Istanbul’s Municipal Water Supply is 2,500 years old

Istanbul thru the trees Imagine living 2,500 years ago and being upset about loggers cutting down trees in Belgrade Forest. You knew the loggers were clearing forest to feed a fast growing city. You also eventually knew that logging Belgrade forest further limited the cities water supply during the dry season. Or perhaps no one had thought of that yet? But just like the loggers of today we inevitably become students of what happens when we log your cities water supply.

Research Questions:

–What type of management regimes has this forest experienced over the past 2500 years?

–Who are the most candid researchers and storytellers when it comes to the Belgrade forest?

–What can be learned from Belgrade forest in terms of the long-term protection of municipal water supplies in arid climates?

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Tree studies near Istanbul


We are gazing down on Istanbul from one of the Forestry Department’s helicopters. With us is Yüksel Yüksel, Director of Forest Protection. Below us lies a sprawling city so huge it appears endless, so busy it appears never to sleep. A city surrounded by forests on the north and water on the south.

A historic metropolis that breathes through the tiny parks and groves it harbors within it. In a little while we will land deep in nature, in this enormous city’s rarely seen green area with its endemic vegetation and flowers. But in terms of Istanbul’s plant geography its true plant type is the forest.

It is possible to see examples of pristine forest on both shores of the Bosphorus today. The Alemdað forests on the Anatolian side and the Belgrade forest on the European are damp, mixed-leaf forests. Their dominant tree species is the oak, three species of which – English oak, sessile or durmast oak, and Hungarian oak – are spread over a broad area. Oriental beech is observed in areas near the Black Sea coast. Other species entering into the mix in these damp forests include hornbeam, Anatolian chestnut, quaking aspen, alder, common hazel, hedge maple, beech-maple, smooth elm, field elm, broad leaf linden, goat willow and grey willow.

At 5,442 hectares today, the Belgrade Forest is one of Istanbul’s most important forested areas. The fact that, according to one view, it has supplied the city’s water needs since 375-395 A.D. lends it a special significance. Far from supplying any water needs today, however, it is used more as a recreational area. Similar in structure, the Çatalca, Kanlýca and Alemdað forests continue to produce firewood and lumber. But the Istanbul forests are not limited only to these natural forests. Since the 1960’s especially, various units of the forestry service have been experimenting with different types of reforestation with fast-growing exotic (foreign) species in the city’s vast vacant areas.

Reforestation with the maritime pine (Pinus pinaster), known throughout the world as a fast-growing industrial tree, has however unfortunately failed to produce the desired results. General Director of Forests Osman Kahveci, whose views we sought on the subject of such artificial forests, had this to say: “Istanbul is 44% forest. These areas are quite rich in tree species, herbal plants and wild life.

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