Tarlabaşı I

29 Jul

Of all the martyred neighborhoods of old İstanbul, probably none has been the object of such concentrated abuse as Tarlabaşı in Beyoğlu, the mahalla that covers the north-by-northwest slope down from the İstiklal Caddesi (the “Jadde” of this blog) to Dolapdere, the old parish of Hagioi Konstantinos and Helene, the neighborhood dissected by the yellow artery called Tarlabaşı Bulvarı on the first map below, running between Taksim and Tepebaşı, then down to the Horn at Şişhane.  Beyoğlu is the municipality that pretty much encompasses that entire triangle on the northern side of the Horn, which previously contained, if not most of the City’s minority neighborhoods, then — till the fifties — its densest concentration of them.

(click on maps)

Always a working-class neighborhood, the three or four-story brick and plaster houses of Tarlabaşı were always smaller and narrower, with lilliputian cumbas, than that of the townhouses and apartment buildings of Pera or the nicer, upper neighborhoods of Galata; that’s still how you can tell you’ve wandered down into Tarlabaşı.  But as went the rest of Beyoğlu, so did Tarlabaşı.  Anti-minority legislation, too complicated to get into here, caused an exodus of the area’s population; the one piece we might most want to credit with the decline of the area was the deportation in the early sixties of any Greeks in İstanbul that held dual-citizenship, close to half the community (but what a dream-world that seems like now, where one could have both), under conditions that made it impossible to dispose of property correctly or re-enter the country in order to do so: confiscations essentially.  The Republican bourgeoisie decamped decades before to what are the still posher areas to the north, thousands of buildings in the group of neighborhoods we’re talking about were left empty and ownerless (or technically, property of the municipality), and either almost falling down or squatted in by migrants from rural Anatolia.

Then came a move in the 1970s or 80s — I’m not sure — that indicated just how dead and beyond redemption the city government considered the whole area to be.  A six-lane highway (yes, a highway essentially), Tarlabaşı Bulvarı , was driven through the heart of the neighborhood from below Azapkapı to Taksim (though it’s not known as Tarlabaşı Bulvarı for its entire length).  It split Tarlabaşı in half: a giant Moloch that is one of the world’s most hideous and anti-urban thoroughfares – the equivalent of what Robert Moses wanted to build through the now most vibrant neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan.  It’s such a crucial axis that one can’t help but think that some form of it existed before, but not widened to this degree and not to accommodate this kind of traffic. 

On your left, heading up towards Taksim, were left the sagging facades of a rotting neighborhood.  To your right, there were no facades at all, just the sides of walls that abutted old, demolished buildings and seemed ready to fall themselves.  The dust still seemed to be everywhere.  The “boulevard” runs just under the ground floor windows of the Pera Palace’s kitchens: you can peek in if you’re fast enough, but most likely you won’t have to be so vigilant because you’ll be stuck in traffic.  It destroyed one of the most famous and romantic views of İstanbul, out west over the Golden Horn, from one of the most elegant streets in Pera that abutted a small Catholic cemetery, Les Petits Champs des Morts (I don’t know if that’s what the street itself was called too; Greeks called it “ta mnematakia,” the little gravestones – now the Meşrutiyet Caddesi), and though the view is still there, you now have to view it from above the din and diesel fumes of trucks and buses in first gear groaning up the hill and curves of the boulevard, and from one of the saddest little corporate plazas of one of the saddest and already decrepit convention centers in the world that was built over the little cemetery.

Les Petits Champs des Morts, now the Meşrutiyet Caddesi, also one of the sites of the 2003 bombings (below)

Much of Beyoğlu followed the urban gentrification patterns of most of the world’s inner cities after the nineteen-nineties, but this time Tarlabaşı didn’t follow the rest of the area.  Just like all the sharpest New York realtors in the city will never make the Bushwick ‘hoods east of the BQE, “East Williamsburg;” just the way the Cross-Bronx Expressway severed the South Bronx forever from the natural fabric of the rest of its borough and forever destroyed it, eventually leaving it a bombed-out shell; there was no saving Tarlabaşı; the upper Pera-adjacent areas remain sleazy; the Cross-Bulvar, down-slope neighborhoods even more so and desperately poor.

