Steam Punk Dreaming: Haydarpasa & Santral

  • January 8th, 2012

    PRESSURE GAUGES IN THE DORMANT SANTRAL POWER STATION.

    In Istanbul the question, “when am I?” sounds in my head frequently. Its passages and corridors, its city streets and vistas that could belong to any number of eras. But then someone yanks out a cellphone and my dreamlike sense of dislocation is shattered. Once again it’s an old city pocked with wear.

    There are two places where I get a particular kind of steam punk feeling though, the kind of mood that China Mieville’s gritty nightmare fantasy Perdido Street Station elicited in me.

    Both are vast and filled with quiet, but evoke volumes of wonder. Both belong to the dwindling days of the Ottoman Empire, where history and tradition began to be steamrolled into the modern era.

    HISTORIES COLLIDE AT HAYDARPASA STATION.

    The first is Haydarpasa Train Station. Imagine the awe it must have inspired  … you’ve lived in central Anatolia all your life—no matter how long or short—and you’ve boarded a train and left some shambling village and out you step onto the platform and into Haydarpasa. Suddenly the vast skies you’ve grown accustomed to are cut into by soaring monuments of human engineering. Everywhere you look are new sites, new sounds. Foreigners in unfamiliar dress. Ottoman bureaucrats in fez caps. Soaring archways above are elaborately detailed with interweaving Islamic motifs.

    HAYDARPASA. LONG SHADOWS CUT INTO THE MIDDAY LIGHT.

    WAITING … WONDERING … WHERE WILL THE JOURNEY LEAD?

    Haydarpasa is equal parts beauty and gloom. Like much from the early Twentieth Century it looms heavy and foreboding in the light. Is it optimistic or pessimistic? The sense of expectation here thickens the air. Last year, part of the roof was lost to a fire, but somehow that hasn’t diminished this place or purged its ghosts. There’s something haunting here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

    HAYDARPASA RESIDENT.

    SNACKBAR. CHOCOLATE BARS HERE MAY BE HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS.

    Perhaps it’s the sense of foreboding. The 20th Century and all its numerous horrors and atrocities were impending, and maybe that’s what this place evokes, a sense of hope about to derail. Haydarpasa is in a sense the gateway to Europe and it was built at the moment history’s pages were about to turn to another tragic chapter of East/West relations.

    HAYDARPASA ISKELESI. OFF THE TRAIN, ABOARD THE SHIP. THE PORTAL TO EUROPE.

    A LAST GLIMPSE OF HAYDARPASA. EUROPE APPROACHES.

    The next station in my journey into the industrial past is a power station, Istanbul’s first electric plant which has become part of Bilgi University’s media campus. What Bilgi’s art gallery has failed to do, its restored power plant at the bottom of the Golden Horn accomplishes in spades. The sense of quiet here is incredible. I only wish they had a few chairs set up in the control room, so you could sit at the consoles, and think about what it must have been like to go to work inside the belly of this industrial monster.

    CONSOLES AND GAUGES. NO ONE HAS OPERATED THE CONTROLS IN YEARS.

    The decommissioned power plant, which once must have thrummed with whirring turbines, now sleeps. Like Haydarpasa, it’s filled with long shadows. And on the occasions I’ve visited, it’s been completely empty. This place is the epitome of steampunk beauty. It’s ugly and yet paradoxically beautiful. This would be perfect for a Mary Shelley novel or a b-movie.

    ALL IS QUIET. THE ONLY THING GENERATED IS A SENSE OF THE PAST.

    DOWN THE STAIR AND INTO INSTANBUL’S INDUSTRIAL PAST.

    As I said, it’s mostly empty, so you’re free to soak up the historical atmosphere. It just would have benefited from a few benches or seats off to the side or on the walkways, some place to linger and remember the terrifying sense of fear and wonder that dawned with the modern era.

    SANTRAL ISTANBUL

    Eski Silahtaraga Elektrik Santrali, Kazim Karabekir Cad. No:1, Eyup 34060 Istanbul – Turkey /0212 311 7809

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