Istanbul's Galata Tower being destroyed by gov’t restoration project - municipal authority

(Updates with comments from deputy tourism minister, CHP Istanbul chairwoman, İBB video footage)

A Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism-led restoration at İstanbul's iconic Galata Tower is destroying the iconic 6th century structure, a leading municipal authority said.

The destruction being caused at the city’s iconic tower constitutes a crime and teams from the Istanbul Department of Cultural Assets have been dispatched to the site, Mahir Polat, the head of the department said on Twitter, where he shared a video footage of restoration efforts.

The demolition is taking place on the interior wall of the tower, which carries an Ottoman signature known as tughra, Polat told Bianet news site, adding that municipal teams sent to the area were previously denied access to the site. 

Moreover, the walls and main entrance of the structure are also being destroyed, he told T24 news site.

In June, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism announced that restoration works had begun on the tower and the structure would be reopened for visitors on September 15.

Following the municipal elections of March 2019, which saw the main opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu elected as mayor of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was handed over to the Directorate General of Foundations. The Istanbul municipality filed for an interim injunction on the Galata Tower to prevent it from being handed over to third parties, but the tower was cleared out in April at the request of the Directorate General of Foundations. The directorate then handed the tower over to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which began restorative work.

"This is not restoration… it is a demolition,’’ Polat said. "No institution can demolish a historic building, a wall with hammer drills in this fashion.’’

The municipality is preparing to file a criminal complaint over the restoration, he said.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairwoman Canan Kaftancıoğlu arrived on site on Wednesday to inspect the restoration work, BBC Turkish reported.

Kaftancıoğlu said the work being done was no different than the destruction caused to historic structures by the Islamic State (ISIS).

“When I watched what is happening to the Galata Tower, I observed that it is not different than what ISIS does to historic artefacts,’’she said, adding the party would do everything its power to protect the city’s historical wealth.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ahmet Misbah Demircan, on Wednesday said the tower would soon be opened for visitors.

“We have approved drilling and the removal of plaster from the walls and the necessary work has been conducted,’’ Demircan said on Twitter. “We have begun work accordingly.’’

On Saturday, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) posted video footage of what it called the ‘’scandalous’’ destruction of the Galata Tower.

The video showed the iconic tower resembling a construction site, with its windows removed and work being done on a new stairwell.