History of the Bosphorus Strait
The Bosphorus is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. The name Bosphorus is also known as the “Strait of Constantinople”. It is the narrowest strait used for international navigation in the world. The Bosphorus connects The Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, thus being a lifeline for trade within the Eastern European countries for centuries. The strait itself is fairly large, reaching depths between 13 and 110 meters and a maximum width of 3,329 m. There are hundreds of seafront houses that line both the European side as well as the Asian side of this beautiful waterway. You can also see dozens of mosques and palaces lining the strait. There are many things that travelers can do while touring the Bosphorus. There are several ferries and cruises that take you to various hot spots along the waterway.
The Maiden Tower
The Maiden Tower also referred to as Leander’s Tower, sits about 200 meters off the coast from the town of Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. From Üsküdar, you can take a boat out to the island and tour the building for 20TL ($10 USD). We were pressed for time and decided not to go out to the island. However, we did stop taking photos. The Asian side of Istanbul had the best vantage points to capture the island.
There are several myths and legends about this tower. The oldest being about the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. The hero was a priestess to the goddess Aphrodite who lived in the tower. She fell in love with a man who lived across the strait and would light a lamp to guide him to her tower each night. But one stormy night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the wind blew out Hero’s light. Leander lost his way and drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.
Another popular Turkish legend about the tower is of an emperor that had a daughter who he cherished. One day an oracle prophesied that a venomous snake would kill her on her 18th birthday. The emperor had the tower built to keep her safe. On her 18th birthday, her father brought her a basket of exotic fruits as a birthday gift. The emperor was overjoyed that he was able to protect his daughter for so long, but as she reached into the basket a snake that had been hiding in the basket bit her and she died in her father’s arms. Hence why the tower is called the Maiden Tower.
The Bosphorus Boat Cruise
Another fun activity that you can do on the Bosphorus is to take a dinner cruise. There are many companies that offer a range of different cruise options, lasting anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. The cost can vary quite a bit and I would definitely recommend bargaining the price down as much as you can. We ended up paying €35 per person for four people.
The cruise included a wonderful full Turkish meal and unlimited alcohol. We enjoyed everything from beer to wine to Raki. Raki is a traditional Turkish drink that is very similar to the ouzo that we tried in Greece. It has the same black licorice taste and can be enjoyed over ice and with a bit of water cut it down a bit. The cruise also had live entertainment and traditional dancing on the top deck. As we floated down the river, making our way under bridges and past gorgeous mosques, we enjoyed magnificent views of the city lights of Istanbul.
Visiting The Asia Side
Many people that visit Istanbul get so swept up in all of the historical sites on the European side that they don’t have a chance to explore the Asian side of the city. This side of the city is much quieter and offers travelers a different side of the city. The easiest and most popular way to get to the Asia side of the city is to take a ferry. The cost is only 4TL and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery.
There are several places to see, depending on what your interests are. While exploring the Üsküdar area, we stumbled upon narrow streets that were all lined with cafes. Afternoon tea in Turkey seems to be an important part of the culture. We noticed that all of these cafes were full of older men. We decided to see what all the fuss was about. We sat down and ordered 3 cay teas. As we were sitting there, an older man came up to Brandon and asked us to take a picture with him. He couldn’t speak any English but gestured that Brandon was so tall and that he was so much shorter. It was a hilarious non-verbal conversation. Ironic that our very first day exploring the continent of Asia and someone asked to take a photo. Priceless.
The small harbor town of Kadıköy is another recommended place to visit on the Asia side of Istanbul. It is a busy little town, as it acts as one of the main ports bringing goods and items to the residential district of the megalopolis of Istanbul. There are wonderful markets, traditional cafes, and restaurants that one can enjoy some of the best views of the European side of the city. There is also an open-air market on Tuesdays that offers wonderful local fruits and vegetables along with other Turkish specialties.
Day trips to the Black Sea
The Full Bosphorus Tour offers a great Bosphorus experience, but it will take several hours to complete. For a mere 25 TL, the cruise will take you from Eminönü all the way to the Black Sea, and back. Each way takes about 90 minutes. The ferry makes 5 short stops along the way to let people on and off. You must get off the ferry in the last harbor before the Black Sea. This gives you the opportunity to grab a late lunch in one of the town’s fish restaurants located on the shore and or to visit the fortress. Onboard you can use digital guides explaining over 70 points of interest along the way. These guides are offered in 10 different languages including Turkish, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Persian, and Arabic.