Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Turkey's Marmaray project: An ambitious plan to link Europe and Asia

By John Defterios, CNN
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Turkey is often described as the link between Europe and Asia -- now a tunnel will connect the two continents
  • The Marmaray link is 76-kilometers long and has cost $4.5 billion
  • It is part of the government's ambitious plan to expand the country's economy
  • Prime Minister Erdogan may, however, face public opposition to his infrastructure drive

Editor's note: John Defterios is CNN's Emerging Markets Editor and anchor of Global Exchange. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- As a country, Turkey is often described as a bridge between Europe and Asia. On Tuesday, for the first time, the two continents will be officially connected by a multi-billion dollar underwater railway tunnel.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and numerous transport and trade ministers gathered to open the giant rail system, on the country's republic day.

The Marmaray link, named by combining the Sea of Marmara with "ray," meaning rail in Turkish, is a part of $4.5 billion, 76-kilometer mega-project launched by the government in 2004.

Erdogan, speaking at the event, said the project "connects history and future, past and the future, as well as connecting continents, Marmaray connects people, nations and countries."

The challenges of connecting continents
World's deepest submerged tunnel

Its scale, along with designs for a third airport, a parallel canal for the Bosphorus river and a third suspension bridge, are seen as overly ambitious plans by Erdogan to build his legacy and hark back to days of the Ottoman Empire.

The bold project brings the dreams of Sultan Abdul Medjid, first outlined more than a century ago, to reality as the Turkish Republic celebrates its 90th anniversary.

READ MORE: Silk Road railways link Europe and Asia

It is finally being completed by Erdogan after he faced intense protests for the redevelopment plans of a central Istanbul park with Ottoman-era military barracks and a mosque. The 13.6 kilometer (8.5 miles) tunnel -- the deepest of its kind -- passes under the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world.

The financial capital of Istanbul, with a population of nearly 15 million people, is often snarled with traffic, with some two million residents making the crossing between continents on a daily basis.

According to Erdogan, Marmaray "is not a project only for Istanbul Marmaray is a project for whole humanity."

The rail system, built by a Turkish-Japanese consortium, is expected to have a capacity of one and a half million people a day, connecting the two continents in about four minutes.

The Marmaray is being described as a vital link on the modern Silk Road, which will provide seamless rail transport from Turkey to China.

Turkey, under Erdogan, has looked east to tap emerging markets for growth. More than half its exports go to the European Union, and that slowdown has cut Turkey's annual growth in half after it peaked above 8% before the 2008-09 financial crisis.

READ MORE: The world's spectacular infrastructure projects

Beyond the size of such an undertaking, digging for the Marmaray uncovered some 40 thousand artefacts and helped archaeologists trace Istanbul's history back 8,500 years, 2,500 more than ever believed before.

However the discoveries delayed the project for four years, which frustrated the prime minister who, analysts and businessmen say, wants to put a permanent imprint on Turkey's financial capital.

The project also had to account for Turkey's long history of violent earthquakes, and the tunnel's position parallel to a major fault line. Transport minister Binali Yildirim has outlined the precautions, including that the tunnel is designed handle a quake of 9.0 magnitude due to construction that allows movement.

READ MORE: Connecting continents amid earthquakes

With these infrastructure projects Erdogan is aiming high, striving to increase Turkey's impact as the republic heads towards its 100th anniversary.

Erdogan believes Turkey can double its gross domestic product to $2 trillion, and by doing so stake its claim as one of the top ten economies internationally.

But obtaining the financing for this activity after such fierce public resistance may stand in the way of this government's master plan.

Tuesday, however, was a day in which Erdogan could point to his pride in Marmaray. It is, he said, "an artwork that will find its place in history as an environmentalist project as well as being a project of precision and excellence."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 0846 GMT (1646 HKT)
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 0015 GMT (0815 HKT)
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT