Bosphorus Cruise - Leaving Istanbul - The Maritime Explorer


Bosphorus Cruise – Leaving Istanbul

This is my third post from the Adventures Abroad Via Egnatia tour led by veteran guide and good friend Victor Romagnoli. In the first post we explored the ancient walls of Constantinople and some interesting Istanbul neighbourhoods. In the second post we visited several mosques, the spice bazaar and then took a cooking lesson. All told it’s been an action packed two days in this wonderful city that Alison and I love to visit, but alas, it is time to hit the road. Well not exactly. In fact we’ll be leaving the city by way of a ferry taking a Bosphorus cruise almost to the Black Sea where we’ll find our bus waiting for us. So please join us as we ply these ancient waters once frequented by Hercules, Jason and Ulysses.

As noted in previous posts this Via Egnatia trip was designed by me and Victor, largely in a bar in Malta. One of the things I wanted included was to spend some time on the Bosphorus because I knew from previous experience that it’s a great way to see the city of Istanbul and its outlying areas. The original idea was to take passage on one of the many tourist boats that frequent the Bosphorus. That would mean embarking and returning to the same spot. However, our local guide Cigdem suggested a better idea. Why not take one of the regular local ferries instead and get off near the mouth of Bosphorus? In the meantime our driver Recgip could take the bus to an agreed meeting point well away from the busy centre of Istanbul. That way we would see a lot more in the same amount of time as a tourist boat cruise would last. One thing I really like about travelling with Adventures Abroad is the guide’s ability to make decisions to alter an itinerary if something better comes along and so we find ourselves heading to the ferry terminal and not the tourist boat departure zone.

Victor buys our tickets and we have a few minutes before needing to board the ferry which Alison and I use to check out the walkway that runs under the Galata bridge. From the railing there is a great view of yet another of Istanbul’s many mosques, the Yeni Cami or New Mosque.

The New Mosque from Galata Bridge

Boarding the ferry, we begin our Bosphorus cruise with a final goodbye to some of Istanbul’s most prominent landmarks. That’s Hagia Sophia on the right and Topkapi palace on the left with the verdancy of Gülhane Park giving the Sultanhamet a much more natural appearance than you sense from  actually being within it.

Bosphorus Cruise -View From Topkapi to Hagia Sophia
View From Topkapi to Hagia Sophia

From the upper deck of the ferry we get a better look at the New Mosque and a little higher up, the Mosque of Suleiman.

New Mosque & the Mosque of Suleiman

Looking in the other direction we say goodbye to the Galata Tower and the Pera district which we frequented only a few days ago. Taking in the wonders of Istanbul from the waters of the Bosphorus makes you appreciate and understand why it is one of the most exotic looking cities in the world.

Galata Tower and Pera District from the Bosphorus
Galata Tower and Pera

The Bosphorus is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with these ferries and tourist boats zigzagging their way around huge freighters and oil tankers making their way to and from the Black Sea. BTW did you know that the name Bosphorus literally is the same as the English city of Oxford? According to legend, Io, the beautiful daughter of the king of Argos was raped by Zeus disguised as a cloud and then transformed into a cow by his wife Hera when she found out about it. That not being enough punishment, Hera then sent a gadfly to torment Io the cow to the extent that she went mad and went tearing across the Greek mainland until she came to the strait we are currently sailing on and crossed it on her way to the Caucasus where she met up with Prometheus. Ever since that crossing it has been known as the Bosphorus which is the Greek for cow crossing or ox ford. It’s one of the great Greek myths and you can read the whole story here.

Ships Going Everywhere on the Bosphorus
Ships Going Everywhere

Speaking of myths, there is another one connected to this area of the Bosphorus and it relates to this structure on a small islet opposite the mouth of the Golden Horn. This is the Maiden’s Tower and it has a number of stories related to its existence which you can read by following the link. This is the latest of many renditions which go all the way back to the 5th century BC when it first appears in the literature of the day. If you are a James Bond fan you might recall it as the centre of the villain’s operations in The World is Not Enough. During Covid it was closed and for about the fifteenth time restored, which was still going on while we passed by on the Via Egnatia tour, but it has reopened since and is once again a popular Istanbul attraction. Another reason to return, as if I needed any.

