Turkey’s presidential ‘White Palace’ set to cost over $500m

Public opinion divided on President Erdogan’s sprawling new edifice

Turkey’s controversial presidential residence outside Ankara boasts nearly 1,000 rooms and is one of many potent symbols for critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph: The New York Times

Turkey’s controversial presidential residence outside Ankara boasts nearly 1,000 rooms and is one of many potent symbols for critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph: The New York Times

 

Turkey’s newly inaugurated presidential palace, a vast 1,000-room complex in Ankara woodland, is set to cost more than $500 million (€400 million) by the end of next year, the country’s minister for finance has said.

The construction of the sprawling edifice has sharply divided public opinion, with critics pointing to it as evidence of President Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly domineering stature after more than a decade at the helm of Turkish politics.

Mr Erdogan, who had served as prime minister since 2003, won Turkey’s first popular presidential election in August.

“Some $432.7 million has been paid for the construction of the new presidential palace as of now and some $135 million will be allocated for the palace in 2015,” said minister for finance Mehmet Simsek, according to the Hurryiet Daily News.

The total value of the project was expected to reach $615 million, and a new presidential jet would be bought for $185 million, Mr Simsek told parliament’s planning and budget commission.

Brightly illuminated at night and sitting on a hilltop, the complex – nicknamed Ak Saray or the White Palace – dominates the skyline on the western edge of the Turkish capital.

Covering an area of 200,000sq m, with a three-storey residence for Erdogan and his family, it had initially been planned as a prime ministry when he was still prime minister, but its function changed before he ran for the presidency.

Its columned structure and wide flat roofs echo the Seljuk architecture of the 11th to 13th centuries, but local media report that the palace is equipped with underground bunkers and hi-tech defences against cyber attacks and bugging.

Pictures show huge corridors, atriums and marble floors.

“The new compound has been built as a maximum efficient living space with the most advanced technical infrastructure . . . The new premises will serve for long years,” presidential general secretary Fahri Kasirga told the budget commission.

The construction of the palace has been controversial from the outset, not least because it is constructed on land bequeathed to the state as a forest farm by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic.

Several court orders blocking the project failed to halt construction, infuriating environmentalists who said it despoiled one of Ankara’s few remaining green spaces.

Previous presidents used Ataturk’s more modest old palace, but the decision to move comes as Erdogan launches what he has dubbed a “New Turkey”, in which he has made no secret of his ambition to amend the constitution and create a full executive presidential system.

CHP opposition parliamentarian Hursit Gunes said Erdogan “doesn’t listen to court decisions, he doesn’t listen to the constitution; the president is out of control”.

“I don’t believe the palace is the sign of an emerging country, but of a primitive, under-developed one. It’s ridiculous,” he said. Reuters