The State Party submitted its report on the state of conservation of the property on 30 January 2008. As requested by the World Heritage Committee (30 COM 7B.73;31 COM 7B.89) a joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission took place to the property from 8 to 13 May 2008. The detailed mission report, responding to the various issues raised is available at http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2008 . The key findings from the mission included:
Conservation and safeguarding measures for the property have significantly improved, but there are still major shortcomings and actions requested by Decision 31 COM 7B.89 which have not yet been implemented, including:
a) Management and coordination
Studies for a buffer zone have been initiated, but proposals are yet to be finalised. Work on a management plan for the World Heritage property has started, but the Administrative Court has suspended the 1:5,000 Conservation for Development Plan, which should be an integral part of the management plan. The adjustment of first degree protection zones to include all core areas has not been implemented. A tourism management plan has yet to be prepared and there is no overall plan for traffic management. Proposals for a tunnel for motor vehicles connecting the Historic Peninsula with the Asian shore could seriously increase traffic pressure on the property.
A Focal Point for World Heritage has been established in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and a Historic Areas of Istanbul Steering Committee - Execution Council has been established, which meets monthly. An Istanbul Cultural and Natural Sites Management Directoratehas been established under Law 2863 and includes institutional and civil-society stakeholders. The Conservation Implementation and Control Bureau (KUDEB), established by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in 2006, is now operational and is issuing rapid approvals for minimal repairs to historic buildings, partly addressing the problem of long delays in approval for restoration projects by the Protection Boards. A Heritage House has been established and the World Heritage site Manager has been appointed. Although the management structure has been greatly improved, coordination between the authorities responsible for safeguarding of the property and for monitoring still displays weaknesses, particularly with regard to the awareness and commitment of the municipalities to appropriate conservation policies and the continued lack of professional staff with specific duties for monitoring.
KUDEB has initiated a programme of conservation to timber buildings in the Zeyrek and Süleymaniye core areas and has obtained sponsorship to augment conservation funded private initiatives. Five houses in Zeyrek are in the process of being conserved and nine have or are being conserved in Süleymaniye, including the impressive mansion which serves as KUDEB’s headquarters with a building materials laboratory. In addition, carpentry training workshops now exist in both core areas. These positive developments are contradicted by the continued lack of coordination and absence of awareness by other institutional stakeholders. For example, in Zeyrek, four timber houses were demolished by Fatih Municipality, while in Süleymaniye, nine historic houses were illegally demolished in one day by KIPTAŞ, a company which belongs to Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
b) Conservation standards
As requested by the World Heritage Committee, damaging work on the City Walls and two adjacent Byzantine palace structures was suspended, but unfortunately not immediately, so that work involving excessive reconstruction continued for some time after the 2006 World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission. Training in appropriate conservation techniques for the city walls was provided in 2007, but the team restoring the Anemas Dungeon is still weak in conservation expertise. The Anemas Dungeon Restoration and the Tekfur Palace Restoration proposals have not been revised as part of a Conservation Implementation Plan for the Theodosian Land Walls core area and submitted to UNESCO.
Although the General Directorate for Pious Foundations is represented on the Historic Areas of Istanbul Steering Committee, projects funded by the Directorate to religious buildings still do not conform to international standards and display a lack of awareness of the conservation norms appropriate for a World Heritage property.
c) Impact assessments for new developments
A study for the proposed new metro bridge across the Golden Horn has been prepared, but does not include an adequate impact assessment for a structure with 65-metre-high pylons, which would negatively affect the setting of the Süleymaniye Mosque. The impact assessment for the extension of the Four Seasons Hotel over the archaeological remains of part of the Great Palace of the Roman and Byzantine emperors has been prepared, but not yet transmitted to the World Heritage Centre. The mission regretted that the construction works have been launched prior to the assessment of the potential impacts.
