President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated the construction of the new Atatürk Cultural Center, a landmark step in the nation's art and culture including a giant opera house which is expected to be completed in less than two years.
"We will complete [construction of] the Istanbul Atatürk Cultural Center in a short period of time, some two years, and we will put it in the service of artists and culture lovers," Erdoğan told a groundbreaking ceremony for the new center in Taksim Square.
"Today we are taking a significant step that will be a breakthrough in our country's art and culture," added Erdoğan.
He said the center, representing an investment of 850 million Turkish liras, would have five separate sections spanning over 95,000 square meters.
Erdoğan said the building will boast an opera hall that seats over 2,000 people and sets new international standards, a theatre hall that seats over 800, backstage rooms, and fair areas.
The center will also feature meeting rooms, administrative offices, and restaurants, he added.
Erdogan said that the old center was unable to meet Istanbul's needs and was in disrepair and needed renovation, as detailed by various reports since 2007.
He added that the new library is set to boast 6 million volumes.
The historical barracks were built in the 1770s in the Eyüp district on Istanbul's European side.
Erdoğan also noted that the historical Rami Artillery Barracks in Istanbul will be converted into the city's largest library and the country will no longer impose VAT on books, magazines, or newspapers.
The new building will replace Atatürk Culture Center, a relic of the 1970s, and will appeal to larger crowds.
Though it will mainly serve as an opera house, the center will also have sections ranging from a cinema and theater to exhibition halls and is expected to be a major attraction for the city's locals and the thousands of tourists visiting from around the world.
Praising the project, musician Orhan Gencebay said the giant project is world-class and worthy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Actor Zafer Alagöz said for years he had performed at the old opera building and now he is excited to witness the birth of a new facility.
On the shortcomings of the old Atatürk Cultural Center, Alagöz said: "The old cultural center only occupied one-fourth of the existing area. When I saw the new project, I got so happy because not only for Turkey and Istanbul but for Europe too, it will also become a key culture and art center."
Actor Volkan Severcan also praised the project, saying the center holds great importance for all artists living in Istanbul.
He added that they were "longing for this day."