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Grand problems at Grand Bazaar

ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News | 6/14/2008 12:00:00 AM | SEVİM SONGÜN

Istanbul's 500-year old Grand Bazaar is at risk of collapse. The most recent renovation work was carried out more than 20 years ago, however,the renovation was not done properly, according to some shopkeepers, threatening the safety and originality of the historical builgding. Restoration architects should examine the building, experts urge

The 500-year-old Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in Turkey, is at risk of collapse due to a lack of renovation and care, according to experts.

The head of the Foundation of Kapalıçarşı Artisans criticized delays in renovations, which he said have been caused by an authority gap as the Eminönü Municipality is in the process of being integrated with the Fatih Municipality. Shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı, meanwhile, say there are many problems in the bazaar and agree that neither the municipality nor the foundation has shown willingness to solve them. 

Kapalıçarşı underwent major restorations following an earthquake in 1954, with the most recent renovation work was carried out more than 20 years ago. The theft of lead has been harming the roof of the Kapalıçarşı for years, but since most lead has already been stolen, the rest has also been removed and the roof is now covered with concrete.

The 1983 renovation was not done properly, according to some shopkeepers, threatening the safety and originality of the historical building. “Renovation work should be carried out in accordance with the building's origin,” said Yıldız Salman, an academic from Istanbul University's Faculty of Architecture. She said restoration architects should examine the building and prepare a renovation plan after inspecting all the transformations the building has undergone.

Experts believe that the neglect may cause major problems in the long term. “It is a heavy building and the concrete in the roof has made it heavier,” said Gülsün Tanyeli, an academic from Istanbul University's Faculty of Architecture. She claimed that since regular inspections are not conducted it is not possible to know the seriousness of the collapse risk; however she said it is clear that the building has problems and they should be solved in accordance with the requirements of the space and the people who work there.

Shop owners have long striven to make the walls of the building thinner in order to gain more space, making the Kapalıçarşı vulnerable in the case of an earthquake. “The main problem is the walls. They have become too thin to carry the building,” said Fatih Sadırlı, a spokesman for the Eminönü municipality. “There are around 600 files about this problem. Some shops inside the building have been widened around 10 square meters as the walls are skived,” said Sadırlı. He said an unspecified number of people have been tried on charges of skiving the walls of the historical building.

Most shopkeepers agreed that the walls are skived, saying they have heard stories about such practices. “The walls are too thin now that there is no place left to strive,” said Tevfik Ağrı, a shopkeeper in the Kapalıçarşı. “We can hear the shopkeepers next to us,” he said. However most shopkeepers still do not believe that the strengthening the building is urgent.

“There have been many earthquakes in this region in the past and this building is still standing,” said Ercüment Şengezer. He said that there should be research on whether the building is safe, adding, however, “God knows whether the building will collapse in an earthquake or not.” The safety of the building does not seem to be the top issue on the minds of shopkeepers and owners, who are more worried about keeping their businesses alive.

Since law 5366 was passed in 2005, allowing municipalities to renovate and rebuild historical sites, the Eminönü municipality has had the right to renovate the Grand Bazaar and its neighborhood.  “The historical inns inside the Kapalıçarşı will be renovated and used for a different function and the later-constructed buildings in the area will be demolished,” said Sadırlı. However, he could not speak about the project in detail because it is still in the planning stages. The financial burden for the transformation of the region is shared by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture and Special Provincial Administration.

The head of the Foundation of Kapalıçarşı Artisans complained about sharing the renovation budget between the two bodies. “Istanbul 2010 has not enough budget to renovate Kapalıçarşı. The government increased the ÖTV (the private consumption tax) for increasing the budget of the Istanbul 2010,” said Hasan Fırat. He also told the Turkish Daily News that the unification of the Fatih and Eminönü Municipality has slowed down the renovation process.  

Shopkeepers, on the other hand, do not seem so enthusiastic about the renovation. Some of them blamed Fırat for insisting on this issue for improper personal gain. “He [Fırat] was charged with corruption in the past and he does not work for the benefit of the Kapalıçarşı or the shopkeepers but for his own benefits,” said A.B.A., a shopkeeper who declined to give his full name for fear of establishing bad relations with the foundation.

Shopkeepers also believe that it is too difficult to control and protect the historical sites in Kapalıçarşı. A.B.A., 30, claimed that he has given bribes to the police, municipal police forces and security guards to make some changes on the floor in front of his shop. “I had to wait for permission to make changes since legal permission is necessary for making changes,” he said, adding that he gave bribes to eliminate the long wait for permits. It seems that everyone knows the rules and legal procedures but that they find ways around them, making any efforts to change regulations futile unless more people begin to obey them.

Shopkeepers argue that Kapalıçarşı artisans need more professional and structured organization. “The employees who will work here should be trained about the Kapalıçarşı culture,” said shop owner Hakan Güleç. He claimed the number of customers at the bazaar is declining while rents remain high. It is at least 15,000 dollars a month to rent a shop here,” said Güleç.

Kapalıçarşı is more than a historical building. It is as big as an entire district, including more than 58 streets and 6,000 shops. It enjoys an estimated 250,000-400,000 visitors daily. It has many shops, including jewelry, Turkish carpet, leather clothes, pottery and spice shops. Experts say Kapalıçarşı must be considered as a whole, along with its neighborhood, its residents, its historical and cultural structure and its shopkeepers.

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