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Istanbul’s Golden Horn

The Bosphorus often overshadows the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Yet the Golden Horn estuary is just as important to the city, which has a rich history dating back to the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman period, and today’s Turkish republic. History buffs will talk about the Golden Horn during Constantinople’s famous siege. Being on the European side of Istanbul, Mehmet, the Conqueror, could start the Ottoman rule of then Constantinople as soon as he got past the Golden Horn. Yet the two shores of the Golden Horn are about so much more. This famous city can be explored by wandering around its landmarks.

Istanbul’s Golden Horn

The Golden Horn: Why is it called that?

  • The Golden Horn gets its name from two things. The gold is supposed to reflect the colour of the water when the sun shines on it.
  • A second reason is the channel leading off the Bosphorus is horn-shaped with a deep curve. According to some historians, the gold aspect refers to its importance as a trading port throughout history, therefore, the riches. It’s a fun fact that the Golden Horn can sometimes get 35 meters deep.

The Golden Horn: Why was it important?

  • The Golden Horn divides Istanbul’s European side into two halves.
  • In Byzantine times, the palace was close to the Golden Horn. A superb trading route, the Horn had tight security measures because of naval attacks.
  • Genoese and Italian merchants had bases here and ships anchored here. Although the Byzantine Empire built city walls, they weren’t enough to protect the land.
  • They placed a chain across the Golden Horn entrance to prevent invading armies from coming in via the sea.

The Golden Horn Chain, one of the most famous chains in the world

  • It stretched 500 metres from the Galata district to Topkapi grounds on the other side. Ships couldn’t get in without the chain. However, Mehmed got inventive here, the Ottoman Conqueror. A significant win would come for him if he attacked Constantinople from the Golden Horn shores, where the city walls were weaker.
  • He went around the huge iron chain even though he couldn’t break it. There was a lot of woodland in Beyoglu back then. He told his guys to chop down trees, shape them into logs the same size and length, and grease them. With brute force, he pulled out all his ships from the Bosphorus and carried them across the land to the Golden Horn on the other side of the chain.
  • The Byzantines were outsmarted, and this move led to their downfall. Despite being the first Muslim siege, this move ensured the conquest was the only one that worked. In Constantinople, the Ottoman empire started. Many of the chains are in the Istanbul Military and Archaeological Museums. The last time warships were seen in the Golden Horn was after World War One, when the Ottomans lost, and allies headed in.
  • Four bridges connect the Northern and Opposite shores, but Galata Bridge is the most famous. This bridge connects Eminonu in Fatih with Karakoy in Beyoglu. There’s a bridge Leonardo de Vinci designed in 1502. But the sultan didn’t approve it. Galata bridge was first built in 1845. A wooden bridge doesn’t last forever, so it’s been rebuilt five times.
  • It was last updated in 1994. A walkway under the bridge was added with restaurants in 2003. It’s a symbol of Istanbul these days. The bridge is most famous for the anglers lining either side. The Golden Horn and Bosphorus are also popular for leisure cruises on small ferries.

The northern shore of the Golden Horn

  • Beyoglu stretches along the Bosphorus, the most prominent part of the Northern Shore. Located here is the famous Galata tower with great views of Istanbul. Furthermore, Istiklal Avenue, in Istanbul’s Taksim district, where shopping and nightlife are booming.
  • There have always been a lot of non-Muslims on this side of the Golden Horn, hence the Jewish heritage. Today, lots of ex-pats are buying properties in Cihangir. There’s amazing architecture in Karakoy, like Bank Street.
  • Also at the northeast end is Miniaturk, a miniature park where you can see all the famous landmarks of Turkey.
  • There’s a famous museum for up-and-coming artists in Beyoglu called the Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum.
  • Fires destroyed the grand building over time, and the Genoese rebuilt it as the Jesus tower in 1348. A hundred fifty years later, Ottomans ruled Constantinople.

Istanbul’s Galata Tower overlooks the Golden Horn, one of Istanbul’s most important parts.

The Golden Horn Southern Shore

  • Meanwhile, the famous Fatih district, also known as old Istanbul, sits at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Despite being fronted by the Golden Horn, the Eminonu neighbourhood extends inwards and sits beside the Bosphorus, with parts extending into the Marmara Sea. Also in Fatih is the famous Sultan Ahmet district, where the Byzantine and Ottoman empires ruled. Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque are landmarks here. It is a short walk from the Golden Horn to the famous Egyptian spice market and Grand Bazaar.

Hundreds of Sultanahmet attractions make this neighbourhood of vibrant Istanbul stand out. However, Sultanahmet isn’t an official district. We’re just a neighbourhood. Despite this, Sultanahmet attracts thousands of visitors daily, looking for landmark attractions, making Istanbul Turkey’s most popular city.

It would help if you also went to Balat and Fener.

  • Tourism in Istanbul was dominated by the two districts above for decades. The internet and independent travel made people want to explore neighbourhoods more. It was Balat and Fener who rose to fame. Fener, on the Golden Horn’s western shore, was a former Greek neighbourhood, and Balata, a Jewish one.
  • Though they’re both working-class suburbs these days, they’re enjoying a revival as people flock to admire the old architecture. The streets here are authentic Istanbul, with washing hanging out and kids playing football. It’s a hot spot for amateur and pro street photographers. Walking tours with professional guides are a big hit.

Walking around the Golden Horn on either side is a blast. But what if you could see amazing views from a hill? You’ll find it at Pierre Lotti Café. A gorgeous open-air cafe in the Eyup district surrounded by nature.

  • The aerial view shows the Golden Horn’s beauty even better, even though it’s not a full view. Take a stroll through the Islamic-themed Eyup mosque and the surrounding area. During Ottoman times, Eyup had a lot of factories that made fezzes, the famous red hats that were banned by the new Turkish republic.

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