ISTANBUL—The Valens Aqueduct is one of this city’s most recognizable monuments, a Roman-built fixture that stretches proudly above the busy Atatürk Boulevard. Most visitors have the pleasure of seeing it, and the fourth-century structure reaches well into an array of residential neighborhoods. It is a source of pride among Istanbulites.
When news broke, however, that the aqueduct was slated for restoration, many residents were alarmed, concerned that efforts at preservation would instead compromise its integrity. That fear is not unfounded: Historic buildings and structures dating from the Byzantine era to the 20th century have been subjected to disastrous restorations in recent years here, prompting public outcry and fostering a cynical attitude toward planned projects.
“We have seen examples of so many botched restorations that we have lost faith,” Ebru Erdem-Akçay, a Turkish American political scientist, told me. When tweeting the news of the restoration, Erdem-Akçay wrote that she hoped to see the aqueduct again “before they restroy it,” coining a portmanteau of restore and destroy that many say is apt.
Istanbul is a dynamic, fascinating city of 15 million, and much beauty can be found, thanks to a rich architectural heritage and an ideal location on the shores of the Black and Marmara Seas, between which runs the Bosporus strait. Traces of history await around every corner of the city’s older parts—living, open-air museums with innumerable artifacts from Byzantine and Ottoman times. Istanbul nevertheless moves at a rapid pace, and its streets are overflowing with life and sounds, ranging from the pleasant call of vendors selling fresh pastries to the ever-present din of construction.