Istanbul mayor rejects plan to open historic Yedikule Gardens to construction
Heavy duty machines were sent to Yedikule Gardens last year, infuriating locals who continue to cultivate the land.Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş has rejected a controversial plan that would allow construction in the historic Yedikule Gardens, a UNESCO-protected site near the Marmara shoreline along the Byzantine-era ramparts surrounding the old city.
The announcement by the local Fatih Municipality to change the status of the gardens in order to convert it into a “park and green area” stirred huge criticism last year, as archaeologists warned against any attempt to conduct unassisted excavations.
In a written statement, Topbaş said the site should not be earmarked for a different purpose than its historic aim, advocating the organization of a workshop that would include “historians, scientists and locals.”
The plan had cleared the way for the construction of ornamental pools, parking lots and social or open sporting facilities. The preliminary project, approved by the Istanbul 2nd Protection Board on June 25, included two or three-story buildings to be constructed at the site, to the dismay of archaeologists.
Local activists and NGOs received Topbaş’s decision with cautious relief, expressing expectations that their views regarding the redevelopment of the site will be taken in account.
“They prepared the project and presented it to us before arriving at their current point due to the reactions. So the process went in reverse, unfortunately. Deciding together is what we should have been doing since the beginning,” Yiğit Ozar, a member of the Archaeologists Association, told news website Bianet.
Many locals and activists have expressed their wish to see the gardens, where there are still usable wells dating back to the 17th century, converted into an agricultural area.
“We can develop the irrigation systems by protecting the Ottoman wells and cisterns. We can also build paths for a promenade between the parcels of land and set up stores were products can be sold. This could even become a touristic area,” says Ahmet Atalık, the head of the Agricultural Engineers’ Chamber’s Istanbul branch.
Activists have repeatedly slammed officials for not taking the opinions of locals living in the neighborhood into account.
The area currently belongs to the Greek Foundation, but Fatih Municipality officials claim 20 percent of it has been regulated in order to minimize its expropriation expenses, while the rest would be opened to public use.
The plan will now be reassessed by Istanbul’s municipal assembly. Many NGOs were prepared to engage in a legal battle if the plan was approved by Topbaş.