuri Yardım, president of the Literature, Arts and Cultural Studies Association (ESKADER), said he thinks the construction of hotels on the peninsula disrespects Turkey’s past.
“Our historical places, those beautiful mosques, our medreses, our fountains are overshadowed by newly constructed, awkward and monstrous buildings; they even disappear after a while. This is a show of disrespect to our ancestors and history and a betrayal of future generations. Cağaloğlu is about to lose its magnificent history. All the newspapers have moved from there; publication houses have been forced to leave. A painful migration started from there,” Yıldırım said.
Hotel construction is forcing publication houses, which are considered a cultural asset of the peninsula, to move out of the buildings they have been using for decades because the owners of those buildings want to sell or rent them to hotel owners.
Over the past few months, the Kaynak Publishing Group had to leave its place in Cağaloğlu, and there are ongoing efforts to force the Timaş Publishing House to leave the building it has been using for years.
Managers from Timaş said the owner of the building wants to turn it into a hotel. Refusing to leave the building, Timaş managers said the publishing house is paying as much rent as a hotel.
Architects and Engineers Group (MMG) President Avni Çebi complained that İstanbul’s old walled city is being turned into a museum where all elements of life have been eliminated.
“Suriçi [the historical peninsula] is a living place. So it should be transformed in accordance with this. No matter how much renovation is done in the area, it will not reflect the real history as long as there is no living culture and art there. The real owners of this living place are being forced to leave it, and the area is being turned into a place only to visit. It is being detached from the fabric of the city and put into a bell jar,” he said.
According to Çebi, what needs to be done is to take the hotels out of the historical peninsula and encourage the area to regain its former outlook once more, at peace with arts and culture. Despite the concerns about the many hotels being built in the historical region, Fatih Mayor Demir said there will be more construction in order to meet tourists’ needs for hotels in the city. He said his municipality, which administers most of the historical peninsula, is under pressure from the tourism sector to allow the construction of more hotels.
“Ten million tourists come to İstanbul every year. We expect 30 million tourists this year. The new zoning plan allows for the transformation of historical houses into hotels. According to this plan, it will be possible to construct more hotels in the region. This place will remain meaningful when its past, values and assets are protected together. We want to both protect historical places and contribute to the tourism sector. When new hotels are built, traditional commercial centers are preserved,” he said.
Demir said he believes the new zoning plan will both protect traditional architecture in the region and carry historical values to the future.