The Golden Horn From A Ferry Window

A cruise up the Golden Horn is more pleasurable now on the panoramic tour ferries than combine comfort with wide-angle viewing. And every stop on the 50-minute itinerary from Üsküdar up the estuary is like a window on the heart of Istanbul.

From Asia to Europe
On our right the Virgin’s Tower, on the slope opposite,Topkapı Palace, and in front of us the fountain of Ahmet III. Before boarding the ferry at Üsküdar we must first take a turn  around the area to savor its atmosphere. Salacak or Kuzguncuk is ideal for a stroll on the coast, the Üsküdar Market for shopping. Following the Mihrimah Sultan - Şemsi Paşa - Valide Sultan route, you will combine views of three graceful Ottoman mosques. Your cruise will be even more enjoyable if you pick up a few newspapers and magazines at one of the kiosk on the square. Ferries up the Golden Horn leave from Üsküdar every hour on the hour from 7:30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon and again from 5:45 to 8:45 p.m. On Sundays and official holidays the first ferry is at 10:30 a.m. The trip, which takes a total of 50 minutes, costs TL 1.50 per person one way. Tea is TL .50 and coffee TL 1.50 on the panoramic tour ferries which are far more spacious and comfortable than the world famous ‘vaporetto’s that cover the Grand Canal at Venice in the same amount of time. Pulling away from the landing in the company of seagulls, our ferry reaches Eminönü in 15 minutes. From the Eminönü Landing, which leads to Istanbul landmarks like the Egyptian Bazaar, the Yeni Cami or New Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, we head into the Golden Horn.

We are approaching Kasımpaşa, once the hub of Ottoman navigation. The Galata Tower which rises on the hill opposite us appears even more beautiful from the decks of a ferry. The historic tobacco factory in the neighboring district of Cibali is a university today. Built in the Ottoman period as the Ministry of the Navy, the North Field Naval Command stands immediately to the right of the landing. The sculpture with a lion in the park on the shore is of the famous Ottoman seafarer Cezayirli Hasan Paşa. Once dotted with the mansions of pashas, high-ranking naval officers, men of the religious hierarchy and palace notables, Kasımpaşa took its name from Güzelce Kasım, one of Suleiman the Magnificent’s generals. This quarter, the scene of the most colorful wedding and circumcision processions and Ramazan festivities during the Tulip Era, in our day is a place where different cultures exist side by side. One of the city’s most fashionable residential addresses since Byzantine times, the Golden Horn continues to preserve the Ottoman cultural mosaic as it has for centuries.

The ‘Red School’, or, as it is known officially, Fener Greek High School on the hill opposite tells us we are approaching the Fener landing. Lined with stone houses with cantilevered balconies, the steep slopes here rise to one of Istanbul’s most beautiful hills. The Mosque of Selim I on the crest of the hill the Byzantines called ‘petrion’ (rock) is in the Fatih district of Çarşamba. Its multicultural past, which developed thanks to the privileges accorded to it by its namesake, ‘Fatih’, aka Mehmet the Conqueror, makes itself felt at every step. The patriarchate, or holy center of the Orthodox world, is also located here. It is hard to believe that the Bulgarian Church on the shore is made of cast iron. Directly opposite this church, which was cast in Vienna and floated down the Danube and across the Black Sea to the Golden Horn, stands an elegant structure, the Women’s Library, one of the city’s leading cultural venues, hosting concerts, exhibitions and informal chats. Fener’s neighboring district, Balat, became one of Istanbul’s most important areas of settlement for the ‘sefarad’ or Sephardic Jews brought here from Spain in the 15th century. The narrow streets, old houses, art galleries and historic structures stretching from Fener to Balat form a virtual filmset for photography buffs.

Two lovely ferry landings await us opposite each other at the slight narrows in the estuary, known in Turkish as the ‘Haliç’ (Khaleej, or Arabic for ‘gulf’): first Hasköy, then Ayvansaray. Immediately adjacent to the Hasköy landing, the Rahmi Koç Museum of Industry is housed in the restored old buildings of the imperial ‘tersane’ or shipyards. You can spend many enjoyable hours in this museum with its panoramic history of Turkish industry as manifested in 19th century bicycles, century-old locomotives and warplanes as well as Ataturk’s tractor and the imperial carriage of Sultan Abdülaziz.  And the tiny working class restaurants in the area around Hasköy Park with its Golden Horn view are famous for their sweetbreads and specialty meats. An old Ottoman palace is our reward for a half hour’s stroll through the grove at Ayvansaray on the opposite shore, bursting with the scents and hues of spring. Aynalıkavak Pavillion in the Tersane Garden, of legendary beauty in the Ottoman period, was first constructed in the early 17th century. The pavilion, whose garden becomes a concert venue in summer, houses a museum on the first floor where traditional Turkish musical instruments are displayed.

Extending along the shore in the shadow of the Golden Horn bridge, the ‘Feshane’ was originally built as a factory to produce fezzes for the Ottoman army in 1826. The arched portal and Salon of Mahmut II of this structure where Ramazan festivals were held is well worth seeing. After Sütlüce, our last stop is the market square at Eyüp just five minutes away. Described as being ‘second only to Mecca for Istanbullites’ by writer Refik Halit Karay, Eyüp boasts the monumental Eyüp Sultan Mosque, icon of the quarter, construction of which was commissioned by Mehmet the Conqueror in memory of the commander of the Islamic armies, Abu Ayyub Ansari, who lost his life here. The commander, whose tomb stands inside the mosque complex, is accorded special respect as a relative and close companion of the Prophet Muhammed. The only imperial grave in the environs, which are chock full of mosques, madrasas and tombs, is that of Sultan Mehmet Reşat. To climb the hill named for the 19th century French writer and traveler Pierre Loti with its panoramic view, your best bet is to ride the telefrique. Operating every day between 8 am. and 10 p.m., it costs only TL 1.50 one-way. Loti, who settled in Istanbul for the sake of the woman he loved, came here often and sat for hours gazing at the Golden Horn landscape. And there is no better way of penetrating the soul of Istanbul even today.