Tuesday, April 22nd 2014: Belgrade Forest


Turkey is a home full of valuable antiques. Small town, Kemerburgaz, north of Istanbul is one of the shelves within this home. On the shelf are dusty aqueducts from a time remembered as the Ottoman Empire. Like spring cleaning someone dusted the shelf, but didn’t dust the important contents that rest on top of it. The rag was moved around the aqueducts in lazy fashion. Now they stand forgotten with development around them, auto lanes looping through them, yet they are a means to understanding water hierarchy in Turkey. The aqueducts best represent a time before and after an empire of leadership, innovation, and rule, but also a hypocritical passion for history and life’s valuable resources.

In a time wiped of the minds of most Turkish citizens post Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rule, stone structures like aqueducts carried water hundreds of kilometers to Istanbul. The Byzantines, Romans, and Ottomans all saw this system as an important conveyance of water for survival. It lifted water 29 meters above the Earth in monumental form. The structures are strong, detailed, and powerful. Water infrastructure of this magnitude made a statement to other empires that this area is rich, smart, and healthy. In hierarchical terms, water was on top, on display, and taken care of like a precious commodity efficiently provided to citizens of the area.

Today water is pushed underground, expensive, and of poor quality in Turkey. It doesn’t appear to be held to high standards by Turkish citizens nor the government. As I step down off of my pessimistic soapbox, I look at these aqueducts that run through these old cities, and I see lost infrastructure. I am reminded of how forgotten water is in much of today’s society when it isn’t being monetarily diminished. Water has defined this area, and it has created it. These aqueducts should be reminding the world that this country was once the most important and powerful place in the world because of water. Now, instead, important waterways such as the Bosphorus Straight, all encompassing and beautiful on the surface, disgusting beneath, are tossed around and manipulated to fit the degrees of post Ottoman modernization.

As I stand beneath these monuments, I am forced to question today’s ideas of water infrastructure and the future shape water will take. What spatial forms will follow its manipulation in Istanbul? Will it once again become a work of art for people to experience, and enjoy, more than just a product of a past rather forgotten by an important and influential leader such as Atatürk? Cities like Istanbul will only continue to grow. It is human nature to praise water, even when it is invisible in Turkey. Water obviously inspires innovation and survival, right now a psychological dam is blocking and jading positive solutions to water infrastructure in Turkey. Let these aqueducts be a sign to open the floodgates.



Since arriving in Istanbul, we have experienced something that was nearly completely absent from our lives for the last five weeks: topography and height. Change in elevation may be something which affects nearly every aspect of life in Istanbul. Our daily routine includes ascending and descending  five flights of stairs to our apartment, taking upwards of four consecutive escalators to reach the underground metro line platform, using the funicular to move from the top of the ridge of Istikal in Beyoglu to the waterfront, and climbing the cobble-stoned urban mountains to the design center.  At the end of the day, my legs feel like they are Jello. Today, our adventures in ascension included aqueducts.

We traveled around Kemerburgaz, a small city north of the developed area of Istanbul, adjacent to the Belgrade Forest. Here, we crossed the path of the monumental aqueducts, designed by the great Ottoman architect, Sinan (with whom we now feel intimately close with, being in an area where his name is synonymous with the likes of Sultans, and the height of Ottoman form). The aqueducts were constructed over a period of 30 years during the 16th century, and were a piece of infrastructure which allowed the city of Istanbul to grow in population, due to the additional source of water supply.

Today, after modernization efforts employed with Ataturk’s influence, the aqueducts are reduced to interesting formal ruins, capturing the imagination of those who may accidentally stare at them for a minute or two. The textured stone (mainly limestone) units have a uniform relief which makes for decent footholds, and the widening of the base of the structure gives the climber a slight sense of safety. The double layered arches means that if one can climb to the first level, they have achieved something. If they can get to the second level (sometimes up to thirty meters high), then they have achieved something great.  Nonetheless, no one got too far off of the ground in any attempt.  Luckily, at one of our last stops, we wandered far enough to find earth built up alongside the aqueduct. Here, the huge structure seemed to disappear into the ground,  and we could easily walk up to the top. The curved form and irregular texture of mortar/slate/limestone surface decreased the width available to walk across significantly. As a safety precaution, we proceeded in a single file.

From this height, the view was incredible. However, we did not attempt to get this high off of the ground in order to take a likable Instagram photo. I’m not sure if it is human-like, American-like, child-like, landscape architect-like or just Jody-like, but the desire to get to the highest possible summit in view is difficult to suppress. The feeling of, or simply knowing that, the only thing above one’s head is the openness of the sky, oftentimes describes the most simple, yet satisfactory experiences in life. This is possibly why so many spiritual or religious spaces identify with and are placed on summits. Today’s climb was far more playful, than spiritually profound. Even so, if I could remind myself of this joy of ascension, the rigor and strenuousness of our daily, urban commutes will hopefully subside and be replaced by a feeling of accomplishment.



Istanbul is one of the busiest and densest cities in the world. For the people who are working long term or just temporarily staying here, everyone has to face the “concrete forest” every day. Sometimes people can barely see a tree in the street. The only natural area in Istanbul is about 50km north of the city, which serves as the “lungs for the city ”.

Today, our trip was about experiencing the nature of Istanbul, which is totally different from what we have experienced every day: concrete forest.

We went to the north of the city, which is the only large green area close to Istanbul. There is an arboretum called “Atatürk Arboretumu”, which serves as one of most important places for people to get a sense of nature. This arboretum is well-organized and people can see the boundary between the preserved natural forest and the forest where people could stay inside. A central circle serves as a starting point for the entire arboretum, while it is divided into 3 main straight roads with pine trees surrounding. No matter which way you selected to go, you will again experience going uphill, which is a similar experience to walking in urban Istanbul. But what’s different, here, was that you will never forget the combined experience of the fragrance of the nature, the singing of birds, the overwhelming green, and the unique sense when you touch the pine trunks. Istanbul has a great water front in the urban area, but people barely get an overwhelming sense of nature like this.

Another important part of the “nature tour” today was that we get a chance to take a close look of a lot of the Ottoman-era aqueducts uncovered in the Turkish forest. These aqueducts were built 500 years ago in order to slowly and gradually transport fresher water to the Istanbul. Nowadays, it is relic of the City which had strong Ottoman identity. The unforgettable experience for me was the shock of when you first see it from far away; it is more about a symbol of history than the stones themselves. Personally speaking, it was more exciting to have a picture of the entire aqueduct than a picture from a closer point.  You can see stones almost everywhere in Istanbul while such long arch form is unique in the world. So I guess that is why people don’t really care whether or not there was a surface renovation which happened in the recent year. But the symbolic meaning seems more important — it reminds people of the history that the aqueduct was of great importance. Without it, Istanbul could never have survived as the capital of the empire – a role it performed for almost 600 years.