Traversing Istanbul Waters
10/2020 – 2/2021
Istanbul, TR

In this research project, I was exploring the ferry transportation infrastructure of Istanbul. At the core of the work stand multiple urban journeys that I conducted in the city during the period of my stay. My goal was to examine the current state of the local ferry network and its significance for contemporary Istanbul. I observed on various examples that while (mostly) peripheral ferry lines were decommissioned, the central ones or those popular (among tourists) remained in operation. In my reading, this is how the city put up a facade to keep the appearance of a well-functioning system.

1, Towards the end

14/11/2020 Eyüp
16/11/2020 Rumeli Kavağı and 23/11/2020 Anadolu Kavağı
multiple trips Nov+Dec 2020 Princes’ Islands

Initially, I set a goal to explore the less known and more distant lines, but this proved difficult. Despite my attempts, the infrastructure itself directed me back into the center with the Eyüp line and towards the all-time popular “leisure” peripheral routes (Bosphorus, Princes’ Islands). To my knowledge, there are currently no other ferry lines operating between the center and the periphery.
Be it from the board of a regular or commercial ferry, the Bosphorus, which “sings of life, pleasure, and happiness” and from which “Istanbul draws its strength” (Pamuk 2006: 71), remained open for tourists and locals alike. Historically and touristically significant Golden Horn route was also operating well during my visit. Thus, it was fulfilling the expectations of its users, from their perspective performing/functioning as it should. Finally, it was possible to visit freely the routes expanding out of the center in an opposite direction from the Golden Horn – towards Princes’ Islands – except for the curfew hours.
Generally speaking, the central and more popular ferry lines continued to perform smoothly, unlike various, mostly peripheral and less popular, ones. Analogically, tourists, unlike locals, were exempted from the weekend and night-time curfews in Turkey in an unprecedented and discriminating manner (Coffey 2020). The smooth functionality of the Bosphorus, Eyüp, or Princes’ Islands lines was trying to disguise the overall infrastructure’s dysfunctionality while carrying the privileged visitors like me towards surprisingly open sights and museums.
In the eyes of the municipality, the canceled lines failed in their performances. They did not successfully stand up to the challenge to “perform – or else”, as performance scholar John McKenzie calls it, that leads the misperforming technology to be “defunded, junkpiled, or dumped on foreign markets.” (McKenzie 2001: 12)

14/11/2020 Eyüp

16/11/2020 Rumeli Kavağı

23/11/2020 Anadolu Kavağı

2, Substitute trips


21/11/2020 Eminönü → Yenikapı → Bakırköy (walking)
29/11/2020 Avcılar (Marmaray + metrobüs + bus)
8/12/2020 Büyükçekmece (metrobüs + bus)

In the second type of my journeys in Istanbul, I was tracing decommissioned sea routes and piers overland in a true spirit of Kalder’s “anti-tourist” (Kalder 1999). With some of them, I could find out their exact date of cancellation but with other ones, I still do not know if they have ever existed otherwise than just as a line on a map. Real or not, I ended up chasing them in this way, but only on the European side. For the Anatolian, I came up with a different approach (see below).
I walked from Eminönü to Yenikapı pier (still functional for the inter-city travel) and from Yenikapı to Bakırköy pier (where I encountered no boat traffic, just two abandoned stations). In the following trips, I took various means of inland transport to get to distant piers in Avcılar or Büyükçekmece. Walking around these – and other insufficiently connected nearby districts such as Esenyurt or Küçükçekmece – reminded me intensively that an infrastructure is a form of power.
It has a strong significance in which part of a city one lives, how is that zone connected with the rest, how much time and money does it take to travel (from) there. The “unwanted” inhabitants, such as refugees and lower-income classes, often end up living in the remote and hardly accessible outskirts of cities. In extreme cases, the missing/dysfunctional transport infrastructure can contribute to ghettoization. For example, it is known, that there are Istanbulites living in peripheries who have never seen the Bosphorus…
During the time of the pandemic, many ferries (with their open platforms, spacious) were canceled while the rail transport and Bus Rapid Transport (metrobüs) (with the limited interior space and access of air) remained in operation, however illogical it may seem. The experience of sharing the peripheral buses with those who are forced to use them regularly (despite the epidemiological situation) thus provided yet another saddening example of the infrastructure as a power tool.
At the surprisingly well-kept and pleasurable shore of Avcılar, I could contemplate why was this district cut off from its sea connection to central and Asian parts of the city. The crippled sea mass transit of Istanbul brings through its absence a question of not only its past but also future. The older, central, and popular lines seem to be irreplaceable. But with the sea transport at the ever-expanding peripheries, this is not the case as other modes of transport are prioritized there (such as metro lines or Hızray project, cf. (Raillynews 2020a, Raillynews 2020b)).


21/11/2020 Eminönü – Yenikapı – Bakırköy

28/11/2020 Avcılar

8/12/2020 Büyükçekmece



3, Illogical transfers


24/11/2020 Kartal (via Princes’ Islands)
7/12/2020 Bostancı (via Princes’ Islands)
17/12/2020 Pendik (via Yalova)

During journeys of the third type, the ferry infrastructure led me towards the city’s Anatolian side at the shores of Marmara. The maritime mass transit activity was not totally halted as on the European side so I could experiment with a different approach. Instead of invoking transportation ghosts of the sea from the mainland, I investigated the dysfunctionality of the system on board of various connecting ferry lines. My illogical transfers, as I call them, were a response to the odd functioning of the system. One of the journeys took me to the overcrowded peripheral district of Pendik for which I had to make a detour via a peaceful resort of Yalova, a city outside of the Istanbul administrative area. Just imagine there is no way how to get to a part of the city other than by traveling to another one first. It was also rewarding, with the other two trips, to perceive the Princes’ Islands not as objects of tourists’ desire but more unusually as a mere interchange station(s).
These beautifully illogical transfers articulated again a technological misperformance of the researched infrastructure. This time it was somewhat operational but certainly failed to transport people and goods to desired destinations in a reasonable time. For example, by the Marmaray rail line, it can take about 15 minutes to get from Söğütlüçeşme in central Kadıköy to Bostancı. When going by boats and transferring in Princes’ Islands the journey would be around 1 hour at best. Such absurd travels, rides for rides’ sake, one might say, bring to the forefront the hidden features of the infrastructure. The system can still serve humans but slips out of the usual criteria of efficiency and successful performance. When stripped of their utilitarian function I began to think about these lines more in terms of potentiality rather than actuality. How could such system evolve in the future? Could Princes’ Islands become a transfer station for an extensive intra-city sea transport? Should there be another transport hub built in the Marmara Sea? Should we boycott overland routes and dedicate ourselves to travel by sea only? When will the Silivri-Tuzla ferry line start its operation?


24/11/2020 Kartal (via Princes’ Islands)

7/12/2020 Bostancı (via Princes’ Islands)

17/12/2020 Pendik (via Yalova)