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Kids' Zone Kavitha Dispatch

Istanbul's Beloved Jewel
March 4, 2000

Gibraltar... Suez... Panama... some of the land that has been fought for the most throughout history has been so because of its geographical features. What is it about Istanbul that has made it wanted by so many empires, for so many years? What first brought settlers to this enormous city that we've come to know and love?

2600 years ago, a young man named Byzas left the Greek land of Megar to establish a new colony. Before he left, he asked the wise oracle at Delphi where he should establish his new land. As always, the legendary Oracle answered with a confusing response, a riddle of sorts, "Opposite the blind."

So Byzas set out searching this land. As he sailed up the Bosphorus, which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, on his right he noticed the colony called Chalcedon set up on the Asian shore. On his left, he noticed a superb natural harbor. He immediately decided that this must be the site about which the Oracle had spoken. Byzas figured out that the people who had settled on the other shore, the "wrong" shore, must have been blind not to settle on the side with the great harbor! So young Byzas set up his new colony, the town of Byzantium, at this wonderful harbor. This was the great jewel that would come to be known as the Golden Horn.


oracle - a shrine or place at which utterances, believed to be the response of a god, were given. The responses were often phrased as riddles or difficult to understand.
pontoon - - a floating structure, such as a flat-bottomed boat, that is used to support a bridge
mosque - a Muslim house of worship

The city changed names under different emperors, but it continued to grow and prosper. The Golden Horn was a piece of land that many other people wanted, and tried to conquer. In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror succeeded in catching the Byzantines, who controlled the Golden Horn at that time, by surprise. Soon, he had taken this land and put it under Ottoman control. At this time, the great city changed its name for the last time (to date) and for the past 550 years has continued to build and grow around the Golden Horn. Although no longer the beautiful waterway bordered by palaces and forests that it once was, the Golden Horn continues to be an important and dear part of Istanbul... polluted as it may seem!

There are many different bodies of water around Istanbul, and it can get a bit confusing at times to realize what body of water you're looking at or sailing across here in Istanbul. However, the Golden Horn has come to be quite familiar to all of us during our 5 weeks here. Here's just a few of the reasons why:

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Food vendors and fishing boats line the Golden Horn
Eminonu - - This is where we always go to catch ferries across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. From Byzantine Times until the late 1980's, this area was surrounded by numerous shops selling fruits, vegetables, grains, and all kinds of staple goods. In the past 10 years, however, this age-old tradition has been brought to an end in an attempt to clean up and 'beautify' the Golden Horn.

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Abeja enjoys a fish sandwich along the Golden Horn in Eminonu
Monica smiles pretty on the Galata Bridge with Yeni Cami mosque in the background
The Galata Bridge - - This historic bridge connects the old city to Taksim, a hip area full of nightclubs, bars, and cafes. Up until 1992, the bridge was the exact same structure that was built back in the 1800's, a structure that floated on pontoons, and housed restaurants and tea houses underneath the roadway. Although it would have been cool to see a floating bridge built over restaurants and cafes, I'm glad a new Galata Bridge was built. It seems the pontoons prevented the natural flow of the water, so all the pollution in the Golden Horn was getting backed up year after year. Yuck!

Yeni Cami -- The imperial mosque was first started in 1597, and finished in 1663. This beautiful mosque sits peacefully above all the madness of Eminonu, overlooking the Golden Horn. Buses honk, trams whiz by, crowds push across the traffic filled streets, ferries fill up and move out, but the mosque continues to stand its ground.

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Click image for larger view
The Egyptian Spice Market along Istanbul's Golden Horn features spices from Europe and Asia
The strange but sweet smells of the Egyptian Spice Market lure Kavitha
The Egyptian Spice Market -- Surrounding the Yeni Cami is a huge market district, which includes the Egyptian Spice Market. For centuries, merchants set up shop in the Spice Market. Here they sold strange spices and crazy mixtures -- which included such things as rabbit fat, saffron, gunpowder, donkey's milk, and peach-pit powder.

Today the market still sells a number of curious and wonderful smelling spices and strange traditional remedies... Jasmine and Monica love all the wide variety of dried fruits and nuts and sweets, while Abeja loves searching out special herbs for teas or massage oils. I love finding all the spices I need to cook Indian food. Indian food in Istanbul... It sure is nice to have such a variety of goods from Europe and Asia!

There are more jewels like these to find up and down the Golden Horn... There are historic palaces, museums, and churches, just to name a few. After over 2600 years of use and abuse by loving empires, the Golden Horn still hasn't lost its shine.

Related Links
Information about the Golden Horn, and other areas of Istanbul
Good page with TONS of links to other Istanbul sites. I didn't check them all out, but it looked very comprehensive.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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