Istanbul secures presence in World Heritage List

UNESCO Turkey Representative Gürcan Türkoğlu said the decision was particularly important.

Istanbul has finally been assured that it will not be threatened with exclusion from UNESCO’s World Heritage List, according to a decision made by the organization’s board Thursday in Paris.

Last year, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee issued a statement that the city’s exclusion from the World Heritage List would be discussed at the board’s annual meeting in Brazil.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, UNESCO Turkey Representative Gürcan Türkoğlu said the decision was particularly important, because it also stated that Istanbul’s exclusion would not be on the agenda again.

“This is very good news,” he said, adding that if the board had not decided to rule out discussion of Istanbul’s possible removal from the list in subsequent years, the threat would only have been temporarily avoided. “But now we do not have to worry; we got rid of the risk for good.”

The World Heritage Committee draft dated June 1, 2010, stated that in the 34th annual meeting of the committee which took place between July 25 and Aug 3, in Brazil, Istanbul would be listed on the World Heritage in Danger list, with the possibility of being omitted from the World Heritage List altogether in 2011. The draft gave a list of issues to be amended in order to protect the cultural heritage in the city and if the required amendments were not fulfilled by the time the annual meeting started, the committee would declare Istanbul as a place of an endangered cultural heritage.

A nongovernmental organization called the Istanbul Urban Movement publicized the risk to raise media awareness and started a signature campaign to save Istanbul from being removed from UNESCO’s list. At the end of last year’s meeting, UNESCO delayed the procedure for Istanbul’s exclusion.

A new management plan for UNESCO

The issues the committee demanded from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality were amendments to be made on the metro bridge construction over the Golden Horn; renovation of Istanbul’s city walls; the Marmaray project, an undersea rail tunnel that will link the European and Anatolian sides of the city; a protection plan for the traditional wooden houses of Istanbul; and a master plan to relieve the traffic burden on the historical peninsula.

UNESCO’s main focus was the metro bridge construction over the Golden Horn. The project was discussed by the UNESCO board with a focus on all its aspects, such as its effects on the landscape and on the architectural silhouette of its surrounding, but the board also kept a keen eye on the engineering and technical aspects of the project.

Türkoğlu said UNESCO discussed the project with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and requested the municipality to prepare management plans, which the municipality agreed.

“As a result, the related branches of the municipality prepared a 250-page report with supervision of German and Italian experts and presented it to UNESCO,” Türkoğlu said.

He said that according to the new plan, the metro’s pillars would be shortened, the columns would be narrower and that the lighting on the bridge would be redesigned.

Noting that UNESCO was not against the metro project, Türkoğlu said UNESCO thought that the project might affect Istanbul’s silhouette negatively. However, Türkoğlu said, “with the proper management plan they got over this problem.”