Justin Vela

BOSPORUS BLOG: Pamuk’s museum and an Istanbul property tale…

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BOSPORUS BLOG: Pamuk’s museum and an Istanbul property tale


May 2, 2012

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, opened a museum April 28. Ensconced in Istanbul’s Cukurcuma neighbourhood, which is known for artists, expats and antique shops, the museum celebrates the past (and Pamuk); it is likely to put the already charming area more on the map.

Based on his 2008 novel of tragic love, “The Museum of Innocence”, Pamuk’s museum is located between an old wooden mosque and a hamam, or Turkish bath, in Cukurcuma, a small leafy neighbourhood about 10 minutes walk from the city’s central Taksim Square and adjacent to Cihangir, one of the city’s most sought after real estate spots.

In a press conference on April 27, Pamuk, who is as much a symbol of Turkey for his once being charged with “insulting Turkishness” after talking about the Armenian genocide as his novels, described how Istanbul had changed in the past 10-15 years. When he first bought the building to house the museum in 1999, Cukurcuma was rundown, with others saying it had a reputation for being unsafe and frequented by wandering drunks. Now, the entire city – especially central neighbourhoods like Cukurcuma, Cihangir, Galata and the port district of Karikoy – are being transformed as the city becomes “richer” and the Istanbul of Pamuk’s childhood, which he remembers in his nostalgia-rich novels, disappears. “I cannot keep up with the change,” he says, describing himself as a chronicler of Istanbul.

In place of the city that Pamuk knew are high-rises and gentrification. He describes the museum as Istanbul’s first city museum, a “modest” one, as a memento to a bygone city. Yet more than a place to remember the past, Istanbul’s present is seen in Cukurcuma in striking clarity. There are the antique shops where Pamuk claims to have bought many of the museum’s antiquities. Then there is also the rush to build and sell property in one of the most dynamic cities in the region. Anyone aiming to live or invest in even as small a neighbourhood as Cukurcuma will be unable to escape the neighbourhood intrigue and rivalries that arise in the quest for property.

A local dispute

The centre of the city has been cleaned up, but Istanbul’s development threatens to become its own worst enemy. In Cukurcuma, this was evident a few weeks ago when Coskun Kilic – a Turkish man with Pamuk’s passion and more bluster – walked out onto the roof of his building and began throwing shingles at a group of construction workers below just a few buildings up the street from The Museum of Innocence.

The workers were finishing laying the foundations for a new building next to Kilic’s. The previous building had been torn down completely. The police were called, but Kilic moved to the edge of the roof and threatened to jump unless someone from the Istanbul mayor’s office came and examined the foundations that were being laid. Yelling loudly, Kilic claimed that the foundations did not comply with local code. In the days before climbing on his room, he had repeatedly requested that someone from the city municipality come and examine the foundations in person. No one came. So, as fire-trucks arrived and a massive inflatable cushion meant to break his fall was laid at the bottom of his building, he teetered at the edge of his roof, drawing a crowd of antique dealers and passersby.

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Written by Justin Vela

May 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

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