Seeing the Invisibles of the Historical Peninsula: Arendtian View of the Cistern of AetiusSeda Nur Gündüz, Emel Birer
The open cisterns that were built on the hills of Istanbul have been able to survive through centuries, beginning from the Byzantine period, and with certain changes in their function. Paradoxically, defining the cisterns as visible is not possible in today’s Istanbul, despite their historical background. Accordingly, this hypothesis has been suggested based upon spatial reflections of Hannah Arendt’s discourses on visibility in the public realm. Therefore, the purpose of the research is to investigate the reasons behind the facts that make the cisterns (Çukurbostans) invisible –while they are expected to be visible. Within the scope of this study, the Cistern of Aetius (Karagümrük Çukurbostanı, Vefa Stadium today) has been chosen as a case study because of its close proximity to the Theodosian Walls and its location on the Mese (Divanyolu for Ottoman Empire). As the Arendtian perspective defines the visibility in public spaces, the selected cistern has been examined in terms of large and small scale contexts and historical and social contexts. The findings show that the cistern turned into a semi-public space, because a stadium is open only when there is a football match. On the other hand, the architectural shape of the stadium hides the 1600-year old walls of the cistern. Therefore, the cistern is not visible, both physically and perceptionally. Therefore, When the cistern becomes visible, it will be a new touristic destination in the Historical Peninsula.
Tarihi Yarımada’nın Görünmeyenlerini Görmek: Aetius Sarnıcı’na Arendtçi BakışSeda Nur Gündüz, Emel Birer
Bizans döneminde, kentin tepe noktalarına yerleştirilen açık su sarnıçları tarihten bu yana değişen işlevleriyle günümüze kadar gelebilmişlerdir. Uzun bir tarihsel ve işlevsel yolculuğu hafızasında barındırmakta olan çukurlar günümüz İstanbul’unda görünür değildir. Bu hipoteze 20. yüzyıl siyaset bilimci ve felsefeci Hannah Arendt’in kamusal alanda görünebilirlik söylemlerinin kentsel mekânda bulduğu karşılıklara bakılarak ulaşılmıştır. Bu çalışmanın amacı Tarihi Yarımada’da bulunan ve köklü tarihiyle kentsel mekânda görünebilir olması beklenen çukurbostanların görünebilirliğinin önüne geçen nedenleri araştırmaktır. Çalışma kapsamında Mese (Divanyolu) üzerinde yer alması ve Theodosius Surları’na yakınlığı nedeniyle Karagümrük’teki Aetius Sarnıcı (Karagümrük Çukurbostanı) şimdiki Vefa Stadyumu örnek alan seçilerek sarnıcın görünebilirliği, tarihî ve sosyal bağlamları tartışılarak alt ve üst ölçek ilişkileri üzerinden incelenmiştir. Aetius Sarnıcı’nın bugün kamusal alan olamayışı, stadyum kullanımının sarnıcın duvarlarının üzerini örtmesi ve 1600 yıllık değerinin göz ardı edilmesi gibi bulguların tespit edilip sarnıcın görünebilirliliğinin sağlanabilmesi durumunda, Tarihi Yarımada gezi rotalarına yeni bir varış noktası eklenerek anlamlı bir bütün oluşturulacağına inanılmaktadır.