The Maiden's Tower on the Bosphorus
The Maiden’s Tower

We were now coming up to our first stop which was right beside another top Istanbul attraction the Dolmabahçe Palace which is the largest in Turkey with 285 rooms. It was built as a modern replacement to the Topkapi Palace and served as the home of the last six Ottoman sultans. After the caliphate was abolished in 1924 it was used as the Presidential Palace and it was in here that Kemal Ataturk died in 1938. On a previous AA trip to Turkey we visited his mausoleum in Ankara.

Later on this tour we’ll visit the house in which he was born.

Dolmabahce Palace

Alison and I visited Dolmabahçe Palace on a previous visit and came to understand why its construction was a contributing cause to the bankruptcy of the Ottoman Empire. If there is to be a future Via Egnatia tour and there definitely should be, I would include a visit to this place. Maybe after lunch at Maiden’s Tower.

We are not the only ones cruising the Bosphorus this morning. This huge cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade is maneuvering to pull up to Galataport, the Istanbul cruise ship port which is entirely underground, the first in the world and a precursor of the future of cruise ship ports. As if I needed another reason never to set foot on one of these monstrosities.

Norwegian Jade on the Bosphorus
Norwegian Jade

After passing under the first of three suspension bridges that cross the Bosphorus the strait opens up considerably.

First Bosphorus Bridge

One thing I was not expecting on this Bosphorus cruise was great birding, but it turns out the strait is a natural migration route for sea birds going from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. The yelkouan shearwater is one of those species and today they were present by the hundreds.

They moved too fast for me to get a good photo so I am using this one from the web.

Yelkouan Shearwater

Speaking of monstrosities, this is the Çamlica Mosque, named after the hill upon which it sits atop. It was built on instructions from President Erdogan and is the largest mosque in Turkey which gives you an idea of the size of his ego. He plans to be interred there and many people are hoping his wish comes true.

Camlica Mosque

The Via Egnatia tour was occurring at the same time as the Russia/Ukraine war which is still on as I write this. At that time there was an agreement to let Ukrainian grain shipments pass through the Bosphorus on the way to the many third world nations that depended upon these supplies to feed their populations. We saw quite a few bulk carriers like the Vita Unity which was likely headed to Odessa to pick up a shipment of grain. As we know now, Putin cancelled that deal and is actively attacking Ukrainian grain shipment facilities which is in effect an attack on the countries that rely upon those shipments.

Vita Unity on the Bosphorus
Vita Unity

Returning to the Ottoman era we now passed by Rumeli Castle, built in 1452 by Sultan Mehmed II to facilitate his upcoming siege of Constantinople. It is located at the narrowest point in the Bosphorus and was intended to block any efforts to send relief to Constantinople from Christian countries bordering the Black Sea. This was the farthest up the Bosphorus Alison and I had been, stopping here for lunch many years ago. From hereon, everything would be new.

Castle on the Bosphorus
Rumeli Castle

We passed under the second Bosphorus bridge just past the castle.

Passing Under the Bridge

We were only now finally leaving behind the final huge modern buildings of Istanbul and passing by what were the summer homes of wealthy Istanbulites.

Ottoman Summer Homes

We then motored for another half an hour until pulling into our final stop within sight of the third Bosphorus bridge and the entrance to the Black Sea which was pretty cool.

Coming off the Ferry

Disembarking, Cigdem led us to a local restaurant for lunch after which we boarded the bus and headed to the city of Edirne which is where I’ll take up the Via Egnatia narrative in the next post. I can say that the Bosphorus cruise was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip.