From the Empire's Quest for Glory to Radical Modernization Project of the Republic

This article is a brief survey of the first 100 years of urban planning in Turkey as manifested in the country's three major cities: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. The article focuses on the potential utility of urban plans as sources for understanding the history of cities. In doing so, it seeks to bring to the forefront the sources available to the researcher. Urban planning in the Ottoman Empire began in Istanbul in the first half of the nineteenth century. Planning, in those years, was undertaken as a response to frequent fires that devastated cities, increasing urban population, integration of the empire's cities into the world capitalist system as well as a general desire by the ruling elite to modernize their cities. In the first thirty years of the Turkish Republic, urban planning became a tool to propagate the radically modernist “Republican Project” of the ruling elite. Attention was shifted to Ankara —the new capital— and planning was used to project the image of an independent, progressive political regime and a proud nation. Urban plans, although very important primary sources for understanding the history of cities, are sometimes of limited use on their own. This is partly because they are not descriptive, but prescriptive documents. They dictate what ought to happen. Whether a plan's stipulations were actually implemented needs to be checked against other sources to get a coherent picture.


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