The Galata Tower joins the provisionals

By CORNUCOPIA BLOG | August 2, 2013


Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism proudly announced this week that another group of landmarks has been added to the UNESCO temporary World Heritage list. Most prominently – the Galata Tower, seen here in a photograph by Fritz von der Schulenburg for the next Cornucopia.

Originally built in 1348 to mark the uppermost corner of a walled city built by the Genoese colony (they called it Christea Turris, Tower of Christ) it was the tallest building in Constantinople until the late 1960s. Down the centuries the tower has had many usages, including acting as a lookout for city fires – unfortunately it was ravaged by fire a few times itself, notably in 1794 and 1831, and even lost its conical top at one point (restored between 1965 and 1967). More recently it has served as a sleazy gazino. It is, however, a good place to plan a tour of Istanbul, with the Old City, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn spread out below you. And now it has picked up a little UNESCO recognition to celebrate its 665th birthday. 

Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea is the theme of the latest additions to the UNESCO 'tentative list'. Among the other six 'provisionals' are the romantic ruins of Yoros Castle at the top of the Bosphorus. Take the boat to the village of Anadolu Kavağı and start walking. Nowhere better to clear the cobwebs before ending up in one of the village's many fish restaurants. Given to the Genoese colony in 1275, the fortress had, until this summer, a gorgeous view out to the Black Sea, across which the Geonoese once had a profitable business shipping Eurasian slaves down from the Crimea into the Mediterranean – when Renaissance princes stopped buying them, the Eyptians took over and used them to build the Mamluk empire. The downside was the fleas – and, with, them, the Black Death.

The view from Yoros is now to be marred by the insane new motorway bridge – it is a puzzle how UNESCO, who deleted Dresden from its World Heritage list for a much more modest affair, failed to comment on this new addition to the PM's bulging portfolio. We may suffer from cynicism on the Cornucopia Blog, but we cannot resist spotting another fly in the ointment. A UNESCO-listing in Turkey these days appears only to matter when you can boast about it. It does little to prevent listed sites actually being vandalised – only last month the mayor of Fatih's bulldozers charged into the 1500-year-old gardens of Yedikule ripping up the archaeologically-rich area surrounding the UNESCO-listed city walls. This was, as Alessanra Ricci, the Harvard Byzantine art historian, told us, 'in sharp contrast… to the Historic Peninsula Site Management Plan approved in 2011 by the greater Istanbul municipality and, of course by the Fatih municipality'. 'UNESCO demanded the city of Istanbul to urgently design a Site Management Plan for its cultural heritage in order to prevent the city from being inserted into the "endangered list".' Design away... (Turkish speakers should listen to the excellent Acık Radyo programme.)

There is also no doubt glee in the construction community. The Galata Tower was always in danger of doing the splits. It will make a nice little earner putting that right. As for Yoros, well, that is just the most fragile (and pointless) of rarities in Istanbul – a completely unreconstituted, unreconstructed, utterly romantic ruin with a breathtaking 360-degree view of forest, Bosphorus and Black Sea (albeit obscured by builders' dust) – but just think of the cute little Juliet balconies that will no doubt grace those hills one day.

Of course, this is not the fault of all the people who worked so hard to get the sites listed. To them we can only offer our unreserved congratulations and hope that they are able to get the funds to conserve them properly and scientifically. Ultimately we can only pray this kadir gecesi that a climate kinder to the heritage will once again prevail in Turkey. There are heroes out there – and goodness they know their stuff – but they need real encouragement and support, not just vague titles. UNESCO needs to start stamping its feet. Istanbul is endangered.

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