21-Mar-2004 -- MERHABA İSTANBUL! (Hello Istanbul!)
Since many years I have not been here in the area, but in my young years I visited Istanbul very frequently. Coming from the Dardanelles (Hellespont / Çanakkale Boğazı) it was a nice "Istanbul revisited!"
Where and with what should I start when telling something about this remarkable town? Hardly any other offshore Confluence in the World is so interesting, full of history and offering such a wonderful panorama as 41N 29E does. After sailing through the Marmara Sea overnight I had to drop anchor SW of Istanbul in the morning of March, 20, in order to await transit through the Bosporus. Due to heavy traffic "Sector Kadıköy Traffic Control", to whom every ship has to report on VHF and to request permission to transit, delayed me again and again the whole day, until they advised me to enter the Strait shortly after midnight. I was not very amused about that, for it meant to visit this Confluence I was so long time waiting for, in darkness. And then my transit was again cancelled, and finally on March, 21, at 5 a.m., I got the permission to heave up the anchor and to proceed to the entrance of the Bosporus.
I knew sunrise to be a few minutes after 6 a.m., and so I heaved up my anchor very unhurriedly and started to filter myself lamely into the traffic separation lane for the northbound ships. In order to have good daylight for the photos. I did all that very, very slowly, obviously so provocatively slow that "Sector Kadıköy" watching me on their radar, urged me several times impatiently to proceed faster and not to screw up their schedule. I told them to be patient, as I am neither a high speed boat nor an air-cushion vehicle, but only an old cargo ship of which I am glad she is still making any speed ahead at all.
But, however, I approached and finally I was steering a course of 000° - exactly North along the 29th Eastern meridian. That was what I wanted.
Let's look first towards South. There is the small archipelago of the Adalar Islands in the Marmara Sea. Adalar is a group of nine islands. They are generally high with cliffs of a bright red and yellow hue due to the large amount of iron and other minerals in their rock. The four larger islands are popular resorts for the inhabitants of Istanbul. The remainder of the group are little more than barren rocky islets.
Then we are looking towards East towards the Asian part of Turkey (Anatolia), where the suburb of Haydarpaşa is located. At Haydarpaşa today there is Istanbul's commercial port and the modern container terminal.
Looking straight North we see the southern entrance to the Bosporus and parts of modern Istanbul.
And now we come to the big hit: Let's look Northwest towards Ahırkapı Burnu (Cape):
THIS IS ISTANBUL!
- or Byzantium, as it was originally called, ...
- or Nova Roma as it was shortly called by the Romans
- or Constantinople as it was renamed by Constantine the Great in 330 A.D.
... the capital of the Eastern Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman Empires and of the Turkish Republic until 1924. The city was originally built on seven hills on the promontory on the south side of an estuary called "The Golden
Horn", which in Turkish is called "Haliç".
Metropolitan Istanbul has a population of about 7 million and has many quarters, as Galata and Ortaköy on the North side of The Golden Horn in Europe, and on the Asiatic shore opposite, Üsküdar, Haydarpaşa and Kadıköy.
Already the name "Istanbul" says much. It comes from the Greek "is-tin-polin" - meaning just "In The Town"... and needless to ask of what a town we are talking here!
Indeed, this early morning, when we are visiting this Confluence, a modern fairy town with its hundreds of cupolas and minarets awakes from another dream in Thousand And One Nights. Increasing light is intensifying the colours of the façades, as we can see it when having a closer look to the world famous "Hagia Sophia" mosque, the once most important cathedral of Christianity and then converted into a mosque after the conquest through the Muslims.
A 400 m south of the Hagia Sophia there is the Sultanahmet Mosque and - a 400 m north of the Hagia Sophia we see the Topkapı Serail, originally the Harem (womens' house) of the Ottoman Sultans. Much of the Ottoman heritage and treasures can be admired in the Topkapı Museum, and of particular beauty are the emeralds, which twinkle coldly. It is believed that during night the shadows of the late Sultans are still haunting through the thousands of rooms of Topkapı Serail.
A last view to old Istanbul shows, what I really do call a "skyline".
Here we are not only at a geographical and mathematical confluence, but here it is where orient meets occident. Istanbul is full of contrasts. With one leg in Europe, with the other in Asia and connected by two high intercontinental suspension bridges spanning over the Bosporus; - in the South the Boğaziçi Bridge, linking the quarters of Ortaköy in Europe and Beylerbeyi in Asia, and, farther North, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge, connecting Rumelihisarı on the European side with Kanlıca Köyü on the Anatolian shore.
