Topkapi Street Market

In stark contrast to this ‘wild’ and bustling accumulation, the whole place is bordered with an immaculate but deserted layout of formal green whose ghostly abandonment is amplified by the garish colour of the artificially irrigated lawn. In 1852 Théophile Gautier wrote about this stretch along the city walls:

It is difficult to believe there is a living city behind these dead ramparts! I do not believe there exists anywhere on earth [a thing] more austere and melancholy than this road, which runs for more than three miles between ruins on the one hand and a cemetery on the other.(3)

The informal market evokes an archaic model of a city that arises organically as trading centre at the junction of transport and trading routes. In the case of Topkapı, however, it is also moving in the shadows of official town planning, which it temporarily turns into a vehicle serving informality. This market makes use of the semi-finished building structures in a way that has less to do with their intended uses or with any conceptions or images of modern urban planning than with unplanned utilisation and the economic situation of the rural population that has migrated to the city. Land has been occupied here on an improvised basis, bypassing the planners. This approach is not based on how things will look after the plans have been realised, but seeks instead to realise alternatives to this process.

The innovatory power of this informal economy is evident not only in its sheer size, but also in its far-reaching ramifications, with all the emerging services systems such as shuttle buses, street kitchens, middlemen, suppliers, livestock selling, the attendant forms of cultural entertainment and ad hoc shooting ranges. With its bizarre combination of modern transport systems, its symbolic sites of a national renaissance, spontaneously arising market activities, rich visual display of the intricacies of legally authorised work, its third market and informal trading, Topkapı represents more than just a coincidental clash of diverse forces. The growing perviousness of official and informal structures, the rampant appropriation of urban space and the accelerated disintegration of cultural territories are typical moments in the evolution of a city structure dictated by the new world economy, in which full control over a territory is no longer a relevant issue. In contrast to the territorially based economic forms, large and small spatial structures are evolving which circumvent the functional separation of space and embed themselves in the prevailing geography as a mesh of networks.