Haydarpaşa Train Station


In Turkish movies, the Haydarpaşa Train Station is where rural immigrants to İstanbul first set their eyes on the city. It is where lovers reunite, and where those who intend to defeat the city mount their challenge. As the historian Fatmagül Demirel aptly put it, whether for common people or those in power, this is the “Gateway to the East.”

As major governments pursued a policy of developing railroad networks from the 1830s on, the Ottomans followed their progress intently. Relative to European countries, however, they were fairly late in launching their own program. The first railroad privilege, for the İzmir-Aydın line, was granted in 1856 to a British group. Construction began in 1857, and the first part of the line was put into service in 1860. Work began on another important project in 1871: The İstanbul-Baghdad railroad. The first leg of this line, the stretch between Haydarpaşa and İzmit, was completed in 1873. Technical and financial difficulties led to many delays in the construction of the İstanbul-Baghdad railroad. The project was revived during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II, but its cost was simply beyond the abilities of the Ottoman state or of Ottoman investors. As a result, a decision was made to entrust the venture to a western group, and since Germany was regarded at the time as the only western power not to have imperialist designs on Ottoman territories, it was given to them. Economic relations between the two countries had been intensifying since the 1880s, and the new cooperation increased the speed with which the line was built. One after another, new segments of the railroad were put into service.

As the railroad neared completion and the volume of passengers and merchandise grew, the starting point at Haydarpaşa became severely stressed. A larger station building was needed to control the traffic of people and goods, and an efficient port was needed to regulate transit between sea and rail travel. This project too was given to the Germans, and contruction began on the port in 1900, followed by the station in 1906. The architectural competition for the station building was won by the plans submitted by Otto Ritter and Helmuth Cuno. The actual plot on which the building was built was reclaimed by filling in the sea. The structure was designed in a Prussian-neo-renaissance style, and was completed in 1908.

Criss-crossed by brooks, the Meadow of Haydarpaşa had been one of the principal recreational areas for the people of İstanbul, some would go hunting there, and the circumcision festivities for Ottoman princes would be held in the area. This gradually changed, but not only because of the port and train station. The new Military Hospital built there in 1844-1846 had also changed the landscape significantly. Later, during the reign of Abdülhamid II, the Medical School was built there too. Thus, the area of Haydarpaşa —no one knows for certain after which Haydar Pasha it had been named— was now home to several majestic buildings.

The story did not end with the construction of the station. Every part of İstanbul has seen its share of rapid change, and that has certainly been true of Haydarpaşa as well. The first major change was the fire that damaged the train station during World War I. The building was left without a roof, and its towers without spires. In 1938, it was finally restored to its former glory. Much had changed by the 2000s, and continue to do so. The station once again fell victim to a fire in 2010. Its skyline has changed once more, and it is now missing its roof. Moreover, high buildings are being erected all around it. There have been proposals to turn the station into a hotel or a museum. Though it is now the terminal station of the new high-speed train, a decision was made in 2014 to host cultural activities in it as well. It is difficult to predict what the future holds for the Haydarpaşa train station, but one thing is for sure: it will not go back to being a recreational meadow. As for regaining the romanticism it held in Turkish movies, that seems unlikely as well.


Kadiköy Iskelesi Karsisi, 34714 Haydarpaşa Istanbul
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