Over its last six sessions, the World Heritage Committee has expressed concern at a variety of significant threats, including the demolition of Ottoman-period timber houses, the poor quality of repairs and excessive reconstruction of the Roman and Byzantine Walls, the potential negative effects of the construction of the Marmaray Rail Tube Tunnel, the Gebze-Halkalı Surface Metro System, and the Haliç bridge project and the absence of a World Heritage management plan. Concern has also been expressed over the legislative arrangements, and the effectiveness of organisational and coordination relationships between decision making bodies responsible for safeguarding the property.
At its last session (Quebec City, 2008), the Committee requested the State Party to finalize the integrated and comprehensive World Heritage management plan, including putting in place a buffer zone to protect the integrity of the property, provide the World Heritage Centre with information on impact studies, including a visual impact assessment, according to international standards for all new large-scale projects which may threaten the important views to and from the property and its buffer zone, including the Haliç bridge across the Golden Horn, as well as impact studies for large-scale urban renewal projects proposed for implementation within the framework of Law 5366. It further requested the State Party to invite a joint WHC/ICOMOS mission and to submit a progress report to enable the Committee to review a potential inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The State Party submitted an extensive state of conservation report on 30 January 2009. This addressed the following:
a) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
This will be evaluated separately by ICOMOS.
b) Financial support for the conservation activities
The mechanism for awarding grants came into force in 2005. In the financial year 2008, USD 20.061 was allocated for projects on 7 historic buildings and USD 89.974 was allocated for the restoration of 7 historic buildings within Istanbul. Municipalities benefit from a Tax sharing initiative, which also came into force in 2005, and this has enabled work on 159 restoration projects throughout the municipalities.
c) New management structure
The Site Management Directorship was founded in 2006 by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality under the Law for Conservation of Cultural and National Heritage. Its secretariat is provided by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. It consists of a site coordinator (Manager), Advisory Council, Coordination Council and Audit Unit. The Site Coordinator was appointed in October 2006. The Advisory Council includes representatives of the Governorship, of the Universities in Istanbul, of the Metropolitan Authorities, of the Chamber of Trade and Chamber of Architects. The Coordination Council is responsible for approving and implementing the management plan.
d) Management plan and boundaries
The management plan for the property is being prepared by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism initiated a multi-disciplinary study of the property’s boundaries. The technical studies were completed in January 2009. The boundaries of the property will be set out and confirmed (see below).
e) The Golden Horn Bridge Project
The environmental impact assessment has been prepared for this large metro bridge across the Golden Horn, and submitted in Turkish. The English version of the document was submitted on 6 February 2009.
Information was also provided on proposed New Large-Scale Development Proposals and on conservation and restoration projects.
A joint WHC/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission visited the property from 27 to 30 April 2009. It addressed the following issues:
f) Boundaries of the property
There is a need for clarification of the inscribed boundaries as part of the Retrospective Inventory Project launched by the World Heritage Centre in 2005. A project to define the boundaries of the four discrete areas has recommended that part of the forth inscribed area (the City Land Walls) should be changed to buffer zone. It is understood that a proposal to designate a buffer zone to protect the setting of the rest of the Historic Peninsula was rejected by the Protection Council.
Proposed maps need to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for assessment. However, the mission reiterated the recommendation of the 2006 mission, endorsed by the Committee, that proposed buffer zone should include the Eyüp conservation area, the historic core of Galata-Beyoğlu, the protected Front Perspective Area of the Bosphorus and the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara.
g) Management and conservation plans and management structure
A World Heritage management unit has been established and a World Heritage Coordinator has been appointed, but his role is advisory and not executive. The mission was informed that the World Heritage Advisory Board will resume meetings soon. The mission was not made aware of substantial progress with putting into effect the remainder of the management structure recommended by the 2008 mission. Responsibilities and competencies still remain largely unclear. There was no evidence of substantial coordination between local, metropolitan and ministerial authorities and indeed the lack of coordination appeared to be contributing to planning difficulties, such as the Four Season’s hotel annex project. In consequence, problems in monitoring and implementing conservation policies still remain and collaboration between central government and local authorities needs improvement.
