Tunnel vision: the €3bn project to join Europe and Asia that has split Turkey

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

After long delays a 150-year plan to connect Istanbul’s twin coasts is finally ready - albeit with only three of its planned 37 stations. But could this unpopular project trigger further protests?

Istanbul

More than 150 years since it was first dreamed up by an Ottoman sultan, Turkey will on Tuesday unveil the world’s first sea tunnel linking two continents.

The tunnel, which has taken nine years to construct under the Bosphorus straits, is part of Istanbul’s metro service, and will connect the European and Asian sides of Turkey’s biggest city.

Known as the Marmaray metro link, it is slated to revolutionise the city, where public transport is limited and traffic jams are the stuff of legend.

But not all of Istanbul’s 15 million residents – or the rest of Turkey for that matter – are overjoyed at the inauguration of the new line. Some see it as an unnecessary and expensive prestige project for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and it has fuelled anti-government sentiment that continues to bubble.   

First suggested by Ottoman sultan Abdoul Medjid in 1860, it wasn’t until 2004 that Erdogan – then Mayor of Istanbul – gave the final go-ahead for the tunnel, as part of a series of lavish construction projects for the city including a third airport, a parallel canal and a third bridge. It was one such project which prompted widespread unrest in May and June, after Istanbul’s residents protested against plans to bulldoze part of Gezi Park to make way for a huge shopping centre. When police used water cannons and tear gas to clear the peaceful sit in, violent protests erupted across the country.

Nine years after Erdogan gave it the green light, the €3.4bn (£2.9bn) first stage of the Marmaray project is now set to open – four years behind schedule. Presenting something of a technical challenge, the 1.4km long undersea tunnel was constructed by lowering steel-lined pre-cast concrete sections into a trench excavated 60m down on the seabed of the Sea of Marmara, where they were then buried. A further 12.2km of on-land tunnels connect the three stations which make up the project’s first phase.

The tunnel, constructed under the Bosphorus straits, will connect the European and Asian sides of Istanbul The tunnel, constructed under the Bosphorus straits, will connect the European and Asian sides of Istanbul  

The delays, however, stemmed not from technical issues but from the discovery of 8,500 year-old archaeological remains at the site of the main metro terminus – discoveries that were not welcomed by Erdogan, who saw them as inconvenient hold-ups.

“First [they said] there was archaeological stuff, then it was clay pots, then this, then that. Is any of this stuff more important than people?” he said at the time of discovery, two years ago.

His somewhat cavalier attitude to his city’s history has drawn widespread criticism, not least because many believe the delays could have been avoided archaeologists been consulted ahead of time.

“There were long delays and there should be a report commissioned to establish just why this happened,” says Tayfun Kahraman, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners.

The decision to hold a grand opening ceremony attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (35 per cent of advance funding for the project came from Japan) and a host of other foreign dignitaries on Tuesday – the 90th anniversary of the Turkish Republic – has been greeted with cynicism by many. Though it is being touted as a project that the nation should be proud of, less than 20 per cent of the planned 76km Marmaray line and only three of the planned 37 stations will actually be operational.

“They were expecting the Olympics but that didn’t work so they are emphasising this project,” says Cengiz Candar, columnist on respected Turkish daily Taraf, pointing to Turkey’s failure to land the 2020 Games.

The decision to push ahead with the project, and a similar decision to build a third road bridge across the Bosphorus despite popular opposition, closely mirror that taken earlier this year to destroy Gezi Park. The uncompromising police tactics used in June against many of the hundreds of thousands who turned out onto Turkey’s streets have ensured subsequent protests have been far smaller. But that has not prevented the appearance of tens of thousands of posters calling for mass protests on both the city’s European and Asian sides to coincide with the opening.

Bosphorus: a brief history

Marking the meeting point of Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus has been a flashpoint between civilisations for thousands of years.

As far back as the Roman Empire, the strait’s strategic significance has been recognised – a factor which led the Roman emperor Constantine to found his new capital, Constantinople, on its banks in 330 AD.

A plan to connect the two continents was originally conceived by the Ottoman Empire Sultan Abdoul Medjid in 1860. But the project came to nothing because of the lack of technical expertise available.

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
black friday
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; VMWare, Windows; Disley; £40k

£40000 per annum + benefits: Langley James : Senior Infrastructure Engineer; V...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?