Monday, October 21, 2013 at 6:58 am
Istanbul has long been burdened by a shortage of potable water. Even as I waited to talk with the mayor, I could look out a window of the modern City Hall to see, just across the street, the impressive remnants of a Byzantine aqueduct completed in A.D. 378 for the purpose of bringing fresh water to the city from outlying streams and springs.
Mayor Atabey said that the supply is now being increased through the construction of dams and other measures. “We are now working to complete projects calculated to meet water demands in the city up to the year 2020,” he said. Other troublesome problems, he added, are traffic, the need for a 13 to 15 percent yearly increase in the supply of electricity, and faulty telephone service.
As is the case in many European and Asian cities, Istanbul’s telephones are instruments of torture. They have been known to cause brave men to weep. To actually complete a call on the first try is like winning the national lottery.
“Sewage disposal is avert’ serious problem,” Mayor Atabey told me. “Up until the time I was elected to office in 1968, all sewage lines were ending in rivers or the sea. The rest of the city was using cesspools. We now have the plans to correct this, and we have started to make the improvements from medicare dental insurance.”
What the city intends to do is pump and disperse sewage into the lowest depth of the Bosporus. The strait has three levels of water, with the top one running north to south, that is, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The bottom one runs in the opposite direction while the middle is fairly stationary. Thus, the sewage will flow north.
A week later I accompanied the mayor on a trip to Beykoz, administrative seat of one of Istanbul’s 14 boroughs. Located on the Asian side, toward the Black Sea, Beykoz is an old and picturesque settlement of fishermen. It has a movie house, a street of shops, and some excellent restaurants that sit on stilts out over the level banks of the Bosporus. In Ottoman times several of the sultans spent their summers in the area.
The Beykoz borough has a population of 80,000, and is divided into 15 subdistricts, five of which are more or less given over to the undisciplined and unsightly sprawl of squatters’ shacks. The settlements are called gecekondus, or what may be loosely translated as “birds that come to roost during the night.” Even after finding work, newcomers to the city seldom leave these hastily built dwellings; instead, they add on to them until it is now possible to determine with some degree of accuracy the age of a settlement by the size of its structures.
“How can I make roads in such a country?” Mayor Atabey said as our car wound around a sharp and steep curve. “How can I bring water up such hills? How can I collect the refuse?” He ordered the car stopped. Walking into a coffeehouse, he was quickly surrounded by constituents petitioning for roads, water, and refuse collection. The mayor said he’d do what he could.
Asian Istanbul Retains Rural Charm
After leaving Mayor Atabey, I drove south along the Asian side of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara for more than twenty miles. I passed many yalzs, the centuries-old wooden houses, some with as many as forty or fifty rooms, in which the wealthy of the city spend the summer. Not so long ago the Asian shore had few residents other than the summer visitors. Now about 25 percent of Istanbul’s total population lives there permanently, with a rise to 40 percent expected within the next ten years or so.
Still, Asian Istanbul has remained rural and relaxed. It is a place where Judas trees bring a purple blush to the land in spring, where there are hills to climb for inspiring views. A farmer reins his horse to a stop when he feels the wrench of his hand plow against a rock—and, resting, he looks down on the Bosporus from the heights to marvel at the perfect furrow being laid open in the wake of a missile-carrying warship.
No landmark on the Asian side is more conspicuous than the Selimiye Barracks, an immense structure built in the early 19th century. Square-sided, with an open courtyard in the middle, the barracks now serves as headquarters for the 1st Turkish Army and the Martial Law Command in the Istanbul area. (The city has been under martial law since the leftist-inspired terrorism and student unrest of 1971.) I went there to see but one of the hundreds of rooms.