The Bosphorus and the Black Sea have always had an air of mystery about them for me. Perhaps it developed reading books in the past about this narrow waterway separating two continents and at the same time providing a trade route between Russia and Eastern Europe in the north and the Mediterranean and Middle East countries in the south. The Black Sea is huge, almost completely inland, with shores now shared by Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Georgians and Turkish.
Eminönü is the departure point for the ferry that would take us up the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea. It’s a suburb located at the mouth of the Golden Horn about ten minutes by bus from Fener and is also a transport hub for buses and trams. A number of ferries make the journey but not all journeys are the same. On the wharf at Eminönü, hawkers continually advertise tours throughout the day, coercing people onto boats and tours of varying degrees of merit and reliability.
We’d done some research online beforehand and discovered that the most recommended tour is run by the municipal ferry company Sehir Hatlari. The ferry itself was quite large and was reasonably full but not uncomfortable.
On the day of our voyage, it was bright and sunny, quite warm but with a light and refreshing breeze. The waterways around Istanbul were as busy as ever with ferries going this way and that, some looking like they might collide. They competed with large tankers ploughing their way up the Bosphourus and small fishing boats that bobbed up and down amid the turmoil of the traffic around them.
The ferry would make five stops at various points along the length of the Bosphorus, some on the European side and some on the Asian side. Each stop was short, some people would get off and others would get on. At one stop, a scarf salesman boarded and made his way around the boat, politely trying to engage each and every passenger in a conversation that he hoped would result in a sale.
Wherever I looked, the choppy waters of the Bosphorus were full of jellyfish. There were loads of them, making their way down from the Black Sea towards warmer waters, a phenomenon apparently common at this time of year. At one point we saw a school of dolphins swimming in the water some distance from the boat, completely unbothered by the jellyfish.
Forested hillsides interspersed with buildings all the way down to the water’s edge were a feature on both sides of the Bosphorus. Being a prime real estate location there were lots of apartments and mansions, many from times long past and amongst them, particularly on the Asian side, were the distinctive and ever present minarets of mosques, sticking up like needles towards the sky. There were the ruins of fortifications, hinting back to a time when Istanbul was Constantinople, and modern bridges with their slender decks suspended in a mathematically defined arc, linking one continent to another.
After nearly two hours we arrived at the small fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi on the Asian side, not far from the mouth of the Black Sea. The village waterfront had lots of little tavernas and houses that were so close to the water a small boat could be rowed directly from the sea into a garage underneath the house.
As we’d approached the village on the ferry we’d noticed the ruins of a Byzantine-era fortification called Yoros Castle on top of a nearby hill. As soon as we alighted, we walked up to it for a better view of the Black Sea. There used to be a similar fortification on the opposite side of the Bosphorus and between the two castles a long chain was once used to prevent attacking ships from entering the Bosphorus straits.
From the hill on which Yoros Castle was built we had an amazing view of the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. It was one of the narrowest points of the strait and the two continents were connected via the lofty and elegant Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge. Designed by Swiss and French engineers, it is the tallest suspension bridge in the world and was only completed and opened to road and rail traffic just over a year ago.
We sat on the hill for some time, gazing out to the bridge and the Black Sea beyond it, watching an endless stream of cargo vessels slowly making their way from Russian ports towards Istanbul. With my camera I could zoom in on the name of each vessel and use it to obtain data online about the vessel itself, the port it had departed from, its current position at sea and various other statistics. The only thing absent were details about its crew and cargo.
There appeared to be no end to the Black Sea as it extended to the horizon in the north. I tried to imagine the foreign lands beyond it, on distant shores invisible from my vantage point. I thought about the geographic importance of where I sat and also the political and economic significance of the trading route before me. It was a special place, a kind of centre, where lots of opposites seem to converge.
We stayed for over two hours at Anadolu Kavagi before heading back to Istanbul. The journey was a highlight of our brief stay in Turkey and a pleasant mix of relaxation and thought-provoking scenery.