TURKEY: An American-style mega mall sprouts in Istanbul
Hüseyin Bürge had a dream.
As the mayor of Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district, he dreamed it would one day be remembered for something more joyful than its notorious prison.
Two weeks ago, his dream became a reality with the opening of Forum Istanbul down the street from the former Bayrampasa Prison. The new mega-mall is branded as Europe’s largest shopping center and probably offers one of the world's most unique mall views -- a grim jail and barbed wire.
“Finally, with this project, my dream has become real,” the Turkish English-language newspaper Hürriyet quoted Bürge as saying at the inauguration of the mall on Nov. 18.
The giant shopping center features hundreds of Turkish and international brands, including Zara and a gigantic IKEA. It's located on a large swath of land, about 5,300 square feet near the center of Istanbul’s European side, and was developed by the company Multi Turkmall with an investment of up to 1 billion euros.
But Forum Istanbul does not only pride itself as the largest shopping mall in Europe. It will also be home to Europe’s and Turkey’s largest aquarium -- Turkuazoo. By strolling through one of the world's longest underwater tunnels connecting the mall to the underwater zoo, shoppers will be able to examine up to 10,000 different sea creatures in the giant aquarium.
Plans are also in the pipeline to build an ice skating rink, a bowling alley and a Ferris wheel as tall as Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge.
Multi Turkmall Chief Executive Levent Eyüboğlu spoke proudly of his baby at the opening of Forum Istanbul.
“We had never made such an effort as we did to build this shopping complex," he said. "I doubt we can ever do anything better and more beautiful than Forum Istanbul,” he said.
He added that the shopping complex plans to employ 6,000 people.
So far, the mall appears to be a popular destination for many Istanbul residents. A 29-year old shopper told The Times that he had already visited the mall twice in the first week after its opening.
"I think it's an excellent place. It's my hobby to come here," he said.
Meanwhile, there are those wondering whether Istanbul really needs another shopping mall.
"Is another mall really necessary? Is there any other way to invest money? I wonder how many things we could invest in with 750 million euros. Trade schools, factories ... but of course these things might not fit the image. Gotta be beautiful and fun...," read a reader comment on Hürriyet's website.
Expectations run high for Forum Istanbul. Hopes are that the mall will attract 25 million visitors a year and generate an annual turnover of $500 million euros.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Istanbul, Turkey
Photos: Forum Istanbul opened on Nov.18 in the Turkish capital and prides itself as Europe's largest shopping mall. Credit: Alexandra Sandels