Historical waterway in Istanbul needs urgent care for sustainable use

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Kirkcesme or Forty Fountains, the last part of the historical waterway systems in Istanbul, is still running and providing fresh water to residents after some 2,000 years.

The line was first built during the Roman Empire period and later restored and transformed into a 55-km-long complex system by Mimar Sinan, a renowned architect of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

Sinan constructed large weirs, dams of the time and water canals passing mountains and hills and linking hundreds of water supplies to ensure a continuous flow of water from the neighboring Belgrade Forest to the historic peninsula of Istanbul.

With Istanbul being a peninsula stranded by seas on three sides, fresh water supply has always been a critical issue for the city, as it does not have adequate fresh water reserves.

Rulers of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires had to invest in complex and costly aqueduct systems to meet the demand of their capital city.

While the other waterway systems have been disappeared over time, Kirkcesme has survived as one of the most complex ancient working aqueduct systems in the world.

Unplanned urbanization and indifference of the authorities, however, have caused extensive damage to the system.

“A comprehensive project should be launched for the system to become a world tourism brand,” said Huseyin Irmak, a history consultant with Istanbul’s Kagithane district.

“First of all it has witnessed three civilizations and passed different eras from antiquity to new age,” he told Xinhua, noting that the building of new neighborhoods and highways nearby are jeopardizing the flow of clean water.

What is more, many spots in the system have been targeted by treasure hunters, with new holes left by them, in addition to acts of vandalism, according to the consultant.

“If the system becomes a world-recognized brand and a popular tourism destination, it would be under the scrutiny of public eyes, and the authorities would be compelled to offer the best preservation for it,” he said.

Olcay Aydemir, an architect with the Istanbul-based Sebahattin Zaim University, highlighted the importance of education in preserving such an important water system.

In her view, water culture should be introduced as a lesson at school, “so that children from their early ages would understand the importance of water and its meaning for life.”

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has taken the first step lately by funding the production of a documentary on Kirkcesme in Turkish and English, which highlights the role of waterways in shaping Istanbul.
“We have made this documentary in a move to introduce this beautiful ancient system, which is still able to convey water,” said Umut Mete Soydan, producer and director of the documentary.

“We have to attract the public attention to this waterway, otherwise its unique beauty built by Sinan will soon be demolished,” he cautioned.

He urged travel agencies to integrate Kirkcesme into their itineraries by introducing daily off-road vehicle tours.

“Building observation terraces would also help present the different state-of-the-art parts of the system,” he said, citing the example of Maglova Aqueduct.

Maglova Aqueduct, a crucial part of the system that stands over the Alibey River in Belgrad Forest, is recognized as a masterpiece for its engineering and architectural design as it has its own pedestrian reach, extraordinary acoustic system and its own insurance system against floods.

“Thanks to Sinan’s design, water is even flowing within a closed place to prevent water pollution,” said Soydan.

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