At its 27th Session in 2003, the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to submit a report on the state of conservation of the property in order to consider its eventual inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. This request was provoked by the continued degradation of the civil architecture within the protected areas and uncontrolled development owing to the absence of an urban development and conservation plan since its abrogation in 1996. The State Party provided the Centre with a comprehensive report: “Istanbul Progress Report 2004” prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Upon reviewing the report, ICOMOS and UNESCO provided the following comments:
The Historic Areas of Istanbul consist of four separate urban and archaeological sites within the walled city, which is called “The Historic Peninsula”.
The first area includes Hagia Sophia and the Archaeological Park. This site is mostly under the control of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Every year the Ministry allocates funds for regular maintenance and urgent repairs of the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Eirene and other monuments like the Monastery Church of Chora. For Hagia Sophia, international donations from organizations such as the World Monuments Fund have helped to improve the situation of the dome mosaics. An advisory body of international and national experts which had been supported by UNESCO and the WH Fund in the past continues to meet regularly to discuss the structural and other problems related to preserving this important monument. Conservators from the Central Conservation and Restoration Laboratory collaborate with international teams in the restoration of the dome mosaics.
The pressure of tourism is evident in the area surrounding the Hagia Sophia, but planning control is exercised by decisions of the Board for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The new 1/5000 scaled Urban Conservation and Development Plan provides the necessary measures to preserve the underground properties.
The Theodosian Walls and the adjoining area are also part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul. The Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul is the body responsible for the maintenance of the Walls. The Walls have suffered from some over-restorations in the 1980’s. The Municipality has two separate offices responsible for cultural heritage. One office includes experts who select projects, whilst the other office contracts firms for their implementation. It is recommended that the State Party ensures that the two offices work together in order to achieve proper surveillance of projects and works. It also recommends that the Municipality establishes a team of trained craftsmen attached to the Cultural Heritage office, in order to take care of the Wall and its environs properly: controlling undesired occupation, removing vegetation and maintaining the masonry regularly.
After the earthquake of 1999, some towers, which had cracks from the 1894 earthquake, collapsed. Two towers, Towers 89 and 90, near the Adrianople Gate were affected seriously. Tower 89 has been badly reconstructed. However, consolidation of Tower 90 being carried out at present is of better quality. The areas adjoining the Walls, especially on the western side, are designated as archaeological parks. Nevertheless, near the Tekfur Saray a parking lot for tourist buses has recently been established. The State Party should be requested to remove it and to propose a new location.
The state of conservation of Zeyrek and Süleymaniye districts is very critical due to serious losses to the timber houses making up the urban fabric. The population living within these districts is not aware of the value of the architectural environment thus involving them in conservation activity has been very difficult particularly the poor who are unable to invest in rehabilitation work.
Despite the aggressive renovations and alterations which have been carried out, there are some recent attempts to stop further losses and to promote conservation action. The report by the Turkish Ministry of Culture outlines some of these initiatives or accomplishments:
a) The establishment of a UNESCO World Heritage Project Coordination Unit at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is an important step. This Unit is mandated to coordinate projects, monitor and follow-up on problems of neglect and destruction. As it is not possible to monitor the Historic Areas of Istanbul from Ankara, the Ministry has also established a liaison office in Istanbul based at Topkapi Palace;
b) The completion of the 1/5000 scaled Urban Conservation and Development Plan for the historic town is also a positive step. The Board for Protection of Cultural Property is currently reviewing the plan and it will probably enter into force within this year. It is recommended that the Municipality provides the funds for the implementation of the Plan;
c) The allocation of significant funds by the Prime Minister for the cultural property within the Historic Peninsula of Istanbul is a positive sign and will provide a substantial support for improving the dilapidated state of several areas. On this issue, the main drawback is the legal barrier preventing public funds being invested in private property. The houses in Süleymaniye and Zeyrek are properties of individuals and the government can not invest money in these buildings. Some attempts are being made to overcome this problem by changing the law in favor of listed cultural property. In this regard, UNESCO recalls that the 7 million euro European Union-funded project designed by UNESCO for the rehabilitation of Fener and Balat of Fatih district, through housing improvement activities is particularly important, in view of the support pledged by TOKI, the government social housing agency. Having completed its first year of operation, some 200 historic buildings in private or communal ownership and inhabited by the poor have been identified for rehabilitation under this project. But TOKI has yet to make the promised counterpart funding to the EU input. It is hoped that experience gained through this project will promote similar actions in the future in Zeyrek and Suleymaniye
d) In order to encourage sponsorship, the government has recently developed a new tax relief for donations for the preservation of cultural heritage to serve as an incentive for individuals and corporations;
e) Several NGOs, deeply concerned about the state of conservation of Historic Istanbul have become increasingly active. The Turkish Timber Association, among the most dynamic, launched a public campaign to appeal for donations to save the timber houses in Zeyrek and Süleymaniye. A widely publicized event in December 2003 marked the launch in the presence of the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Governor of Istanbul, municipal district mayors and the Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO. Several firms have pledged support. The conservation experts of the association are training architects to address the particular problems of timber houses. Repair schedules for several houses in need of urgent intervention have already been prepared.
ICOMOS and UNESCO commend the State Party for the recent steps taken in favour of the conservation of the Historic Areas of Istanbul. Both central and local government should be encouraged to adopt a substantial strategy to save the Historic Areas of Istanbul, involving more experts in the field of conservation and providing more resources for heritage conservation.
UNESCO experts who have been provided with draft copies of the 1/5000 and 1/1000 scale plans for the Historic Peninsula and the Fatih District, noted that the Conservation and Development Plan as it stands is merely a zoning plan with no pro-active programmes. The UNESCO expert team which carried out a study on the impact of the Marmaray Rail and Bosphorus Tunnel project to connect the existing railway to improve urban mobility, stressed the importance of the opportunity this project will provide for a well-planned preventive archaeology operation and new urban projects in areas that would be affected by cut-and-cover works near the stations, three of which are planned within the Historic Peninsula. It is recommended that the Government finances the preventive archaeology operation estimated at US$2.5 million, which is a reasonable sum given the overall cost of the Marmaray project of some US$2.5 billion, or to seek additional soft loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) which is co-financing the rail and tunnel project. It is also recommended to integrate new opportunities this project will provide in the Urban Conservation and Development Plan.