Views of Istanbul from the water
After immersing ourselves completely in the chaos of the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul’s historic centre, we decided to spend most of our day enjoying views of the city from out in the middle of the Bosphorus.
The Bosphorus is the narrow strip of water that links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, via the Sea of Marmara. It forms part of the natural boundary between Europe and Asia, hence Istanbul’s claim that it is the only city that straddles 2 continents*. The entire strait is only 31km long and just 700m wide at its narrowest point (it’s 3.4km wide at its widest). We found out today that there are actually 2 currents in the Bosphorous: one along the surface that runs North to South, from the more elevated Black Sea to the lower Mediterranean Sea; and one below in the depths that carries the saltier waters of the Mediterranean back up to the less salty Black Sea. These 2 currents and the narrowness of the strait makes it one of the more dangerous shipping channels in the world, as well as one of the busiest. Some 65,000 ships travelling its length each year. Since the Bosphorus is so narrow, ships can only travel North towards the Black Sea in the mornings and Southwards in the afternoons/evenings. The currents also ensure the Bosphorus is teeming with sea life, making fishing and eating seafood cornerstones of Istanbul life.
*Interestingly we’ve found this adage to be true not just of the city’s geography, but also its architecture and people. There is no doubt this is an Islamic state: the skyline is dominated by mosques, the morning to call to prayer has awoken us every day since we arrived and women walk the streets wearing head scarves. At the same time, however, there are European-style houses, cafes and shops everywhere; and along with their headscarves, women wear the same business suits or jeans we do in Aus. The blend of East and West is fascinating and makes Turkey totally unique.
The cruise we took left from Sultanahemt and sailed most of the way up the Bosphorus. It was a pretty sedate trip, watching the suburbs of Istanbul roll past. Istanbul is actually a really hilly city, with most of the hills ending abruptly in the water – there are no real beaches along the Bosphorus. As we sailed along we could see lots of expensive-looking houses and apartment buildings perched along the hillsides, with lots of fancy boats moored along the way. In some ways the cityscape from the waterline reminded us of Sydney, though Istanbul is much, much larger and packed much denser.
Our first notable landmark that we sailed past was Dolmabahçe Palace, the “new” palace built by the Ottoman Empire’s 31st Sultan, Abdülmecid I, in 1856.
Further on we passed under was the First Bosphorus Bridge. This suspension bridge was builtin 1973 and was, as the name implies, the first bridge to link the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. It’s a huge construction and pretty impressive.
On the Asian side of the strait, just under the shadow of the bridge, was Beylerbeyi Palace – the 19th century summer residence of the Ottoman Sultans.
Further on, guarding the narrowest part of the Bosphorus was Rumelihisarı (translation = Rumeli Fortress). built in the 15th century, not long after the Turks invaded and conquered Constantinople/Istanbul, the fortress was instrumental in protecting Istanbul during its 500 years as an Imperial capital.
Not long after the fortress we passed under the Second Bosphorus Bridge (also called the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge). Built in 1988, the bridge is named after the 15th century Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conquerer, who conquered Constantinople in 1453.
*A third Bosphorous bridge is currently under construction, but for now some 10 million commuters use the 2 bridges every day to cross from the largely residential Asian side of Istanbul to the more commercial European side, and back again. A tunnel is also being built to link the 2 sides of the city.
We still had plenty of energy to burn after our sedate cruise and so went exploring the area immediately around the ferry terminal. The most striking landmark on the Golden Horn side of Sultanahmet would have to be the Yeni Cami (translation = New Mosque). Built in 1597 this large mosque was built to accommodate the growing population of worshippers in medieval Istanbul. The interior of the mosque is beautifully decorated with blue, green and white tiles arranged in mesmerising geometric patterns so characteristic of Islamic art.
Opposite the New Mosque is the Mısır Çarşısı (translation = Egyptian Bazaar), the second largest covered shopping complex in town, after the Grand Bazaar. Being suckers for punishment, we went in to have a look. Sometimes called the Spice Bazaar, the Mısır Çarşısı was much smaller than the Grand Bazaar and much more manageable.We were barely overwhelmed at all!
Sometimes called the Spice Market, this is more of a food market and has been the centre of the Turkish spice trade since it was built in the 17th century. We treated ourselves to some Turkish Delight (which was, by the way, incredibly sweet – all Turkish desserts seem to be made for people with a SERIOUS sweet tooth), and then headed back home for a quiet night in.