No World Heritage management plan has yet been prepared, but the boundary to be covered by the plan was approved by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on 21 April 2009. A general outline of the plan was provided in the State Party’s report. However, there is still an urgent need to set out as a fundamental basis for the management plan clear statements about responsibilities of the key stakeholders such as the Governorship, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Metropolitan Municipalities and District Municipalities. There is also a need to clarify the overall legal framework within which these responsibilities operate. Funding is being sought from the Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010 initiative to finance preparation of the plan, which may take one year according to the authorities.
It is understood that on 29 November 2007, the Administrative Court took the decision to suspend the execution of the 1:5000 management plan, the Protection Board took the decision to suspend the 1:1000 plan also. The two plans are now being prepared again, but they are 90% the same, taking into account the objections raised before. The mission was informed that these decisions do not cause an impediment to the preparation of the World Heritage management plan.
h) Awareness raising
All professional personnel of the KUDEBs of the Metropolitan Municipality and Fatih Municipality receive 3 months training at the Protection Board before they start work. Fatih Municipality’s KUDEB has five employees – art historians, archaeologists and architects. The amalgamation with Eminönü municipality took place only just before the mission and the practical effects on conservation management will take time to become apparent. A promotional film has been prepared which has been shown on national television. There is still little promotion amongst local people and no overall World Heritage awareness-building programme.
i) Conservation standards
As stressed by the 2008 mission, there is still a need to ensure that all work at monuments meet international standards and is preceded by adequate documentation and analysis.
As also stressed by the previous mission there is concern at urban renewal projects with a focus on land development which are inappropriate for the World Heritage core areas and major infrastructure projects in the historic peninsula. The mission reiterates the recommendations of the 2006 and 2008 missions that all such projects should respect the conservation of existing historic structures rather than rebuilding and new construction. No significant modification appears to have been made to urban renewal projects proposed within the framework of Law 5366 for the “Preservation by Renovation and Utilization by Revitalizing of Deteriorated Immovable Historical and Cultural Properties” and they have not been revised to constitute conservation plans appropriate for a World Heritage property. The implementation in practice of Law 5366 therefore remains a significant potential threat to the integrity of the World Heritage core areas. This is relevant not just for individual monuments but also for areas such as Sulukule, part of the property located near the Theodosian Walls where the mission considered that there had been unacceptable loss of tangible and intangible attributes through the destruction of listed buildings and the dispersal of communities through a programme of gentrification by local authorities. This was referred to as a social project in the State Party report, but the mission considered that economic factors had been a dominant factor in the relocation of inhabitants.
Fatih Municipality has now submitted a development plan for the area within the framework of Law 5366. It was not possible for the mission to examine the detailed proposals, as they have been submitted for evaluation to the Protection Council, but an outline elevation shown to the mission appeared to involve the demolition of houses located on the Sea Walls and the construction of an imperial staircase in front of the walls framing the former palace of the Bulgarian exarch. This is a development rather than a conservation project and not the assistance to individual owners as recommended by previous missions.
j) Four Seasons Hotel
A visual impact assessment for the Four Seasons hotel extension was submitted in 2008, but it does not include an assessment of the third hotel extension building. The Sultanahmet Tourism Company and the Associazione Palatina-Istanbul have been in discussion about the improved overall interpretation of the Sultanahmet core area, incorporating the development of the Archaeological Park, but permission for both the hotel extension and the archaeological park was suspended by the Administrative Court on 25 February 2009 and all work has stopped, including further archaeological research and conservation works to the excavated remains, because of the court order. This places these important archaeological remains at risk, due to potential prolonged exposure to adverse weather.
k) Metro bridge across the Golden Horn:
The new metro bridge across the Golden Horn is proposed as a towering cable-stay structure which would have a significant negative impact on the setting of the Historic Peninsula, the Golden Horn itself and the Süleymaniye Mosque in particular – the single most important Ottoman-period monument in the city, masterpiece of the architect Sinan, which was identified at the time of inscription as a work of human genius. The design for the Haliç metro crossing presented to the mission is for a structure that uniquely combines a swing bridge which opens for ships and a metro bridge incorporating a station above the deck. The bridge is 460 metres long, 65 metres high (pylons) from the water and the platform about 15 mt above the water level (Galata bridge and Atatürk bridge are less than 10 m high). The station will be 180 metres long, about 10 metres high and the bridge deck will be 10 metres wide. This bridge has been planned for 1½ years, could be finished in 13 months and will connect two sections of the metro network which are otherwise 99% completed. The bridge is a cable-stay structure, with pylons topped with “horns” curving. It is planned to be in the immediate vicinity of the Süleymaniye core area and the Süleymaniye Mosque (minarets height 112,40mt).
