From the pages of NCR-02 comes a text by Sevgi Ortaç.
A giant mass standing erect in the middle of the city. In a city so condensed that we can hardly all fit in, a structure casting a shadow of 7 km by 9 metres can only be called a geographical formation. If we don’t call it that, we may find ourselves in a fight. And the city walls themselves cannot escape this fight, not under the title of cultural heritage or as a tourist attraction. In a city where defence, separation and self-protection undergo a change in meaning, the walls that are in charge of separating order from unknowability, civilization from savagery must also be transformed.
Currently the massive ice rink built on the edge of the city walls and Ali’s house standing adjacent to the walls are gazing at each other; in actual fact they are both technically illegal. The space that brings together ‘the informal’ produced by the powers-that-be and that which is produced by Ali, was until recently the periphery of the city, an unwanted and discarded area, namely the city walls… in other words the passage, the threshold. The city walls function not only as an area in itself but also as a supporting structure. The flea market that is chased out of Beyazıt to Merkez Efendi, and from there to the “final fort”, is raided on a Sunday morning by the municipal police, set on fire. As the city walls, burnt to black, swing between maintaining their stand as a historical site and becoming a burning barricade in the middle of an armed conflict, the flea market loses its place and is replaced by the Gypsy tents erected in the trenches abandoned by the marketeers. The city walls, in all their spatiality, resist becoming a stage decor meant for spectators only. With the defensive function making up the essence of their architectural narrative, they embrace various sheltering structures adjoined to their entity, as well as the informal economy and the now-legendary city history. Consequently the walls are a problematic area of conflict and confrontation that is targeted as a place to be destroyed and passed over. In the midst of this city where the aim is to cover every single street with camera surveillance, the city walls make up a giant labyrinth complete with doors, ditches, vaults, and tunnels. It is a defense structure locked in a constant renewal process, offering an abundance of opportunities to hide behind or get lost inside. Neither Menderes’ demolitions, nor Dalan’s plans to build new walls, or the Unesco subsidies that got fed into construction companies, or the giant light sources aiming at the walls, could force them to submission. But at the end of the day, the activities to dry out the environment that nourishes the city walls have now entered a new phase. Demolition of Sulukule was just one of these activities. Even though the archeological findings in Sulukule have managed to slow down the process, the construction could not be stopped. Because the archeological excavation site was decorated with balloons and used as a foundation pit on the opening day. The Marmaray Project also came to a halt on account of archeological findings. So a few houses stuck between the city walls and the metro construction site gained some time. Whilst all attention was focused on Sulukule, small construction sites appeared along the walls in Mevlevihanekapı, Belgradkapı, Yedikule and Edirnekapı, houses and plots changed hands, some were demolished in an instant and some are waiting to be demolished. As the settlements and the ever-changing spatial practices that take shelter in these settlements, the stories and legends surrounding the walls, the saints, martyrs, sages and wandering souls were forced out, on the other side of the walls was re-written a monophthong scenario of a conquest, and in mockery of the whole thing, a “high-technology visual feast” was constructed. Panorama 1453 – The Museum of Conquest, or the Historical Museum as known by those who check out the tramline maps, was appointed to serve as the guardian of the city walls. Thanks to this museum, a 3D explanation was given as to why the city walls managed to survive until today in an Islamic-Turkish city. It was because they were demolished to a sufficient extent in the first place. The celebrations of the great conquest, held every year since 1953 at Belgradkapı, were improved on the occasion of Istanbul becoming the European Cultural Capital in 2010. On the morning of May the 29th, a junior school girl recites a poem at the top of her voice during the Belgradkapı celebrations. The poet is calling out to the youth to conquer Istanbul yet once again, upon which the figurative janissaries blow up the figurative city walls and enter the city. Anyhow, the actual walls standing behind these figurative walls are not much more than a poor representation of themselves having suffered the blow of restoration when the celebrations first began. In the end, the public watching this show are enthused to the point of tears. On these public squares dominated by monuments dedicated to the Republic and statues of Atatürk, now appear the Conservative Islamic movement trying to create some space for themselves, looking for ways to become visible with their inflatable plastic models of Islamic architecture and exhibition stands covered with tile printed canvases. Those who once entertained themselves by spotting Atatürk-shaped clouds in the sky now meet with Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror dashing out of the clouds painted on the museum’s ceiling. If the people of Istanbul can practically lose themselves in the joy of having conquered the city in the space of a 100 square meters at the Museum of The Conquest, and if they can do this whilst their city gets parcelled out, then we may well conclude that there is no call for a debate over who stays and who goes. In order to comprehend the corresponding monumental value of these walls horizontally covering this city where we are all under vertical surveillance, we may have to understand the old-school genius of the mentality marketing the “360 degree panorama”. The horizon promised by the panorama in the museum will be revealed before us as soon as the walls – where the story came to a dead-end – are finally demolished. We are looking forward to the happy ending. But actually, the story will only start to get exciting after these old-fashioned walls holding the city together are pulled down. Because there is no horizon behind these walls. Only another city of new walls.