Shedding light on Sinop: images of a city that overlooks its own past

After three days in Sinop, a city on the Black Sea coast in Turkey where we are participating in an ‘urban academy’ to discuss the future of the city’s heritage, we are slowly untangling the complexities of this millennia-old urban center. Here are some first impressions, taking Sinop’s most famous ‘son’, the ancient philosopher Diogenes, as our spiritual guide.

What would Diogenes have asked the people of Sinop if he were to be alive today? The most illustrious of the Cynic philosophers, Diogenes of Sinope (c. 404-323 B.C.E.) serves as the template for the Cynic sage in antiquity. He became notorious for his philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. Where would his light guide us today, what will it reveal?

Can this run down and abandoned truck be considered to symbolize or sum up the fate of Sinop’s heritage? Madly photogenic, overloaded with history and poetically appealing, but currently abused and neglected and with no clear plan for rehabilitation in sight. For the last four decades it has been standing on the same spot, next to the main building of Sinop’s old and abandoned prison. Will it ever be able to escape the physical and mental walls of a heritage site in a city that is obsessed with its own past? How can you built a future on a crumbling past and a politicized present?

Built in 1935, as is vaguely indicated on the facade, these dwarf buildings are older than most of Sinop’s citizen’s and have superseded the current life expectancy in Turkey, which for years has been hovering around 72 years. They sit on one of the corners of the city’s main street, like old men on a bench. However, in spite of their respectable age and prime location in the heart of the city, the buildings aren’t treated with the same respect as Sinop’s senior citizens are. These 76 year-olds have to work all day, are continuously exposed to harsh conditions and receive no (physical) treatment. Who will take care of these old guys? Or who is brave enough to stop their suffering?

Kitsch or classy? Fake facades cover up generic architecture, resembling some parts of Disneyland and Las Vegas’ infamous Strip. Or is it a praiseworthy attempt to adjust new buildings to their historical surroundings? Either way, the visual effect is dazzling. Elements of ancient temples collide with medieval brickwork, while billboards advertise the latest fashion trends. Impregnable fortress, tourist trap or consumerist church? People don’t seem to care. They get their haircut, eat their dürüm, talk to their friends on the phone, dissolve in the here and now. The old city walls protected the citizens from external threats. Their fake copies open the gates to our inner lust for harmless comfort.

The city crawls up the hill in an unnoticeable, but unstoppable pace. Ignoring the proven quality of the historic center, with its layered and interwoven structure, new construction is venturing out into vast unspoiled sloping grasslands that offer stunning views of the Black Sea. Luckily, this devastating sprawl will come to a halt, stopped by the cliffs that dive down into the sea 200 meters below. Only the majestic hawks that circle high above the peninsula will manage to escape the flood of generic suburbanism. Sinopians should climb up the hill, to the abandoned NATO base where once the Americans had their eyes on the USSR, and they should look down on their ancient city and see and acknowledge the uncontrolled growth of it. Be their own Big Brother and stop the enemy within.

The skyline of Sinop is dotted with holes. Empty plots and one story buildings are tucked in between high apartment blocks, waiting for redevelopment while real estate development is pushed out of the city center up the surrounding hills. Sinop is an ancient city that is afraid to become a modern metropolis, preferring suburban sprawl and rural life over high density and mixed living. Who owns the underutilized land and the dwarf buildings that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their giant neighbors? And who is preventing these plots from redevelopment? Does someone own the air above them, the right to have an unobstructed view? Big Brother on the hill should tell the little children in the city to grow up.

Derelict buildings are everywhere, fragile wooden structures with shattered windows and metal plating, about to fall apart. But who owns them, who is using them, who is looking after them, is anyone even noticing theme? Cats have taken over. Gardens are savagely overgrown, starting to resemble an untouched Arcadia. Buildings stand idle, silent memory machines, cut off from the flow of daily life.  Elsewhere these buildings would have been listed, allowing them to start all over again as a private house, museum or monumental boutique hotel. In Sinop they’re orphans without a foster parents plan.

Ghosts from the past come out at night. Ruins that have been left to rot turn every street into a potential crime scene. Hardly visible, they seem to make a final attempt to catch our attention, one last breath before they drift away into dark oblivion. This coastal city needs urban divers and fishermen to rescue these structures from drowning, to lift them from the bottom of an ocean of generic architecture.

Read more about the project ‘Collecting the Future’.


By Michiel — Posted September 9, 2011 — 101 Comments

Collecting the Future: participants in urban forum in Turkish city of Sinop

We have been invited to participate in an international forum, focusing on the role of the arts and culture in urban development, in the Turkish city of Sinop from September 7 – 18. Poetically named ‘Collecting the Future‘, the project takes place in an abandoned prison complex and aims to raise the awareness for local heritage (preservation) in a rapidly changing city with a complex history. Foreign urbanists, curators and artists will share their expertise with local experts and residents in a series of lectures, public discussions, publications, workshops and art projects.

We are planning to do a mapping project and walkshop, inviting local participants to visually mark historically and/or personally significant locations within the city. Combining tags, mobile phones with cameras and written notes, we will make a map that draws attention to hidden locations and objects – a favorite view of the city, a crime scene, a secret passage – and present it online and in a small scale exhibition. We will keep you updated during our stay. In the meantime you can get more information on the Collecting the Future website.

This project  is the extension of the 3rd Sinop International Biennial which has been realised last year and is supported by the EU. Project partners are AltArt from Romania, Felix Meritis from Netherland and from Austria. Nuova Icona from Italy, City Council Youth Assembly of Sinop, Sinop Young Businessmen Association as well as the Romanian Cultural Institute are the associates of the project.

Sinop is situated on the northernmost point of the Black Sea coast of Turkey. The city has a population of 36,734 and dates from the 7th century BC. For thousands of years Sinop has been a strategic point in the cultural and trade systems of the Black Sea Region. The port of Sinop has been a host to many civilizations, including Bronze Age, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman. Although the city was an important centre for shipbuilding during the Ottoman period, it lost its function during the transformation of the empire.

In 1887 the historical dockyards were converted into a prison complex. As a result, the shipbuilding and commercial centre of the past became a prison town and was left to poverty. The geographical position of Sinop, on a foreland with only a single entry point, also contributed to the isolation of the city.

Because of its strategic location, Sinop had a US military base which closed in 1992. The irony is that the Americans were looking at Russia from their Sinop base for intelligence during the Cold War era, but at the same time Sinop is known as a rather leftist city in Turkey. In the 1980s coupe d’etat in Turkey many educated leftist and cultural people were imprisoned in the infamous Sinop prison that is now a museum and site of Collecting the Future and the Sinop Biennal or Sinopale held by the Istanbul based European Culture Society since 2006.

Sinop entered 20th century as an isolated place from the world. The isolation of the city created other problems such as economic recession, unemployment and migration of young people from the city. The main employment facility of its citizens was the NATO base. After the collapse of the eastern bloc there has been no need for the NATO base in Sinop, which made the economy even worse and the main employment area was closed. After a long period of isolation, Sinop is now in the opening up process.

Read more about the history and current situation of Sinop on Wikipedia

By Michiel — Posted August 21, 2011 — 5,206 Comments