The Bosphorus is the 32 km (20-mi)-long strait which joins the Sea
of Marmara with the Black Sea in Istanbul, and separates the
continents of Europe and Asia.
It's great for a half-day cruise north toward the Black Sea. You
can return to Istanbul by land along the European shore and see
all the sights.
The width of the Bosphorus varies from 500 meters (1640 feet) to 3
km (2 miles), its depth from 50 to 120 meters (164 to 394 feet),
averaging about 60 meters (197 feet) deep.
It runs right through the heart of Istanbul, past the Istanbul
Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, at least two
fortresses, forested hills, and shore villages with Ottoman
architecture. (For self-guided touring, I've divided it into the
Southern Bosphorus and Northern Bosphorus.)
Bogaziçi (boh-AHZ-ee-chee, "Within the
Strait"), more recently it's been called the Istanbul Bogazi,
Istanbul Strait, perhaps to differentiate it from the Dardanelles
(Hellespont), called the Çanakkale Bogazi.
Its English name comes from a Greek legend: Zeus had an affair
with a beautiful women named Io. When Hera, his wife, discovered
his infidelity, she turned Io into a cow and created a horsefly to
sting her on the rump. Io jumped clear across the strait. Thus
bous = cow, and poros = crossing-place: Bosphorus =
"crossing-place of the cow."
Recent marine archeological research in the chill, deep waters of
the Black Sea has revealed sunken cities on the underwater slopes
along the Turkish coast.
Geological evidence supports the theory that in ancient times the
northern end of the Bosphorus was blocked by earth and rock. The
Black Sea had no outlet (like Lake Van today), and its water level
was below that of the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the
However, an earthquake destroyed the Bosphorus blockage, releasing
a deluge of water from the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, raising
the water level and flooding its coastal communities. So it may
well be that the Bosphorus is the source of Noah's flood and the
legend of Noah's Ark! (Mount Ararat is also in Turkey.)
The Bosphorus has been a waterway of the highest importance since
ancient times. Ulysses passed through. Byzas, who founded
Byzantium (later Constantinople, later Istanbul) sailed up and
down looking for the perfect place to found his village.
ordered the construction of the
mighty fortresses of Rumeli Hisari (Fortress of Europe) and
Anadolu Hisari (Fortress of Anatolia) so he could control the
strait and prevent reinforcements from reaching the besieged
Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
To the Ottomans it was mostly an obstacle: each spring they had to
ship their gigantic armies across the strait from Istanbul for
campaigns in Anatolia, Syria and Persia.
During World War I, the Bosphorus was the key to the Black Sea and
Russia. The Sultan held the key. The Entente powers wanted it.
What they failed to get in battle they got by treaty, and British
gunboats anchored outside Dolmabahçe Palace.
Today, the way to enjoy the Bosphorus is to take a cruise by
traditional ferry or TurYol boat, a self-guided tour of the
European shore, or to relax at a tea-house or restaurant along its
Whether you take a traditional Istanbul
ferryboat, or a faster TurYol boat, you're sure to enjoy a
tour-cruise up the Bosphorus. You can do it in as little as 1.5
You set out from the Eminönü ferryboat docks (on the Golden Horn
between Galata Bridge and Sirkeci Station) and head north toward
the Black Sea.
Here are the sights you'll see (including six Ottoman palaces),
divided into two parts, the Southern Bosphorus (from the Golden
Horn and city center to the Bosphorus Bridge) and the Northern
Bosphorus, (from the Bosphorus Bridge to the Black Sea):
The most impressive sights are along the southern shores of the
Bosphorus, nearest to the city: Topkapı Palace, the mid-Bosphorus
Maiden's Tower, the Selimiye Barracks (where Florence Nightingale
worked), Dolmabahçe Palace, Çirağan Palace, Yıldız Park & Palace,
the chic art-boutique-and-cafe scene in the village of Ortaköy,
the pretty Ottoman baroque Mecidiye Mosque, and the Bosphorus
Beyond the Bosphorus Bridge there's plenty more to see: Beylerbeyi
Palace, the village of Çengelköy, Kuleli Naval Academy, Arnavutköy
with its photogenic Ottoman yalis (wooden Bosphorus seaside
mansions), Rumeli Hisarı (the mighty Fortress of Europe), the town
of Bebek with its pretty bay, and Bosphorus University.
North of the Fatih Bridge, second to be built across the Bosphorus,
is Anadolu Hisarı (the Fortress of Anatolia), Küçüksu Kasrı (a
fine little rococo palace), the Hidiv Kasrı (fine Art Nouveau
villa (1900) of the Khedive of Egypt), the pretty restaurant
village of Tarabya, the town of Büyükdere (with its excellent
Sadberk Hanım Museum), Sarıyer (with a fish market and several
seafood restaurants on the shore).
Rumeli Kavağı (the farthest northern dock on the European shore of
the Bosphorus), and Anadolu Kavağı (the final dock on the
Bosphorus cruise-tour) are about 10 km (6 miles) south of the
Black Sea, but these docks are as far as the Bosphorus cruises go.
If you take the traditional ferry's Bosphorus tour all the way to
the end, you will have to wait three hours at the northern
terminus of Anadolu Kavagi for the ferry's departure for the
return to Istanbul. But you can get off the boat in Sarıyer, have
lunch, then ride south along the shore.
If you take the TurYol boat, you'll be back at the
in less than an hour.
You should know that Backpackers Travel operates a great
value-for-money half-day tour that takes you on the TurYol
Bosphorus cruise and also visits the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, the
Galata Tower, Tünel, Galata Bridge, and Karaköy (Galata) Square
all in one afternoon for a very good price. More...
Here's how to tour the European shore of the Bosphorus by road
from Sarıyer to Istanbul, and here's an hour-by-hour itinerary to
hit the main sights.