The mission considers that the design of the bridge is inappropriate for this position, both because it will impede irreversibly many important views of the World Heritage site and because the bridge, presented as a “work of art”, will compete with the Süleymaniye Mosque, identified at the time of inscription as a work of human genius, designed by Sinan. The mission considers it essential that alternative designs for a flat bridge, without significant upward projections, are considered. These must be supported by thorough environmental impact studies based on an assessment of the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value, including the skyline of the historic peninsula.
In the absence of either revisions to the Golden Horn bridge or the abandonment of the project, inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger could be envisaged by the World Heritage Committee.
l) Traffic Master Plan
Many of the current development projects are related to the Traffic Master Plan for the peninsula. Indeed metropolitan transport planning appears to be the leading principle of urban development in the property. The traffic plan was not presented to the mission in it entirety. There appears to be no specific study in relation to the World Heritage site.
The 2008 mission was satisfied with the archaeological mitigation activities being undertaken in advance of rail and metro extensions and interchanges. This mission was concerned at the impact of overall plan in terms of proposals for the Halic bridge, the Bosphorus road tunnel, the 3rd Bosphorus bridge, and the Yenikapi Transport Centre. For instance, the current proposal of the Ministry of Transportation for a Bosphorus road tunnel from Harem on the Asian shore to Kumkapı in the Historic Peninsula, just to the west of the Sultanahmet core area, would undoubtedly bring large volumes of traffic from the suburbs to the east of the Bosphorus directly into the heart of the World Heritage property.
And at Yenikapi archaeological site a new traffic centre is planned where streets, railway and metro meet as an interchange for two continents. This new urban centre project will introduce changes of scale into the urban fabric and changes to functional and social structures near to the centre of the property in one of the most traditional parts and where Neolithic traces have been discovered.
m) Restoration of Timber Houses
KUDEB provides conservation training and demonstrates through the restoration of individual houses the advantages of protection and conservation of vernacular architecture. This approach needs encouragement to allow a greater continuity and a greater number of projects, as currently only a few building have this treatment. Many timber houses, are in danger not only because of substantial deterioration but also because they are not yet been listed and as such have no financial and technical support. Empty houses are increasing but there is no holistic conservation or rehabilitation strategy or programme. The conservation of Ottoman houses could contribute substantially to providing houses as well to cultural tourism.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS remain concerned at the adverse potential impact of the proposed massive bridge across the Golden Horn which, through the visuals already provided, has a dominating impact of the evocative and fragile skyline of the historic area. It is essential that a robust and independent environment assessment is carried out based on a clear articulation of the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value for the property, including alternative bridge design without pylons. So far the visual impact of the bridge on the value of the property has not been adequately addressed.
Work is urgently needed on the management plan to provide the framework to ensure that development, and improved infrastructure respects the attributes and value of the property. Without this framework, the property is in increasing danger due to the dynamic development of traffic and building projects in its core and in the Historic Peninsula. Although work is planned for the management plan, so far little progress has been made and there is concern that illegal demolitions, inappropriate reconstruction and development, and the lack of impact studies for some projects, reflect the absence of a Plan. There is an urgent need to make progress with this plan which should be based on agreed boundaries and buffer zones and encompass regeneration, tourism management, traffic management and awareness raising. There are a number of new financial, legal and administrative measures which have the potential to reverse the problem of inner-city decay and neglect. Many of the benchmarks agreed by representatives of the Turkish authorities during the 2006 mission and endorsed by the Committee at its 30th session were not met within the specified timeframe or have yet to be completed, and the same is true of many benchmarks recommended by the 2008 mission and endorsed by the Committee at its 32nd session. Progress in meeting such benchmarks is urgently needed.
Of the new financial and legal provisions recently put in place, of particularly concern are projects designed and implemented within the framework of Law 5366 for the “Preservation by Renovation and Utilization by Revitalizing of Deteriorated Immovable Historical and Cultural Properties” could result in a serious loss in authenticity, and that the wholesale demolitions of houses of the Roma minority in Sulukule (in the Theodosian Land Walls core area) indicate how potentially destructive such projects can be.