But now the Beyoğlu municipality has a plan.  May Christ, the Virgin and the Prophet, Peace be Upon Him, save your City from “Plans.”  (Or as Mexicans say: “If you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans.)  They’re going to save Tarlabaşı by remodeling the fatal dissection that was inflicted on it in the first place.  They’re going to make Tarlabaşı Bulvarı the “Champs Élysées” of İstanbul.  Just the terms and references they use to refer to the project reveal the AKP and Turkey’s neo-Muslim middle-class in all its philistine glory.  One sometimes hopes that all of Beyoğlu would become instantly gentrified overnight – gay martini bars and everything, the works — just so there would be no one left there to vote for them.  Either way, the crowds from Saudi and Kuwait will love it, which may point to one more of the project’s painful, eventual consequences: the new “boulevard” may draw all the Luis Vuitton and Max Mara type business (for tourists who don’t know how to find them in Teşvikiye or Maçka), and condemn the İstiklal to low-end shabbiness again.

(Please see this great website: Tarlabaşı İstanbul for any and all information on the neighborhood and the upheaval it’s going through — again)

Done cringing?  Here’s more.  They’re going to line it, as far as I know, with “Ottoman-style” townhouses and wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.  Which will only mean more demolitions and the final displacement of the mahalla’s rural, migrant populations – people with even fewer resources than the minorities of the area displaced before them — deeper into the suburban anonymity and the intolerable distances of the metropolis’ commuter Bantustans.

A before and after of Fıçıcı Abdi Sokağı — happy blonde couples, a salaryman with his briefcase, no more laundry or Kurds or unsanitary manavedes, and — of course — a bicycle.  (Click — you must click to appreciate the sheer and nauseating classism of these images)

Where are the Jews of the South Bronx, once New York’s largest concentration, after Moses drove his Cross-Bronx nightmare through the heart of the borough?  Its Italians and their marketplaces?  Or its old Puerto Ricans?  Out.  Done.  In Great Neck, in Staten Island, up in Kingston, disappearing into gringoland, or back in PR, and no longer contributing what they used to to the rest of the city.  Maybe finally the Beyoğlu municipality can consult Bloomberg – a Boston philistine if there ever was one — on building bicycle paths up and down the hill.  Then there’ll be parking permits for Beyoğlu residents only and exorbitant fines if you dare to violate them, and our Pera will be about as exciting as Cambridge.

And you’ll always feel the nagging guilt of a paper you have to write whenever you’re there.

Finally, one can only imagine what the AKP planners have in store for the point where Tarlabaşı Bulvarı finally reaches Taksim.  Taksim is often described as İstanbul’s central square but it is and has for a long time been only an ugly traffic intersection.  Like Columbus Circle in New York, it’s been an almost impossible space to beautify and like a dish that starts off badly, the more you try to fix it –maybe some more salt, maybe some more water — the worse it gets.  It’s the top of a hill; the peak of the Pera ridge actually, and it has a top-of-the-hill, convex feel, but without having any views around it, which is very physically disconcerting.  More than one Modern Greek fiction source says that there used to be a view.  On top of that, none of the surrounding buildings refer in any way to the shape of the space, all their facades facing the streets that run off the square and not the square itself, and there’s a park on the north that I’ve never actually gone into (maybe there’s a view from there) but is fronted by an unattractive strip mall of shops, though on the south side the wide plaza that’s been formed by the pedestrianized Jadde’s entrance into the square, against the stone building which I’ve never managed to learn the identity of (on the right of photo below — is that the reservoir?), is very pleasant and piazza-like.

Taksim (click)

Anyway.  Islamists in Turkey, light, dark and in-between, have long had a hard-on for the fact that the single most prominent and attractive building that looms over Taksim is the Greek church of the Hagia Triada with its cross-topped dome and bell-towers (see below).  They keep vowing, over and again, to counter that with something, and surely, even if it’s not part of this Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor project, it’ll be some kind of Neo-Islamist, Emirates-type monster in the end, which gives us a lot to look forward to.  The flower vendors will sure be gone.  More to come.

Hagia Triada (above and below — click)

Hagia Triada and, off the right side of the facade, the impressive Zappeion Girls’ Lycée, once one of the most prestigious Greek high schools in the city, sister school to the Zografeion Boys’ Lycée, further down near Galatasaray.  The Zappeion new, below; see this website of someone who’s made a short documentary on the school: Zappeion

The entrance to the Zografeion (below)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

See Tarlabaşı II and Tarlabaşı III

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