The Story Of The

Feverish efforts were underway on January 17, 1875, when the Cadde-i Kebir, which we know today as İstiklal Caddesi, was completed. These efforts were the preparations for the opening ceremony of Europe’s second, and Istanbul’s first, underground rail line.

major project completed in 1875, the Istanbul ‘Tünel’ would have the distinction of being Europe’s second underground after the London Metro, which opened in 1863. The people of Istanbul made their first acquaintance with the metro when a French engineer by the name of Eugene-Henri Gavand visited the city in 1867. During his visit, Gavand noticed that there was heavy human traffic between Galata and Pera (Karaköy and Beyoğlu), the city’s two major districts at the time. Karaköy was the city’s financial center and the Istanbul Bourse was located there along with banks, customs and other offices. Beyoğlu meanwhile was brimming with hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment as well as embassies and private homes.

Henri Gavand conducted some interesting research on the human traffic between the two districts, determining that close to forty thousand people shuttled between Galata and Beyoğlu a day. What’s more, they had no choice but to negotiate a very steep and arduous slope. Thinking that an elevator-type underground rail link between the two districts would not only facilitate these people’s movements but also net him a significant income, Gavand immediately got down to work.
The troubles that plagued Henri Gavand during his efforts to realize the project, which would constitute the initial core of the Istanbul Metro, are so numerous and fascinating as to fill volumes. After Gavand, who went back to France to fund the project, secured the necessary financing, he applied to the Sublime Porte for a concession to build and operate the ‘Tünel’, as it would be called. The application was approved on June 10, 1869. The next phase was to form the company and secure the capital. Going back to France in 1870, Gavand solved the financing problem thanks to the contacts he had established earlier, and the company was formed and named the ‘Chemin de Fer Metropolitain de Galata à Pera’, in other words, ‘the Istanbul Metropolitan Railroad from Galata to Pera’.

Gavand had formed his company, but a series of setbacks awaited him, the first of which was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
War between France and Prussia broke out on July 19, 1870. What’s more, the French were defeated and the Germans occupied Paris on March 1st of the following year. No financial transactions of any kind were possible in France under the circumstances. His hands tied, Henri Gavand decided to pursue his project by forming a company in England, which he did, ‘The Metropolitain of Constantinople from Galata to Pera’. But this process would take far longer than Gavand had counted on since Ottoman regulations for setting up a business were based on French law. Under British law, a special arrangement had to be made for the newly formed company, and this turned out to be a time-consuming process. Gavand on the other hand had no time to waste since he had been granted only a limited period for starting the project under his agreement with the Ottomans, and if work did not begin within the appointed time the contract would become null and void. To avoid nullification, Gavand confiscated a little property and undertook a few excavations just for show.

By September 9, 1871, the requisite arrangements regarding English companies were in place and the new company was granted a concession. But Henri Gavand’s troubles weren’t over yet. This time he was faced with yet another obstacle. The Grand Vizier Âli Pasha had died on September 7, 1871. Âli Pasha had been among those giving their full support to Gavand’s metro project and it was common knowledge that his thoughts regarding it were extremely positive.
Âli Pasha’s successor, Mahmut Nedim Pasha, on the other hand, insisted on reviewing all the records regarding the Tünel, which created yet another problem for Henri Gavand. But this process too was eventually completed on April 4, 1872, and Gavand could finally start work on the Tünel. Having secured approval for the project in 1869, Gavand only obtained the requisite permission for forming a company in 1872. Despite all these stumbling blocks, however, Henri Gavand produced a ‘tünel’ that was 555 meters long, 4.9 meters high, and 6.7 meters in diameter with a rail link totaling 626 meters in length.

The opening of the Tünel, which was completed in November 1874, took place on January 17, 1875. But in November a new development occurred even as trial runs on the new railroad were under way. At the very moment when Henri Gavand might have been wondering what else could possibly go wrong, the English company that had provided the financial support and was a partner in the construction unilaterally decided to pocket all the proceeds, and Gavand was forced to withdraw from the project.

One person was therefore missing at the opening ceremony on January 17, 1875, yet not one of the invited guests was even aware of his absence. This person was none other than Eugene-Henri Gavand, who had surmounted a thousand and one obstacles to make the Tünel project a reality.