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12:00  The House of the Dawn: The Chalke Gate in Istanbul Interpreted as Absent Heritage

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In this paper, I will discuss one of a number of contested heritage sites in Istanbul that have been extensively analyzed in articles and in the press, which examine these sites either in relation to the formation of social movements in response to an erosion of the “right to the city,” or in relation to the question of contested heritage, both tangible and intangible. Here, however, I will discuss such sites in relation to the liminal condition they engender. From the late 1990s, the Istanbul municipality and national government have undertaken a number of significant transformational public projects in Istanbul, which critics associate with a neoliberal commodification of the city. One such heritage site forms the focus of this paper: the territory of the former prison, now luxury hotel, where recently excavated archaeological features have been identified with the former Byzantine building known as the Chalke Gate. It will be argued that this was a truly liminal territory throughout its history, first as a ceremonial threshold between palace, cathedral, and city, then, over time, as the symbology and function of the site changed and different places were created as prison, residential quarter, then in the early twentieth century again a prison. Finally the site and its heritage prison were sold to a subsidiary of the state-owned Halk Bank for development as a luxury hotel, while the adjacent Hagia Sophia museum was proposed for re-consecration as a mosque by the conservative AKP government. Both of these developments have been opposed by groups associated with the secular elite: heritage groups and archaeologists. Thus, work on the hotel grounds was delayed by on-going excavations, while an attempt by the Municipality to exploit the discoveries by turning the site into a tourist park was stymied and the palace site continues to be fenced off from adjacent public spaces. Over its history, the site has generated a complex and multilayered symbology, being simultaneously inscribed as different, overlapping places by Islamists, Christians, archaeologists, and historians, and now forms a heterotopia of sorts for the wealthy tourists fortunate enough to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel. For the casual tourist, the site is straight-forward enough—a large domed “church” bears the marks of its transformation into a mosque, while the fenced off site of the Chalke Gate next door does not intrude upon his or her perception. For the historian or archaeologist, however, the entire territory is spectral—both of past events and of the structures and spaces that have been erased through deliberate act or ruination but that continue to exert an influence over their urban context. The current state of suspension occludes the liminality of the same site from at least as far back as the fourth century, when it was both a recurrent space of ritual and a fluid space of potentially violent transformation. In the modern period, the site can be understood as a “liminoid” site of contention between religious conservatives and secularists, who have attempted to re-inscribe the territory of the ancient church and palace in accordance with their ideologies, identities, and cultural values. The mutability of the symbology of the site through time where the same site and indeed material objects have been inscribed with multiple meanings raises the issue of dissonance in heritage, through which the formation of place is contested. Furthermore, the concrete site has influenced the formation and significance of the surrounding context over time and into the present. These factors identify the site's profound liminality, through which different types of heritage can coexist in a state of suspension.

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