A Bridge Too Tall

Remember the fights over the Bay Bridge East Span's design; back in the 1990s. The main issues were architectural design, location of the bridge and cost.  Our "Golden" cousin, Istanbul, has a controversy on its hands where a fight is brewing over a proposed bridge* with bigger issues: a subway (metro) bridge that will either end the vice grip of traffic gridlock – or destroy the very cultural, historic, and architectural essence of this great historical and economically vibrant city. It's the age old debate between a city's aesthetics and cultural heritage compared with its practical side of being an economic machine and moving forward.
* The Golden Horn Metro Bridge was completed in 2014

Model of proposed Haliç Metro Bridge (Golden Horn Metro Bridge). Image: City of Istanbul
Resadiye Avenue with typical Istanbul traffic. Image: Brian Stokle/Urban Life Signs
Simply put, the bridge is desperately needed to complete a metro connection from the north to the south.  With Istanbul's dramatic hills and topography, much like San Francisco, the connection over the Golden Horn needs to be a bridge to ensure stations under the hills are not too deep; plus bridges are cheaper to build than tunnels.

The conflict isn't so much about the need for a bridge, but where the bridge goes on the Golden Horn, and the height of the bridge towers. The cable-stay bridge towers will go high enough to block or distract views of the Süleymaniye Mosque, one of the most significant in Istanbul. In addition, the bridge will essentially go right towards the mosque, meaning that views from the mosque will be dominated by the bridge. As a comparison, imagine the San Francisco Bay Bridge going straight to Coit Tower, or a bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey passing a few hundred feet from the Statue of Liberty.

Sulimaniye Mosque

Image Courtesy Istanbul SOS
Image Courtesy Turkey.com
There is no perfect solution to the situation. The architectural significance of the mosque is tremendous, as is the general view of the historic city from the Golden Horn. The bridge could have been built as a simple pontoon style bridge with no towers, which is what Istanbul SOS and other historic and architecture groups are advocating. According to Today's Zaman, UNESCO*, part of the UN and responsible for the preservation of world artifacts of universal value to mankind, threatened to delete İstanbul from its list of World Heritage Sites over the bridge, which it claims will destroy the view of mosques like the Süleymaniye on the historical peninsula. A compromise to lower the bridge towers from 82m to 64m seems to have assuaged UNESCO. In the end, the designers of the bridge are likely trying to build a new and attractive bridge that will add to the skyline, not lock the city in historic amber. The bridge will have yellow towers, and even a station in the middle of it. For all we know, it will be a beautiful modern addition to the city.

With that said, we grudgingly advocate the bridges construction. Unfortunately, if the bridge design falls short of gracefulness, and integration into the area of the Golden Horn, it's unlikely a "fix" could be made to make the bridge more attractive. Only time will tell if the bridge blends in well and is accepted by Istanbulites.


Istanbul is an incredibly historic city dating back to the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine created it in 330. Since then the city has thrived into a grand metropolis with great architectural structures marking its history over the past 1,600 years. Most famous in the West is the Hagia Sophia. Equally important, architecturally, is the Süleymaniye Mosque.

Istanbul has monumental traffic congestion and no metro rail system. Sure it has the greatest ferry system in the world (larger than Washington State or Hong Kong) but with its great population growth it needs a metro rail system to give an alternative to driving or taking a bus in traffic. As part of the young and growing metro system, a metro rail bridge is being built across the Golden Horn to link the business and commercial north side to the historic and architecturally significant south side. This cable-stay bridge, the Golden Horn Metro Bridge (Haliç Metro Koprusu), will have two towers and cables running between them and the roadway. The bridge will run nearly directly towards the truly magnificent Sulimanye Mosque, considered the greatest mosque of the Ottoman architect Sulimanye. Due to the towers and cables, the views of the mosque and the historic city will be blocked or distracted by the new bridge.
Photo: Today's Zaman/KÜRŞAT BAYHAN
Both the UNESCO and cultural heritage groups have called for a redesign of the bridge. The Turkish and Istanbul planners and government have lowered the towers so they will be no higher than the base of the mosque, which sits on a hill. The group Istanbul SOS still finds this inadequate. They have pushed for the bridge to be a simple low level bridge with no towers. The government won't have it.

So should the bridge go forward? Should construction stop for it to be redesigned to a simpler form that doesn't block the view of the historic city?

Let's back up a moment. Istanbul, famous for its long history, location on two continents, and being where East meets West, is also another big city with big city problems. However, it only recently became a HUGE city. With over 12 million people, it has joined the elite club of European mega cities. Paris and London have enjoyed "mega" status since the 1700s, and began building their metro systems to address their traffic woes in the l800s. Moscow, a more recent mega city started building a metro system in the 1930s. Istanbul started in the 1990s! Due to its huge population growth since the 1980s (+90% growth) and no real rail network, people either take ferries, buses or drive. Mix in the past decades stability and economic boom, and you have traffic gridlock.

Remember that mention of history. History is getting in the way of building Istanbul's new metro system, and its traffic problems overall.

More importantly, all of the existing bridges are very low, virtually pontoon-like, with drawbridges to allow large ships to pass through. Although the harbor here has largely been relocated across to the Asian side, it is a very important and cherished waterway in Istanbul. Plus you get great views of the city while crossing its bridges.

The controversy revolves around whether or not to build the metro bridge and if built, how tall can its towers be. However, the cost of tunneling under it is prohibitive. 


  1. If I'm not mistaken, the approximate cost of whole project for the metro bridge is about $420 million, Brian. One of the main objectives of this project was to reduce vehicle traffic within the Historical Peninsula. Though, I found the Metro Bridge to be far better than the Galata Bridge.

  2. I have to agree with Alphonse. Building bridges and constructing more roads may help reduce traffic congestion. Likewise, this may reduce travel time as well. As you try to build more bridges and roads, you can also create new routes in which people can find a new way to get to their destination in a shorter period of time.

  3. Alphonse, thanks for the budget numbers on the bridge. I wonder if that number would have been different with a simpler bridge, or the taller bridge.

    The Galata Bridge is very nice to cross, but nothing special to look at. I think my main concern with the NEW METRO BRIDGE is this: Have they designed it elegantly enough that it will look beautiful and attractive decades from now. I'm not familiar with the color preferences of Turks or Istanbulites, but the yellow towers seem a bit brash to me.

    Hopefully having the metro connection between the Historical Peninsula and Beyoglu will reduce traffic. I think it will help, but not solve all traffic problems. A more extensive transit system will need to be built over time to reduce vehicular traffic.


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