Status change of Istanbul's Topkapı Palace’s garden stirs debate

Status change of Istanbul's Topkapı Palace’s garden stirs debate

Status change of Istanbuls Topkapı Palace’s garden stirs debate

A change in the protection status of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace has stirred row after claims the area was being opened to construction, which the Culture Ministry refutes.

Turkish authorities are opening the palace’s garden to “controlled construction” after removing its status as a first degree protected site and instead making it a third degree protected area, daily Hürriyet’s Ömer Erbil said in a report on Oct. 13.

But the ministry released a statement hours later, saying “the article is completely detached from reality.”

“The report in question clearly aims to mislead the public by establishing a perception that the historic peninsula is being tried to be opened to construction,” the ministry said on Oct. 13, adding that “the report completely consists of speculation.”

“On the contrary, our ministry has been carrying out extensive efforts regarding the recovering of Sur-u Sultani,” it also said, referring to the walls that encircle the Topkapı Palace.

According to Erbil’s report, the Fatih Municipality applied to Istanbul’s Fourth Cultural Heritage Conservation District Board in order to downgrade the protection status of the “Hasbahçe,” the palace’s garden which has been a first degree protected area for the past 22 years.

The board didn’t object to the application, paving the way for “controlled construction” in any part of the garden.

While constructions in first degree areas are completely banned, third degree status lets museum authorities decide on whether to allow “controlled” construction.

The decision regarding the palace’s yards, meanwhile, will be given by the Culture Ministry.

Sur-u Sultani, which includes the Hasbahçe, was declared a first degree archeological protection zone in 1995 and is listed as a UNESCO World Culture Heritage area.

The Fatih Municipality applied to the board in September with a suggestion that included the revision of current degrees of protections.

The municipality suggested that the areas that include the Topkapı Palace Museum’s buildings would stay as first degree archeological protected sites, while three yards, military depots, the area that the former printing school is located in and Hasbahçe, which lies between the walls and former railways, would become a third degree archeological protection area.

The board, in return, held a meeting on Sept. 15 with a special agenda to discuss the downgrading proposal, which became a scene of intense debates due to the objections by museum authorities.

The Conservation Board Head Cem Eriş and Deputy Fatih Mayor Erhan Oflaz voiced their support for changing the statuses of several areas in the Topkapı Palace and the archeologist member of the board, Prof. Şevket Dönmez, didn’t object to the decision.

The architect member of the board, Prof. Nazlı Ferah Akıncı, opposed downgrading the status.

According to the law on protected areas, no diggings, except for those done for scientific purposes, are allowed in the first degree zones.However, according to the ministry’s statement, opening to construction the area between Ahırkapı Feneri and Sepetçiler Mansion “is out of question.”

“It should be known that harming the world heritage Topkapı Palace or the historic integrity around it will never be allowed,” the ministry also said.

Another statement was released from Fatih Municipality, in which Mayor Mustafa Demir said “opening the area to construction is absolutely out of question.”

“You can’t even put a stone that opposes the construction plans aimed at protection. We are standing behind it,” Demir said on Oct. 13, adding that the report “surpasses its purpose by far.”

Saying that the area that they proposed to the board concerns a narrow space between the former railway and the walls, Demir noted that the aforementioned area is an “abandoned and unattended” space.

“For us, this place is the most beautiful place in the world but in terms of the people’s and the city’s security, it’s a problematic area. This is the place that Sarai Sierra was killed,” he added, referring to the murder of a 31-year-old American woman in 2013.

During his speech, Demir said the area will “never and ever” be opened to construction as part of the municipality’s suggestion.

“There is nothing that would necessitate the establishment of a perception regarding opening it to construction. What we are aiming with this proposal is: There are historical pieces in this area. It’s impossible to renovate these pieces in the first degree protected areas. You can only dig and obtain the opportunity to exhibit what you found in the excavations. Through our proposal, the restoration and renovation of the historical pieces in the area will be possible and the areas that are problematic in terms of security will be contributed to tourism,” he also said.

Saying that there are thousands of historical pieces that need to be exhibited in the depots of Topkapı Palace, the mayor noted that touristic places and museums are needed for them to be shown to public.

“Thus, with this proposal, we will be providing this place’s security, restore the historical pieces and pave the way for the exhibition of them,” he added.

Demir also said the proposal “is absolutely significant and practical” in terms of tourism, protection of cultural values and security.

The Topkapı Palace, which overlooks the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea, was one of the major residences of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years (1465-1856) during the empire’s 624-year history.

It is now a museum and a major tourist attraction, containing a number of important relics of the Muslim world.