The open cisterns -also called Çukurbostan- built on the hills of Istanbul have been able to survive through centuries, beginning from the Byzantine period, and with specific changes in their functions. For example, before they turned into public spaces (parks/green areas) or semi-public spaces (such as a football stadium), they served as edible gardens for urban agriculture (both in the Byzantium and Ottoman periods), elephant houses for the elephants belonging to the Ottoman Empire, and mini football fields for local people mostly in the 1980s and earlier. As the above-exemplified functions indicate, these great pits had always been beneficial for society. Similarly, while they were part of the water supply system of Istanbul, the stored water was utilized for agricultural purposes. In brief, the practical use of cisterns in the past refers to publicness and public service. Whereas at present, even though they preserve and maintain their existence as public parks (and as a football stadium), the publicness of the parks is a topic of discussion, it is paradoxically invisible in the urban space. Thus, defining the cisterns as visible is not possible in today’s Istanbul, despite their historical background. In this perspective, the hypothesis pointing out invisibility has been suggested based upon the spatial reflections of Hannah Arendt’s discourses on visibility/appearance in the public realm. According to Arendt a) the most extensive publicity constitutes the appearance that the entire society realizes. Moreover, b) visibility defines publicness not only for today’s society but also for the community that lived in the past, and that will live in the future. On the other hand, c), as Arendt asserts, every being must be apparent and have a specialized form and benefit. Lastly, d) the public realm is rather peculiar to human nature than a handmade work or physical effort. Correspondingly, the purpose of the research is to investigate the reasons behind the facts that make the open cisterns (Çukurbostan) invisible –while they are expected to be visible.
The Historical Peninsula that is located in the area surrounded by the Theodosian Walls comprises three open cisterns: the Cistern of Mocius (a public park), the Cistern of Aspar (a public park), and the Cistern of Aetius (a football stadium). These cisterns play a prominent role in the city by their several distinctive features, depending upon their locations and land uses. However, to highlight these great pits’ invisibility, one of them needed to be selected based upon its past and present conditions. Therefore, within the scope of this study, the Cistern of Aetius (Karagümrük Çukurbostanı, Vefa Stadium today) constitutes the case study because of its proximity to the Theodosian Walls and its location on the Mese (Mese in Byzantium, Divanyolu in Ottoman Empire and Fevzi Paşa St. today). With regards to its general features, the 20,700 square meters open cistern with about 11 meters of walls is located on a long crowded historical axis called Fevzi Paşa Caddesi (Mese, Divanyolu). Nevertheless, its connection to this historical axis was disabled after making it semi-public by the Vefa Football Club’s buildings and stadium. The findings show that the cistern turned into a semi-public space, because a stadium is open only when there is a football match. On the other hand, the architectural shape of the stadium hides the 1600-year old walls of the cistern. Therefore, the cistern is not visible, both physically and perceptionally.
Accordingly, the reasons behind the invisibility of the open cistern are addressed through the Arendtian perspective. Concerning this, Arendt’s definitions of the visibility in public spaces that is summarized above in a, b, c, d refer to a set of contexts to investigate: the large scale context (a), historical context (b), small scale context (c) and social context (d). Consequently, the findings of contextual inquiry show that the Cistern of Aetius (Karagümrük Çukurbostanı) does not play a significant role in large scale connections to the Historical Peninsula and the rest of Istanbul, contrary to its proximity to the Theodosian Walls that represent the edges of the Historical Peninsula. Secondly, in the historical context, not having a connection to the cistern’s past due to hosting an architectural function that is not related to any public purpose is another main finding. Moreover, since the football stadium engages with a small group of people, the appearance of historicalness to the local people and tourists is a matter of concern. Otherwise, the crucial attachment with its past will completely disappear. Thirdly, the findings on the small scale context show the disconnect between the cistern and its local environment. The local citizens are neither able to directly enter and participate in the vast pit (because access is not provided), nor see the parts of the cistern from the streets that surround the pit. Lastly, the social context examination reveals that local governments and authorities are ignoring a possible public space with high potential thanks to both of its size and of the dense population of Karagümrük.
Arendt multidimensionally questions the issue of visibility. In response to this, this study suggests relevant solutions for the visibility of the place. In order to be a part of the city on a large scale, the cistern should be turned into an entrance of the Historical Peninsula. To protect the historicalness, the walls of the cistern should connect to visitors from different perspectives. On a small scale, the cistern should be welcoming to every citizen for more publicness. Lastly, as a contextual solution, greening the pit is going to make the city have a new public green which is also relevant to the cistern’s previous uses . In conclusion, when the visibility problems of the open cistern can be overcome, it will fit into a meaningful whole as a new tourist destination in the Historical Peninsula.