Proposals for high-rise developments which were a previous cause for concern, notably in Hydarpaşa and the proposed “Dubai Towers” in Levent and the “Bosphorus Tower”, appear to have been abandoned, as has the latest Galataport project. The threat from new developments to the integrity and authenticity of setting of the property has therefore considerably diminished.
d) Urban renewal and regeneration projects
Considerable concern remains over the implementation in practice of Law 5366 for “The Sustainable Use of Downgraded Historical Real Estate through Protection by Renewal.” A number of projects which directly affect the World Heritage property have been developed within the framework of this new law, although not all have yet been designated for implementation by the Council of Ministers.
TheSüleymaniye Renewal Project, the Zeyrek Area Study, the Ayvansaray Turkish Quarter Urban Renewal Area Study, and the Cankurtaran and Sultanahmet Implementation for Conservation Plan have not yet been revised, in order to prioritise the conservation of existing historic buildings rather than new construction and in order to constitute Conservation Implementation Plans for the four core areas, to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre, as recommended by the 2006 World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission and in conformity with Decision 31 COM 7B.89 of the World Heritage Committee. In addition, Fatih Municipality has developed a Sulukule Urban Renewal Project within the Theodosian Land Walls core area, which involves displacement of the long-established Roma minority. This project has met considerable debate and a balance must be found between conservation, social needs and identity of local communities. Beyoğlu Municipality has developed a renewal project for the Tarlebaşı historic district, which is under consideration for inclusion in the new buffer zone.
The Board of Renewals has been created to accelerate projects implemented within the framework of Law 5366 and to ease the process of expropriation and other bureaucratic issues. It has a similar structure to the other Protection Boards.
The Rehabilitation of Fener and Balat Districts Programme, for which 7 million Euros funding was secured from the European Union with the support of UNESCO, has been successfully implemented and will terminate in June 2008.
e) Archaeological mitigations
As recommended by the 2006 mission, work for the Marmaray Rail Tube Tunnel and Gebze-Halkah Surface Metro System Project has involved impressive archaeological mitigation activities, which have included the excavation of 32 Byzantine ships in Yenikapı. The extensive archaeological excavations of the northern end of the Roman and Byzantine Great Palace, carried out as part of the Four Seasons Hotel extension project, will be open to visitors as an archaeological park. In designing the approach to the new metro bridge across the Golden Horn, the original proposals were amended in order to ensure the preservation of the Genoese city walls of the Galata quarter.
f) Disaster Mitigation
The Istanbul Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness Project (ISMEP), funded by the World Bank, includes two components related to cultural heritage. The Inventorization and Multi-Hazard and Earthquake Performance Evaluation of the Cultural Heritage Buildings in Istanbul under the Responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is an innovative project for inventorying earthquake risk to 172 structures in 28 monumental complexes. The Earthquake Performance Assessment and Preparation of Structural Seismic Strengthening Designs for Cultural Heritage Buildings under the Responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Tourismcomponent will prepare proposals for retrofitting St Irene, Istanbul Archaeological Museum and the Mecidiye Kiosk in Topkapı Palace. The overall budget is USD 2.6 million and both components are being implemented by appropriately qualified international expert consultancies, as requested by the Committee.
g) Financial support for safeguarding the property
YTL 250 million (USD 201,475,000) has been allocated by the Ministry of Finance to Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010, of which YTL 50 million (USD 40,300,000) will be allocated to the conservation of the World Heritage property, with the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. In practice, the ministry’s own recently instituted system of grants has not significantly benefited private owners in the World Heritage property and the authorities have been unable to solve problems in transferring promised funds to the Turkish Timber Association, the NGO responsible for initiating the UNESCO-endorsed “Save our Roofs” Campaign to conserve historic timber houses.
New initiatives to improve interpretation of the property include the archaeological park which will enable the public to visit the excavated remains of the Roman and Byzantine Great Palace, which is being developed by a commercial sponsor, in the Sultanahmet core area, and the itineraries being developed in the same area by the Associazione Palatina-Istanbul, an NGO. Despite considerable press interest in the World Heritage status of Istanbul, institutional support for new awareness-building is still weak, particularly in relation to the municipalities.
i) Statement of outstanding universal value
The mission also discussed the statement of outstanding universal value based on two drafts, one prepared by ICOMOS Turkey and another one by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. A final draft is under preparation.