Football pitches beneath ​Yavuz Sultan Selim Camii

Football pitches beneath Yavuz Sultan Selim Camii

info
×

Bridging the Bosphorus

Istanbul is a city of contested identities, each of which pays service to an aspect of the vast breadth of history contained within and beyond its walls.

Swathes of the city fall under the steely gaze of Atatürk, the ‘father’ of the Turkish Republic, whose face appears on posters, flags and matchbox cards fixed proudly and prominently to the walls of homes, shops and restaurants. Yet in Çarşamba, perhaps the city’s most religiously conservative area, he sees little, and is little seen, a quiet indictment of his secular aspirations. In early 2013, the thousands of protesters gathered in Gezi Park marked another axis of contestation hinged upon the direction of the city’s urban development. Sparked by plans to remove the park, one of the only remaining green spaces in the centre of Istanbul’s European side, demonstrations quickly spread across the country and came to embody a more general expression of dissent against the policies of the incumbent AKP government.

Between and around these sites runs the Bosphorus, an integral part of the city and perhaps its defining feature. It simultaneously demarcates Istanbul’s two constituent halves, Europe and Asia, and yet, by virtue of such a unique quirk of geography, pulls them together as leaves branching both east and west from a single stem. As the city has grown outwards from the Bosphorus, so too have attempts to build connections across it. The first road bridge opened in 1973, followed by a second in 1988. A metro tunnel running beneath it was opened in 2013, and rumours of a monorail often surface as the solution to navigating the city’s dense, precipitous topography. Yet it is the ferries, which began operation in 1851, that have long bridged the water for the city’s population.

Slow and stately, but with an unerring certainty of purpose, they wind their way calmly back and forth across the blue-black waters of the Bosphorus. The groaning sound of the side of the boat, gleaming white and dotted with rust, as it crunches with a certain power against the tires that hang from the dock. The smell of oil and smoke, rising thick and black against the ambient yellows and oranges of an Istanbul evening, as the guttural hum of the engines vibrates the passengers. The tinkling chorus of metal on glass as spoons rattle sugar cubes around piping hot glasses of tea. The wonderfully dated interiors that could easily have been borrowed from a Wes Anderson movie. The brisk air rolling in off the Marmara Sea as you take in every side of Sultanahmet’s unforgettable skyline — so captivating a view that in 1910 one visitor suggested you should simply ‘never step ashore’. And, of course, the gulls that invariably follow along for the ride, scanning the churn of the propellers for an easy meal. A ferry trip on the Bosphorus feels like a different kind of commute — a journey not under the city, but between it.

Yet, in spite of all the ways in which the city’s constituent parts have been pulled together by an ever-expanding transport system, Istanbul continues to feel like a city of villages, each with a distinct identity invariably reflecting a part of the immense history to be found here. To my mind, this is one of its finest qualities. This ongoing series, put together over many trips to Istanbul, reflects my own exploration of this fascinating city.

​From left: pide bread goes into the oven in Ortaklar; detail from the Blue Mosque; a ferry departs Besiktas.

From left: pide bread goes into the oven in Ortaklar; detail from the Blue Mosque; a ferry departs Besiktas.

info
×
​A ferry departs Karaköy to cross the Bosphorus, heading to Asia.

A ferry departs Karaköy to cross the Bosphorus, heading to Asia.

info
×
​The dated interior of one of Istanbul's ferries.

The dated interior of one of Istanbul's ferries.

info
×
​Fenerbahçe fans on the ferry from Eminönu to Kadiköy before a game

Fenerbahçe fans on the ferry from Eminönu to Kadiköy before a game

info
×
​A woman and her son walk along one of Balat's cobbled streets in Istanbul's historic Jewish Quarter.

A woman and her son walk along one of Balat's cobbled streets in Istanbul's historic Jewish Quarter.

info
×
Tourists in Balat

Tourists in Balat

info
×
Phanar Greek Orthodox College​, the oldest surviving Greek Orthodox school in the city

Phanar Greek Orthodox College, the oldest surviving Greek Orthodox school in the city

info
×
Cafe Esat, Balat

Cafe Esat, Balat

info
×
​A man takes a selfie in front of one of Istiklal's iconic trams in Istanbul, Turkey.

A man takes a selfie in front of one of Istiklal's iconic trams.

info
×
​From left: football in Balat; Blue Mosque seen from Hagia Sophia; sunset over the Golden Horn.

From left: football in Balat; Blue Mosque seen from Hagia Sophia; sunset over the Golden Horn.

info
×
​Flower stalls in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey.

Flower stalls in Taksim Square.

info
×
​Street traders sell pigeon feed outside Yeni Came (New Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Street traders sell pigeon feed outside Yeni Came (New Mosque).

info
×
​Empty seats at a street Balik Ekmek ('fish in bread') eatery in Eminonu in Istanbul, Turkey.

Empty seats at a street Balik Ekmek ('fish in bread') eatery in Eminonu.

info
×
Fenerbahçe fans light up flares as the ferry arrives in Kadiköy, home to the team's stadium, before a game ​

Fenerbahçe fans light up flares as the ferry arrives in Kadiköy, home to the team's stadium, before a game

info
×
People dance as a young busker sings

People dance as a young busker sings

info
×
Fishing from Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.

Fishing from Galata Bridge at dusk

info
×
​Galata Tower in Istanbul seen at dusk.

Galata Tower at dusk.

info
×
​Night falls over Istanbul's sprawling suburbs.

Night falls over the city's sprawling suburbs.

info
×
Using Format