Europa Nostra Turkey urges government to cancel redevelopment plans for Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square

Gezi Park, adjoining the emblematic Taksim Square, is one of the few green areas in central Istanbul. Designed by the renowned French architect and urban planner Henri Prost in 1939 and built on a site formerly occupied by a military barracks complex, the park has become an Istanbul landmark. Government plans to rebuild the 19th century barracks and demolish Gezi Park were strongly contested by environmental and heritage organisations, including Europa Nostra Turkey. The police crackdown on protesters occupying the park on 31 May sparked a two-week wave of demonstrations across the country and has drawn international attention to the case. On 14 June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the suspension of the redevelopment project until a court has ruled on the issue and promised to hold a referendum if the court found in its favour.

Taksim Square - Gezi Park Protests, İstanbul. Photo: Alan Hilditch (CC BY 2.0)

Taksim Square – Gezi Park Protests, İstanbul. Photo: Alan Hilditch (CC BY 2.0)

To allow pedestrianisation and ease traffic around Taksim Square, an extended area of Gezi Park would be replaced by concrete, according to the current plans. The redevelopment would also include the construction of a replica of the military barracks complex, which would house a shopping centre and other multifunctional spaces.

Europa Nostra Turkey, together with ICOMOS – International Council on Monuments and Sites Turkey, reiterated the plea to the government to cancel the project on 31 May. ‘Gezi Park deserves to be preserved both for its greenery and its design. It is the only public green space in Turkey with monumental-axial planning. Although the park has been neglected over the past decades, it has preserved its integrity and significance. The correct course of action is therefore to restore the park and replenish its essential features, setting it in its rightful place on the urban and cultural landscape”, read the statement made by Europa Nostra Turkey and ICOMOS Turkey.

“The proposed reconstruction of the artillery barracks would result in the creation of a building which would only ‘look’ like the old one but it would lack any authenticity in terms of materials, details and function. The replication of a lost architectural element or urban image cannot be classified as historic preservation. The reconstruction of the military barracks is therefore a meaningless effort which would only result in creating a “Disneyland” at the very centre of Taksim Square, a space full of 20th century memories of the city and the Turkish people”, stated the two organisations.

Among the several initiatives undertaken by Europa Nostra Turkey and ICOMOS Turkey was a petition sent to Istanbul No 2 Regional Commission on the Conservation of Cultural Property calling for the registration of Gezi Park and Taksim Square on the national inventories, based on their place in the history of the Republican Period and in the public memory, on 8 February 2012. The commission has not yet replied to their request.

Europa Nostra strongly backs the appeal made by the two organisations. “What has happened in Istanbul is a powerful confirmation of a deep connection between citizens, their memories and their environment. Their concerns and their voices must be taken into account. They must take part in discussions on any development plans which may seriously affect their quality of life”, stated the President of Europa Nostra, Plácido Domingo, at a press conference at the Acropolis Museum in Athens on 16 June.

Latest articles about Campaigns

‘Group of Friends of Culture-Based Climate Action’ launched at COP 28 in response to Global Campaign by Cultural Voices

Europa Nostra and ALIPH reinforce their partnership to protect cultural heritage in EU neighbouring countries and to promote a culture-based climate action

The Venice Manifesto For a European Cultural Citizenship

More Articles +