Istanbul’s historic Harbiye Theater to be ‘reconstructed’

Istanbul’s historic Harbiye Theater to be ‘reconstructed’

Istanbul’s historic Harbiye Theater to be ‘reconstructed’ A well-known outdoor theater in central Istanbul, which has hosted a number of global stars and has a 4,500-person capacity, will be reconstructed with a new retractable roof, according to a statement from the Istanbul Municipality.

“The work that is being foreseen is all about constructing a retractable roof above the stage against bad weather conditions. This has long been considered. The long-term use of the theater is aimed for with the work. The project has been prepared, preserving the original structure of the theater. The board’s approval is now awaited,” said the Istanbul Municipality.   

The statement came after earlier reports claiming that the popular Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Theater was going to be completely demolished and rebuilt in order to turn it into a completely “modern” theater hosting 7,000.

Reports had said the theater would be replaced by a larger venue featuring an enlarged stage and with a retractable roof, with work on the changes being implemented after the summer season of concerts, citing Istanbul Municipality Culture Bureau President Abdurrahman Şen.  

With its latest statement, the municipality denied such reports, stressing that the only adding that would be made to the theater would be its retractable roof. 

The present theater was built in 1947 and was named after former Istanbul Mayor Cemil Topuzlu, who served between 1912 and 1920. 

The theater, which was designed by Henri Prost and was constructed during the term of former Istanbul Mayor Lütfi Kırdar, has long been considered one of the city’s focal points for arts and culture, having hosted performances of international stars such as Pink Martini, Nick Cave, Emma Shapplin, Buika, Nancy Ajram and local singers such as Tarkan and Sezen Aksu.

The decision to renew the theater was taken four years ago, when Istanbul filed a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Designating the theater as one of the possible halls that might be used for weightlifting competitions during the Olympics, Turkish officials prepared plans to cover the top of the venue and demolish it if deemed necessary. 

The project for the Harbiye Open Air Theater comes amid persisting controversy over the fate of another well-known and historic cultural venue in central Istanbul, the Atatürk Culture Center (AKM).    

Located in Taksim Square in Beyoğlu, the AKM has been unused for the past eight years. The center, which is one of the signature buildings representing republican-era Turkish architecture, has been at the heart of a heated debate, which flared up after government officials announced intentions to demolish or renew it.

Speaking about his stance toward the future of the AKM, Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Ünal said he was “against turning arts and culture-related issues into fields of tension.” 

“I made a statement that ‘Turkey has a strong opera tradition.’ A small discussion began on whether Turkey has an opera tradition. Can we not have another debate related to our artistic and cultural world? Let’s not turn this into tension or a new fault-line,” said Ünal, adding that he regretted that “lines of tension” had been formed regarding the AKM and the Turkish National Commission for the Seismology and Physics of the Earth (TUSAK).