Saving the Grand Bazaar from its fate
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/12/2010 12:00:00 AM | GÜL DEMİR - NIKI GAMM
Over the years, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar has suffered from fires and earthquakes. It has been repaired a number of times in a haphazard manner.
If you have ever been in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar when it’s raining, you’ve probably noticed that the roof leaks and that there is water running down some of its streets. Or perhaps you’ve been there the next day and experienced the musty smell of damp, moldy walls.
Ask virtually any of the shop owners in the Grand Bazaar and they will recite their litany of complaints, which are known to everyone but solved by no one: broken roof tiles, drainpipes that are never cleaned out, cables strung out in the open for lack of substructure, limited parking and, perhaps more important than anything else, no proper toilet facilities.
One shop owner found it disgusting that a modern facility somehow couldn’t be erected somewhere in the sprawling bazaar. Thinking of the smell of disinfectant reminded him that there is no air conditioning either; many shops have put in their own air conditioners in order to make it through the hot days of summer.
What else would one expect in a building that is nearly 550 years old, in a country with laws on renovation so fierce that even in younger buildings classified as historical, the nails, for instance, have to be replaced exactly?
Another accusation has been that the bazaar’s management has been wholly unprofessional; some describe it as running the place with the mentality of a shantytown. That does seem a bit extreme, given that the place is managed by an association whose members are the people who work there, and whose finances have relied on membership dues. On the other hand, some accusations of misdoing surface from time to time and bribery is a common complaint.
Over the years, the Grand Bazaar, known in Turkish as the Kapalıçarşı, has suffered from fires and earthquakes. It has been repaired a number of times in a haphazard manner. In 1975, for instance, the tin roofs were replaced by tiles. When these were broken, they were never replaced, thus letting in rain and snow. Others have expressed concern over the weight of the cement poured on the roofs under the tiles.
To date, there has been no proper architectural plan for the main structure and those that have subsequently become attached to the central building. It hasn’t been hard for store owners to take out columns and other supports in order to expand their shops, since there is no plan against which to hold them accountable. Some believe that the shopkeepers have actually shaved the walls of their shops in order to make them larger. The resulting thin walls may constitute an earthquake hazard as much as the removal of columns – a matter of some concern since there have been 20 earthquakes since the Grand Bazaar’s founding in 1461 and another tremor expected in Istanbul in the next few years.
The lack of garbage collection and the poor condition of the toilet facilities has not led to any serious health problems – yet. (One trick to get around the problem is to go and eat at the Havuz Restaurant and then take advantage of its facilities.)
One possibility has been to open the bazaar on Sundays, but that won’t benefit the tradesmen whose stores are not on the main Nuruosmaniye Street, which runs between the Nuruosmaniye and Bayezid mosques. The same holds true for attempts to put on dinners after the bazaar as a whole has closed for the night, an idea that may be of interest to those who attend the meals.
Interest in the Grand Bazaar has increased recently with the airing of a popular television series called “Kapalıçarşı.” Visitors want to see where the show has been filmed and it has probably had a more positive effect on the popularity of the place than any other recent attempt.
[HH] A new attempt at renovation
A meeting with Fatih Municipality Mayor Mustafa Demir at Şeyr-I Istanbul, a café with a view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus, recently took place over breakfast and then continued in a formal way. Demir noted that the drafting, restitution and application project contract had been awarded and the company that had received the contract had already begun working.
The meeting included Topkapi Palace Museum Director Professor Ilber Ortayli, Professor Sadettin Okten, Istanbul Greater Municipal, or IBB, Area Administration Chairman Ihsan Sari, Yucel Ogurlu, Professor Kutgun Eyupgiller from Istanbul Technical University, writer/researcher Mustafa Armagan, IBB advisor Murat Tuncer, IBB study project manager Cem Eris, Fatih Municipality Deputy Mayor Erhan Oflaz, Fatih Municipality Assembly Member Tansel Kaya, Fatih Municipality study project manager Sema Ozyilmaz and Utopya Architecture general manager Serhan Saripinar.
“Up to now, whether owners or renters, none of the organizations, associations or people that have shown sensitivity to the whole of the Kapalıcarşı on the issue of the historical and cultural heritage have intervened,” Demir said. “It has been abandoned to its fate.”
According to the mayor, it is necessary to pass historic works to future generations in a sound fashion and the Fatih municipality includes almost all of Istanbul’s historically significant remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. So an advisory council has been created in order to determine what needs to be done to protect the Grand Bazaar and set a way forward.
Among the problems identified were management, security, heating, energy, water and natural gas. The Fatih municipality then applied to the Governor’s Special Provincial Office, which resulted in a tender for a contract to draw up plans. The company chosen was Utopya Mimarlik and the contract signed. Fatih has put aside 14.8 million Turkish Liras for the work, which is supposed to be completed in three years’ time.
In starting work on the Grand Bazaar, the architectural company has already collected an extensive collection of historical photographs taken inside and around the building. According to Gulin Kaya, the company is still in the process of preparing the project with the advice of experts; they expect to complete it at the end of 2011.
While the architectural firm says there are 20,000 workers and 300,000 visitors in the bazaar every day, Kapalıçarşı Tradesmen’s Association Chairman Hasan Firat gives figures of 25,000 workers and 500,000 visitors daily. Doesn’t anyone know what really goes on inside the Grand Bazaar?
What has been the reaction to this latest attempt at renovating the Grand Bazaar? Cynical questions remain about where the money is going to come from and where the will to institute reforms will be found.