Sunset on the Bosphorus.

Lifeblood of Istanbul, the Bosphorus has witnessed more than any one person can remember. It has many tales to tell.

Ever since Io, Zeus’s lover, swam across the Bosphorus, there’s been a lot of back and forth going on. As many as 15,000 ferries carry up to 1,5 million people across the Bosphorus on a daily basis. And about 180,000 vehicles pass over the Bosphorus bridges during that same day. Imagine!

And only a few years ago, Tiger Woods casually stopped a lot of those cars, causing huge traffic jams, just to hit a few golf balls across the bridge, from one continent to the other. But as a city of nearly 15 million, all of that teeming activity is hardly surprising for Istanbul. 

No Istanbul without Bosphorus

One of the busiest waterways in the world, the Bosphorus is an inseparable part of Istanbul. It has been written and sung about, it has served as the scene for a number of historical showdowns. Some even believe that this is where Noah’s flood occurred, turning a small lake into the Black Sea.

Bosphorus Seagull

The strait is always teeming with activity, day and night.

Despite its peculiar shape, which makes maneuvering difficult, ships unceasingly zigzag across the strait’s surface. And for good reason. With its 620 yalı (historic waterfront mansions), the Bosphorus has many stunning sights to offer. These include numerous museums, mosques, castles and palaces, the Galata tower and even a few universities.

The Yalı

Bosphorus crossing

Architectural masterpieces, imperial mosques top the hills of Istanbul along with other beautiful yalıs.

The oldest among the waterfront mansions was built in 1699 by the grand vizier Amcazade Köprülü Hüseyin Pasha and only parts of it remain. Another notable mansion is the ‘Erbilgin Yalısı’, one of the most expensive houses in the world, whose price tag has been estimated at $100 million. In other words, there is a lot to marvel at on the Bosphorus waterfront.

And of course you can’t take a Bosphorus cruise, without at least having a brief look at the Maiden’s Tower off the coast of Üsküdar. Also known as Leander’s Tower (another story from Greek mythology), it was first constructed in 1110.

Since then the small island and its various buildings have seen numerous natural disasters, sieges, and the rise and fall of empires. So having been featured in a James Bond movie is certainly not the most impressive thing about it.

One of the legends associated with the island states that Leander would swim to it each night. There he would to meet up with his lover, the priestess Hero. While Leander’s name is erroneously associated with this island, since the story actually takes places in the Dardanelles, it is still impressive to imagine the feat of bravely swimming to the island each day. Leander could have just waited for the Bosphorus to freeze, but then again –  love is not usually patient.

The beauty of the Bosphorus

We weren’t kidding, the Bosphorus does really freeze. The last time was in 1954 and people actually crossed it on foot. We also know from 5th century Greek historian Herodotus that this used to occur every once in a while even back then. Frozen or not, the Bosphorus is always a beautiful sight to behold.

Bosphorus Sunset

On the Bosphorus, every time of the day offers sights that are worthy of being captured.

At sunrise, Istanbul’s contours begin to appear with its seven hills watching over the Bosphorus. And at sunset, the city seems to be falling asleep, only to reemerge a moment later in all of its illuminated nightly splendor. Midday is not a bad time to take a cruise on the Bosphorus, either. From end to end you can see in all directions, marvel at how the city has spread out calmly around the strait over the course of many centuries.

And you’ll be in good company, too – dolphins are often seen in the Bosphorus and swim playfully along with cruise ships. The strait also used to be inhabited by swordfish but this is sadly not the case anymore. Lastly, if you’re lucky, you might even come by the herd of pigs which made headlines last year when it swam across the Bosphorus.

Enjoy your stay

Bottom line is that whoever wants to get from point A to point B can make use of the bridges or the railway tunnel that runs underneath it. The tunnel, which opened last year, is the deepest submerged tunnel of its kind in the world.

But whoever is not in a hurry to get to their destination, should jump on a Bosphorus cruise in order to fully take in the beauty and diversity of one of the most impressive cities in the world.

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