Istanbul After the Founding of Turkey Republic: “Neglected City” and “Turkish Istanbul” Slogan

Istanbul, the old glorious imperial capital, suffered a rapid decline in its international status after the founding of the Turkey Republic. With a declined population, ruins and slums were everywhere in the 1920s’ Istanbul, in such a chaotic and poor background, Prost Plan appeared to lead this city’s development. This narrative is going to introduce what had Istanbul went through after the founding of the Turkey Republic.


In 1923, after the founding of Turkey Republic, Ankara replaced Istanbul as the new capital. In the early year of the republic, there was a social atmosphere of enthusiasm and an overall mobilization for modernization, animated by the comprehensive reform program of the Republic. While Istanbul as the old capital was closely associated with its imperial past and the western colonialist networks. Therefore, Ankara as the symbol of national unity was selected as the new capital. Istanbul, which had been the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, for more than a thousand years since Constantine, was deprived of its title (Bilsel, 2004). In that period, Istanbul can be regarded as a “Neglected City”

Figure.1. Urban decay of Istanbul after the founding of Turkey Republic, 1936.

After the war of liberating Turkey, there was chaos and ruins everywhere inside Turkey. Plus, the loss of capital status, higher-income groups were leaving the historical peninsula for the newly developing settlement areas on the north of the European side, or on the Asian coast of Marmara. For a while, Istanbul became a chaotic city full of slums and poverty (Figure. 1.). When Prost came to the head of the planning office, Istanbul was a city with a recessing economy and population. Within the revolutionary socio-political context of the 1930s in Turkey, the principal objective of planning the cities in general and in Istanbul, in particular, was “modernization”. And Henri Prost defined also the principal goal of the planning of Istanbul as the “modernization” of the city. According to him, this was inevitable for a city in the process of a “complete social change” (Prost, 1947). Under the guidance of Henri Prost, Istanbul gradually established its modern social infrastructure including the urban circulation network and espaces libres.

Figure.2. Turkey 1953 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople stamp.

As the modernization of Istanbul develops, this city gradually retrieved its cultural identity in Turkey. In 1953, when Turkey celebrated the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, a slogan of “Turkish Istanbul” was raised. Its aim was to draw attention to the Ottoman past and restore the monuments, which showed Turkey’s attitude to cultural heritage. The picture above was the stamp published for that campaign, the pattern on the stamp was the city wall, showing people’s conservation attitude to the city wall (Figure. 2.). Until then, it can be said that Istanbul obtained its domestic status again.



Ancient Walls of Topkapı, Constantinople. 1953. Available at:

Artamonoff. Picturing Byzantium 1930–1947. 2013. Available at:

Cânâ Bilsel. Shaping a Modern City out of an Ancient Capital: Henri Prost’s plan for the historical peninsula of Istanbul. Middle East Technical University Department of Architecture, Ankara, Turkey. 2004.

Prost, Henri.. “Communication de Henri Prost, 17 Septembre 1947 à l’Institut de France”, Les Transformations d’Istanbul, unpublished reports. 1947.

1 Comment on “Istanbul After the Founding of Turkey Republic: “Neglected City” and “Turkish Istanbul” Slogan

  1. It is a wonderful and attractive research discussing the Prost’s Istanbul planning from comprehensive perspectives. I appreciate your introduction of the historic sociopolitical background of Istanbul and Turkey Republic before and after 1930s, the comparison of Prost’s core planning attitudes towards different schemes in various urban contexts as well as the evolution of the urban ideals of governments from “modernization” to “conservation”. Abundant images, maps and archives are collected and closely related to your narratives. Good analysis.

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