Istanbul: Water, Fountains, Taksim, and Infrastructural Tourism

A vendor of parakeets dwarfed by a late-Ottoman fountain, vicinity of Gedik Paşa Caddesi, Istanbul, 2012. (Fuji X100) Click to enlarge.

A vendor of parakeets dwarfed by a late-Ottoman fountain, vicinity of Gedik Paşa Caddesi, Istanbul, 2012. (Fuji X100) Click to enlarge.

Like some cities, Istanbul arose because of water.  Like all cities, Istanbul is sustained by water.

Istanbul is situated at the juncture of strategic waterways central, since the dawn of history, to world trade.  The narrow channel of the Bosporus divides European from Asian Istanbul and links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara  and, beyond it, via the Dardanelles, to the Aegean and Mediterranean.  River channels flowing into these waterway shaped the geography of Istanbul and, for centuries, the placid inlet of the Golden Horn provided the city with the advantage of a sheltered, defensible harbor.

Fountains and Taksim

Istanbul is fed by a water distribution system that has grown incrementally over two millennia.  Until modern times, aqueducts conveyed water from the west and north into city where it was stored in reservoirs and cisterns and delivered to end users via neighborhood fountains endowed by legacies and pious foundations.  Hundreds of such fountains survive until today.  Some are monumental, others pedestrian; some function, others not; some have been grandly restored, others forgotten or subjected to Gerry-built repairs.  (Taksim Square, the site of recent demonstrations , derives its name — literally “branch” — from its past role as a distribution point for water brought by aqueduct from the lakes and forests of the Istanbul’s Black Sea coast).

Infrastructural Tourism

Back in May, I was visited in Istanbul by the family of a former client/colleague, a specialist in the funding and evaluation of infrastructure and infrastructural projects and an expert in the fields of fresh and waste water.  The thrust of our day together was to note the features of the layers of infrastructure — including Ottoman-era fountains — that have served Istanbul over centuries past and during its ten-fold growth in population during the twentieth.  We referred to our itinerary as “infrastructural tourism.”  Alas, we cannot call this phrase our own. Infrastructural tourism appears already to be underway, albeit searching for its own content and method, as per this report at Design Observer.


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