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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
news
News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Assistant

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Anna Woodward: German Speaking Accountant

£45,000: Anna Woodward: My client is aleading global manufacturer and service ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower