In June, Turkey experienced the worst anti-government protests in decades over plans to redevelop Gezi Park in central Istanbul. Now, a historic church once used by Russian refugees fleeing the 1917 Bolshevik Coup is at the center of a fresh controversy over the city’s development ambitions.
Built on top of a five-story building, Hagia Elia is located in the downtown port district of Karaköy. The 19th century building, featuring a magnificent vista of the surrounding neighborhood, originally served as a hostel for Russian pilgrims heading to Jerusalem and Greece. Karaköy these days is no longer a hub for religious pilgrims heading to Jerusalem, but, rather, a hub for shipborne tourists. Just a few hundred meters away from Hagia Elia, some of the world’s largest cruise liners regularly dock and dump thousands of tourists onto the streets of Istanbul.
In May, the government sold to Turkey’s Doğuş Group for an eye-popping $702 million the right to redevelop part of the Karaköy area into a high-end tourism hub. There are plans for shopping malls, high-end restaurants and boutiques, and five-star hotels.
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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.