The Bosphorus often overshadows the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Yet the Golden Horn estuary is just as crucial to the city, which has a vast historical timeline spanning the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman period and the current-day Turkish republic. Those who know their history will talk about the Golden Horn during the famous siege of Constantinople. Sitting on the European side of Istanbul, getting past the Golden Horn enabled Mehmet, the Conqueror, to start the well-known Ottoman era rule of then Constantinople. Yet the Golden Horn's two shores are about much more, even today. Wandering the surrounding landmarks is a marvellous introduction to this famous city.
About the Golden Horn of Istanbul
1: Why is it Called the Golden Horn?
The answer to why it is called the Golden Horn has two parts. First, the gold is said to reflect the colour the water turns when the sunset shines on it. Secondly, the channel leading off the Bosphorus is horn shaped with a deep curve, hence the Golden Horn. However, some historians say the gold aspect refers to its importance throughout history as an essential trading port, thus the riches. A fun fact about the Golden Horn is that the maximum depth is often 35 metres.
2: Why was the Golden Horn Important?
The Golden Horn leads directly into the European side of Istanbul, effectively separating this part of the city into two shores. During Byzantine Times, the palace was a short distance from the Golden Horn. Additionally, the Horn was a superb trading route, so security measures were tight because of naval attacks. Ships from around the world anchored here, and Genoese and Italian merchants had bases here. The Byzantine Empire built city walls to protect the land areas; however, they were not enough. For a second security measure, they put a chain across the Golden Horn entrance to prevent invading armies from coming in via sea.
3: The Famous Chain of the Golden Horn
The Golden Horn chain stretched 500 metres from the Galata district at the entrance to the Topkapi grounds on the other side. The chain prevented unwanted ships from entering. However, this is where Mehmed, the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire, got inventive. When attempting to invade Constantinople, he knew attacking from the Golden Horn shores, where the city walls were weaker, would be a significant win for him.
Although he could not break the enormous iron chain, he went around it. At that time, most of Beyoglu was woodland. So, he ordered his men to chop down trees, shape them into logs of the same size and length, and then grease them. Then, he pulled all his ships out of the water in the Bosphorus and transported them across the land on these logs into the Golden Horn on the opposite side of the chain with brute force.
The Byzantines were outsmarted, and this move contributed towards their downfall. Although this wasn't the first Muslim siege, this move ensured the conquest was the only successful one. The Ottoman empire's reign in Constantinople started. These days, parts of the chain sits in the Istanbul Military and Archaeological Museums. The last time war ships were seen in the Golden Horn was after World War One, of which the Ottomans were on the losing side, and allies naval ships headed inwards.
4: The Famous Galata Bridge
Four bridges separate the Northern and opposite shores, but the most famous is Galata Bridge. This bridge links the Eminonu neighbourhood in the Fatih district with the Karakoy neighbourhood in Beyoglu. In 1502, Leonardo de Vinci designed a bridge. However, the sultan never approved the design. In 1845, the first Galata bridge was constructed. Of course, wood doesn't last long, and the bridge was rebuilt five times over the years.
The last and current version took place in 1994. But in 2003, restaurants were added to the underneath walkway of the bridge. These days, the Galata bridge is a symbolic landmark for Istanbul. Most people recognise the bridge for anglers lining either side. In addition, small ferries take passengers for commuting or leisure cruises of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus.
5: Northern Shore of the Golden Horn
The Northern Shore's most famous part is Beyoglu which also lines up with the Bosphorus. This area houses the famous Galata tower with fantastic views all around Istanbul. In addition, further inland is Istiklal Avenue in the Taksim district, the new city part and hub of shopping and nightlife in Istanbul.
Throughout history, many non-Muslims lived on this side of the Golden Horn, hence the solid Jewish background. The trend continues today, with many ex-pats buying property in areas like Cihangir. Places like Bank Street in Karakoy display marvellous architecture. Additionally, at the north eastern end sits Miniaturk, a miniature park to explore all the famous landmarks of Turkey in one day. Beyoglu was famously home to the Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, a cultural and exhibition centre for up-and-coming artists.
- Galata Tower: The tower looked over the Golden Horn, a crucial part of Istanbul. Over time though, the grand building suffered from many fires, and by 1348, the Genoese rebuilt the Jesus tower version. One hundred fifty years later, Ottomans were now ruling over Constantinople.
- More About Beyoglu: For those who want to know more about this district of Istanbul, this Beyoglu guide talks more about landmarks, history and places of interest. Although, at first glance, many assume Beyoglu is about modern shops and bars, behind the scenes are intriguing telltale signs of old Istanbul.
6: Golden Horn Southern Shore
Meanwhile, on the other side, at the mouth of the Golden Horn, sits the famous Fatih district known as old Istanbul. The Eminonu neighbourhood fronts the Golden Horn, although the district stretches inwards, and sits aside the Bosphorus with parts extending to the Marmara sea. Fatih is also home to the famous sultan Ahmet district, from which the Byzantine and Ottoman empires ruled, and is known as the old city. Landmark buildings to see here include the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. The famous Egyptian spice Market and Grand Bazaar are just a short walk from the Golden Horn.
- Guide to Sultanahmet Attractions: Ah, the masses of Sultanahmet attractions make this neighbourhood of vibrant Istanbul stand out on the world stage. But, of course, Sultanahmet isn't an official district in itself. Just a neighbourhood. Yet, every day, Sultanahmet attracts thousands of visitors eager to see landmark attractions making Istanbul Turkey's top visited destination.
7: Also Visit Balat and Fener
For many decades, the above two districts ruled tourism in Istanbul. But when the internet and independent travel took off, more and more people wanted to explore neighbourhoods. Both Balat and Fener rose to fame. Sitting on the Golden Horn's western shores, Fener was a former Greek neighbourhood, while Balata was a Jewish neighbourhood. Although both are working-class suburbs these days, they've enjoyed a revival as people flock to admire the old architecture and house styles. Here is authentic Istanbul through old streets with washing hanging out and children playing football. Novice and experienced street photographers clamber for original photo themes standing out on every corner, and walking tours with professional guides often sell out.
8: Where to Get the Best Views of the Golden Horn
So, exploring places on foot on either side of the Golden Horn is excellent fun. But what if you can see amazing views from a hill overlooking? For that, head to Pierre Lotti Café. This open-air cafe sits in the Eyup district and is spectacular for nature within an urban landscape.
Although not a full aerial view of the Golden Horn, it portrays the beauty even better. While there, explore the Eyup mosque and larger district steeped in Islamic history. In Ottoman times, Eyup was home to many factories producing fezzes, the famous Ottoman red hats banned by the new Turkish republic. More about the Eyup District.
More About Istanbul
Bosphorus Villages to Explore: The Bosphorus villages of Istanbul don't earn as much fame as the old Sultanahmet district or Beyoglu and Taksim. Yet they are just as crucial to Istanbul. Most people know Istanbul separates into two continents, Asia and Europe, via the Bosphorus strait. Yet this stretch of water signifies much more and is a crucial maritime route for trade between Asia, Europe, and Russia.
Yali Mansions of the Bosphorus: From the Golden Horn to the famous Bosphorus, we move into Turkey's most expensive real estate market. These mansions on the shorelines portray Istanbul, past and present, and should you catch a ferry trip from the Golden Horn of Istanbul, you will see them for yourself.
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