“Why does power hate a city square? A square fields no army, commands no votes, has nowhere to go. It is just a space. Yet it is a space that invites occupation, an occupation hostile to power”1.

In his article, written right after the Gezi Park demonstrations, Jenkins describes the public square as a place for direct democracy and search of the citizens for their rights to the city. Though the public space is seen as a “space for anarchy”2, showing various forms of exercise of democracy, the city square has a far deeper meaning for citizens and the government. Coming up from the example of Taksim Square, it is a well-known fact that the square is the focus of urban planning, showing numerous forms of representations, in the contexts of sociology, culture and politics.

Gezi Park demonstrations, creating new discussions on urban rights, memory and politics of space, has started as a public protest in June 2013 against the undemocratic planning of the government, which includes the re-creation of the early 19th century Artillery Barracks, demolished in 1940s, due to the urban plan of Henri Prost for the creation of Gezi Park and Ataturk Cultural Center, designed in 1960s, both surrounding the square as symbols of modernization movement of the new republic. Similarly, by deconstructing the republican Taksim, the current government plans to create its own space of its own memory and most important of all, to re-design the public through public space.

It was no accident that both the ambitious plans for the re-planning of the square and the protests were using architectural history and urban memory in their arguments1. The resistance was an artifact of the current government’s neo-ottoman policies for leaving its mark on the urban space. Both government's and citizens' reactions were mostly based on a struggle for power and ownership. Therefore, this paper will briefly discuss public space as a stage for the contest of power over Taksim Square.

Starting with the Ottomans, especially after the foundation of the new republic, Taksim has faced several changes and political show-off scenes, all adding new symbols and layers into the square, making it a space of collective memory. Governmental policies, the symbolic re-construction of Artillery Barracks and deconstruction of Ataturk Cultural Center, shows that every single factor acting within this collective memory of the space, affecting the mental formation of the square, is an allegoric representation, an “icon” itself. Therefore, the paper will discuss the representation of each of these buildings and monuments, over the layers of spatial formation and transformation of the square. These layers of memories in the historical context, which create the spaces of direct democracy today, will be evaluated with a critical approach to the politics of space.

  • 1. Jenkins,S., 2013. “From Trafalgar to Taksim, the Politics of the Square Puts the Wind up Power”, The Guardian, 12 June 2013.
  • 2. Mitchell,D., 2003. The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. New York, NY: Guilford Press.