The stage of the state : opera architecture and cultural politics in Turkey 1923-1956

Sancar, Ayca; Sowa, Axel (Thesis advisor); Boyacioglu, Esin (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2022)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2022


With the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the multiethnic monarchy of the Ottoman Empire was transformed into a secular nation-state. This transition was accompanied by state-led endeavors towards social and technological modernization according to Western ideal, facilitated by various instruments, reforms and policies. The performing arts were considered as an important agent within this modernization project and as a key instrument for the country’s integration into the Western world. In the early years of the republic, under the lead of foreign experts invited to the country, educational and cultural institutions for the performing arts were established. Similarly, architecture and city planning were instrumentalized by the young state for cultural-political purposes. The aspired built environment was to manifest the state’s new identity and serve to raise civilized citizens by providing the physical spaces to practice and internalize Western lifestyles. Under the guidance of European experts, the architectural culture of the country was reformed according to modernist principles and city planning was introduced to the country as a new discipline. As the interface of the establishments in the fields of performing arts, architecture, and city planning, opera houses as urban performance venues were of particular significance within the architectural production of the country. Notably, within the first three decades of the republic, over a dozen different designs for opera buildings were developed. When considering that the country at that time had come out of an independence war and was struggling with the repercussions of a world war, the priority attributed to the design of opera buildings becomes even more remarkable. With the performances and rituals it hosted, its positioning in the urban context, and its architecture, in early republican Turkey the opera house was conceived as a symbol of state identity and power, a landmark and symbol of urbanity, a secular public venue, and a center of social education. Against this background, the dissertation discusses the interplay between opera, architecture, and cultural politics in the first quarter century of the Turkish Republic, using opera and its architecture as a lens to examine cultural-political transformations. The work elaborates the individual stories of opera designs from the respective time frame, while discussing their development histories, architectural characteristics, and cultural-political contexts. During these discussions, the role of foreign experts in the respective context and forms of bidirectional knowledge transfer between Turkey and the German-speaking world are addressed.