Culture & Travel12 October 2020
World’s Second-Oldest Subway
As the world’s second-oldest subway, the Tünel is one of Istanbul’s most significant symbols. Inaugurated on January 17, 1875 with a wooden and steam railway car, the system is still serving Istanbulites. Operating between Karaköy and Beyoğlu, the Tünel today covers over 570 meters under 90 seconds and carries approximately 12 thousand passengers.
A French engineer, Eugène-Henri Gavand, observed the number of people travelling between Galata (the finance center back in the day) and Pera (the social center back in the day). Gavand thought of a method to connect on Yüksek Kaldırım Avenue and Galipdede Street. He saw Sultan Abdülaziz for a funicular railway project to connect these two centers.
The changing face of the city during the 19th Century necessitated a connection between Haliç’s Suriçi quarter and Pera quarter of Constantinople. The first bridge built in 1836 connected Unkapanı and Azapkapı. It’s location was changed in 1872 and today’s Unkapanı Bridge was built in its current location, where it survived until today through alterations and fortifications. When Karaköy became a trade center, another bridge was built in Galata in 1845. It was renewed and enlarged in 1863.
These bridges have helped Istanbul come out of its shell and connect the districts and at the beginning of the 1800’s, they started to use these bridges to connect this central city with other cities via railway. The Tünel was inaugurated under these new developments.
Even though they were designed on different dates, Sirkeci Train Station and Haydarpaşa Train Station were opened respectively on the European and Asian sides of Istanbul in 1872, enabling these two continents to meet via railway. This meeting is so exhilarating that it inspired many more projects. As early as 1876, Istanbul Tünel’s mastermind Gavand offered a submarine tunnel to ensure the uninterrupted connection between these railways. The project that would have enabled trains to continue from the European Side directly to the Asian Side was not realized after all, but it was re-offered in 1902. This second project, which aimed to establish an uninterrupted railway network between Sarayburnu and Salacak was also cancelled. The dream of connecting the two sides of the Bosporus with a submarine railway wouldn’t come true until 2013. As the product of such a deep-rooted transformation period, the Tünel is not only a way of transportation, but also a living museum. Its historical decoration, cars, and the nostalgic experience offered to its passengers, the Tünel is much more than a way of transportation.
The Tünel became the irreplaceable transportation option during the Ottoman Era and the first years of the Republic and it still offers the shortest, the most joyous, and the sincerest way of transportation while silently connecting Karaköy and Beyoğlu day after day.