When visiting Istanbul's modern quarters with its skyscrapers we immediately feel to be in Europe and that Istanbul belongs undisputedly to the Western World, - the occident. But seeing the crowds of people daily passing the Galata-Bridge over the Golden Horn, and seeing the ten thousands of street vendors pulling their carts through the swarming of the masses, and when we enter into the scenty spice market or have a look into a silent mosque ... then we know: We are in Asia and feel the orient.
As before told, the European part of Istanbul is split in two by the Golden Horn. Two rivers flow into this estuary, the "Sweet Waters of Europe". Here, on the shores of the Golden Horn, we see Turkish men passing their time with playing "tavla" (a kind of Backgammon) and smoking their water pipes. Musicians play everywhere and the water vendors sell their goods. Horses are shaking their heads decorated with feathers, and a gypsy - in offence of every rule and regulation - is passing along with his dancing bear and makes him perform his stunts.
The Bosporus leads generally NNE for about 28 km and has an average width of only 1300 metres. This passage resembles to a river with abrupt and angular windings. It is a beautiful place to navigate through by an ocean going ship, but a hazardous one as well. Currents, generally flowing South (i.e. from the Black Sea into the Marmara Sea) may reach speeds of up to 5 km/h and especially in the bends they may strike the bow and cause ships to get beyond control.
A very dangerous corner, which I really do fear since decades, is Cape Kandilli (Kandilli Burnu) on the East shore, and about in the centre of the Bosporus. It is the narrowest area of this passage. Have a look on the waters between the ship and Cape Kandilli! Real whirlpools are gurgling here! Today again they were taking and shaking me and I had to exercise extreme caution in order not to crash into these beautiful buildings, - which by the way happens with quite a frequency. It would not have been the first time that the inhabitants of these houses make acquaintance with a ship's bow... :-(
Well, there could be written much more and many photos attached, but instead of that, I would rather prefer to recommend a movie to all who like to enjoy Istanbul in a humoristic and entertaining way: The title of the movie, a criminal comedy, is just "TOPKAPI", and it is certainly available in many online DVD or VHS shops. The elderly among us will recall it. It was produced somewhen in the 60's with starring Maximilian Schell as a smart burglar, Melina Mercouri as his bride, and Peter Ustinov, their clumsy and reluctant assistant. The movie has been produced chiefly in Istanbul and shows a lot of views. The plot is generally the following: Melina Mercouri and Maximilian Schell are planning to steal the Sultan's dagger from the Topkapı Museum, covered over and over with invaluably precious emeralds. As the floor of the museum is fitted with alarm sensors overnight, it is not possible to reach the glass cupboard on the traditional way. So they hire two trapeze artists, which are supposed to lower themselves down to the cupboard through a hatch in the roof of the museum, thus without touching the floor at all. A real problem to be solved was Ahırkapı Lighthouse. Up to the present day the beam of its light sweeps every six seconds along the whole eastern walls of the Topkapı Serail and illuminates them brightly. Thus the artists and Peter Ustinov (whose job was to stand by the climbing rope) could not remain undiscovered during their mission. But Melina Mercouri had the idea to visit the lighthouse warden of Ahırkapı and invited him for a game of "tavla" (... not Backgammon!). No Turk can withstand such an invitation, and certainly not from a charming lady. Whilst they are playing and the artists start their way up the façade, Maximilian Schell enters the chamber where the gear and machinery for turning the lens of the lighthouse is located. He stops the gearwheels for several minutes, just in the moment when the beam is directed towards the sea instead towards Topkapı Serail. All goes well and the artists manage to steal the dagger. But at the very end, however, all of them get caught.
More I do not tell, get the movie and have a look yourself. You will understand why the gloomy chief of Istanbul's Secret Police after having all of them arrested and being asked by them how he could find out despite all was so perfectly planned - simply replied:
"A small bird has chirped it into my ears..."
I do not believe this really happened, but the movie is entertaining and shows a lot of Istanbul. And the actors are certainly not worse than our modern ones, - to my old fashioned opinion even better and for my taste the movie has a far higher entertainment value than all this modern hi-tech stuff, ... and its production did certainly not cost hundreds of millions of Dollars.
Well, this was my Istanbul confluence. Finally I say:
Teşekkür ederim (many thanks), Sector Kadıköy Traffic Control, for your "understanding" and not having shot onto me with heavy artillery when I did not follow your speed instructions properly this morning before sunrise... ;-)