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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1049 GMT (1849 HKT)
British PM David Cameron has had the narrowest of political escapes.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
British journalist John Cantlie hadn't been seen in nearly two years. Now, he's the latest hostage to be paraded out by ISIS.
The burial leader. The hospital gatekeeper. The disease detective. All telling powerful, stories from West Africa.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Alibaba's IPO is unlike anything investors have ever seen and could threaten other online retailers. Maggie Lake reports.
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 0358 GMT (1158 HKT)
Indian PM Narendra Modi has said al Qaeda will fail if it seeks to spread its terror network into his country.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
 Tennis Player Li Na attends the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party as guests enjoy Ciroc Vodka presented by Dubai Duty Free at Kensington Roof Gardens on June 19, 2014 in London,
Asia's first grand slam singles champion Li Na has called time on her 15-year tennis career.
Jenson Button has some of quickest reactions ever shown at an advanced sports lab.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
Creative companies with quirky ideas find new lending models advantageous.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT