Istanbul’s historic Galata Tower is being 'renovated', one jackhammer blow at a time

Become an Observer Each year, thousands of tourists visit Istanbul’s Galata Tower, which is one of the

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Each year, thousands of tourists visit Istanbul’s Galata Tower, which is one of the city’s most well-known historical monuments. Restoration work on the medieval tower began in mid-August, but some are concerned that the project is being done carelessly. In one amateur video shared by the political opponents of the municipality, workers are using a jackhammer to knock down a wall.

Galata Tower stands guard over a historic neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey’s economic capital. It was built in the 14th century by the Genoese, who had colonized the area. Over its long history, the tower has been used as a lookout point, a astronomical observatory and a prison. Today, it is a tourist hotspot that attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Recently, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism initiated a renovation project for the tower. But people across Turkey have reacted with shock and outrage after a video shared on August 12 showed workers using a jackhammer to knock down a wall.

Mahir Polat is the director of the cultural heritage department within Istanbul’s city government. The government is currently run by the secular center-left Republican People’s Party (known as the CHP). Polat posted this video on Twitter along with the following message:

I’d immediately like the relevant authorities to draw attention to the shocking operations occurring at Galata Tower, one of the most important historical landmarks in Istanbul. A team from the city’s cultural heritage department went to the site to evaluate the situation and immediately put a stop to these criminal activities.

Polat then stated that he and his team hadn't been allowed access to the construction site and consequently published documents that appear to indicate that reconstruction on the tower began before the permit request was submitted to the Committee for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. The document that Mahir Polat shared [below] is a permit request for renovations dated August 12, the day that the video was published online.

Galata Tower has been a point of conflict between the national government and city officials in Istanbul since Ekrem Imamoglu was elected mayor on June 23, 2019. Imamoglu, a member of the secular opposition party CHP, beat former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, a member of AKP, the conservative Islamic party of President Recept Tayyip Erdogan. Imamoglu’s election marked a massive change for Istanbul, which had been run by AKP since 1994.

When Imamoglu was elected, the government fought to maintain control of the tower's management. In April 2020, after a long legal battle, they succeeded. Galata Tower is now under the control of the Ministry of Culture and has been undergoing renovation work in preparation for its scheduled reopening in September 2020.

"History is complaining about us again,” writes one social media user, who superimposed an image of Galata Tower by night with a screengrab showing the renovation work
Expected sanctions

Faced with the scandal generated by this video, Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy declared:

The allegations circulating on social media that "the walls of Galata are collapsing" are false. The parts that were demolished had been constructed after the tower itself, and these walls were damaging the tower itself.
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