Istanbul’s new cruise terminal and new neighborhood point the way to a brighter future

It’s an understatement to say that cities have complicated relationships with cruise ports. Dubrovnik was often pointed out for the criticism of its overtourism, and Venice in fact forced out The boats. It’s less dramatic where I live, but when the city promised us a cruise terminal that would include a public roof, and then instead built a view-blocking fortress that’s almost off-limits to locals, it didn’t matter. won’t win any fans.

It can feel like a zero-sum game, a game that residents seem to be losing. That’s why it was so exciting to see Istanbul bold new project from Galataport.

Forget zero sum. There is no subtraction, only addition: a new neighborhood, an organic and desirable neighborhood. (And in a place that had been almost off-limits, a largely disused warehouse district.) He did it by flipping the old model.

I’m literal: the thing is upside down. The entire terminal is underground. On a day when there is no ship in port, there is hardly any sign that there might be one. There is only a beautiful pedestrian promenade riding on the Bosphorus, facing Anatolia, the Bosphorus Bridge and the old town, each hill punctuated by domes and minarets.

“This view is so precious,” says Figen Ayan, Port Chief of Galataport. “It was a crucial place in Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times. It would have been unfair to take this land and close it to everyone… Now we can offer it to the city as a beautiful gift.

And so it’s never closed to anyone. Not even when there are three ships in port. Of course you will notice it. (Some locals like to watch the technology in action as individually controlled hatches open to allow arriving passengers to enter the underground terminal.) But unless you’re at the water’s edge, you don’t have to. still no idea that some 9,000 passengers, and the many multiples of those who work as crew members, baggage handlers, immigration officers and tour guides, move through the corridors below.

“Everyone thought we were crazy,” recalls Ayan, who is also the current president of MedCruise, an association of Mediterranean ports. It took a lot of persuasion – years – before years of engineering, then three years of construction: fast, given the scale and complexity.

When it opened in October 2021, Ayan found that no one thought she was crazy anymore. All of a sudden, Galataport made a lot of sense.

She is rightly proud of it. It was a $1.7 billion project that involved “all types of construction except what is used in Alaska.” As crazy as it sounds, other port cities started to see what ideas they could take from it.

Much of the engineering and technology enhances the passenger experience. The design, by hip local company Autoban, references Istanbul’s famous underground cisterns, uses a neutral color palette and a striking lighting design that makes you forget you’re underground.

A deal with immigration authorities makes entering Turkey as easy as slipping onto the metro, and the fact that they’ve installed 1.2 kilometers of hidden conveyor belts to move luggage (for context, there are 2.4 kilometers in Istanbul’s gigantic new airport.

But I found it more interesting from a city dweller’s point of view.

Ayan likes to talk about social and cultural sustainability. (Although in fact the project also managed to earn LEED Platinum certification.) “We added to the city,” she says. “The cruise terminal is the skeleton; Galataport is the body. It distinguishes the 1848 Tophane clock tower, which underwent a meticulous renovation (with tools akin to dental instruments, notes Mehmet Bali, Galataport’s marketing manager) as part of the master plan. It brought tears to locals’ eyes when it sounded – ships’ horns in tune – at 9.05am on November 10, Turkey’s annual commemoration of Ataturk.

It was the biggest party the place had ever seen. Bali explains that there was no grand opening. “You don’t have a neighborhood opening party.” They just lifted the barriers. “In three days it filled up with people and I felt like it had been there for years.”

It is voluntarily democratic. There’s the 1.2 kilometer waterfront to wander around and a number of intimate squares (both of which were oddly rare in Istanbul). Women with covered hair share the space with teenagers dressed in fashionable western clothes. Students read on benches. Musicians play in the squares. Families gather at simple restaurants, while fashionable couples drop thousands of liras on a Salt Bae dinner. (Yes. He is here.)

This diversity of lived life is due to the fact that the developer, the Dogus Group, chose to keep everything low and individual. It doesn’t seem planned. Almost every building was the work of a different architect. Renzo Piano has designed the new Istanbul Modern, which is due for completion this spring.

It is one of two museums in a development that also includes Turkey’s first Peninsula Hotel, high-end boutiques in burgeoning boutiques and established Turkish luxury brands like Beymen and Vakko, as well as many places to eat and drink.

The last is that Dogus owns the D.Ream restaurant group, which includes hot spots like Roka and Nusr-And (as Salt Bae’s restaurant is officially known) a few Italian restaurants and a few other international restaurants that have found new homes in Galataport. And then there is Limanan institution since the 1940s, where, says Ayan, “everyone’s grandparents used to go for special occasions.”

The new location is a gorgeous slice of deco design, with two levels of riverside terraces. Lunch there feels like an occasion – in my case, the occasion was to celebrate the opening of a game-changing project.

This being Turkey, lunch meant plates full of grilled vegetable and fish mezze, and lively conversation. Sitting in the February sunshine, it was hard to believe that this area was until recently a no man’s land of abandoned warehouses. It was part of the fabric of Istanbul, which, as Bali puts it, “redefines this historic part of the city”.