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The Golden Horn

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Overview

The Golden Horn, a horn-shaped estuary, divides European side of Istanbul. One of the best natural harbors in the world, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests were centered here. Today, parks and promenades line its shores. In the setting sun, the water shines a golden color, from which its name comes from.

Golden Horn was an old trading point and popular shoreline residential area during the Byzantine period. It was largely inhabited by Jewish immigrants from Spain during the Ottoman period. The mixtures of Armenians, Greeks, Gypsies and Turks living along its shores reflected the city’s colorful mosaic. Since 1880 the famed Cibali cigarette factory has been operating there, which today is renovated to house a private university.

During the Ottoman period, in the first half of 18th century, Golden Horn was very rich of tulip gardens and green parks where upscale people used to come to relax, and row with their boats at the romantic sunset. With the neglect borne of a population explosion in the 1950’s and ineffective zoning laws, the once pristine Golden Horn became a churning cesspool of grey city-sewage and industrial waste. Only in the 1980’s did a much needed urban clean-up begin. Polluting factories were cleared and proper sewage needs met. Now, its shores are green once again, lovely parks, promenades, and playgrounds greet visitors. The water glistens golden in the sun again, perhaps not as brightly as before, but one step nearer to what the poets once described as “Sadabad”, or “place of bliss”.

At Fener, a neighborhood midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets of old wooden houses and churches date from Byzantine times. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy resides here as well.

Eyüp district, a little further up, reflects the Ottoman style of vernacular architecture in the old Istanbul. Cemeteries sprinkled with dark cypress trees cover the hillsides. It is always busy here with pilgrims coming to the tomb of Eyub El Ensari in the hope that their prayers will be granted. The Pierre Loti Cafe on top of the hill overlooking the shrine is a wonderful place to enjoy the tranquility of the view having a traditional Turkish coffee or tea. Today, there is a cablecar from the park to the top of the hill so getting up to the cafeteria is very easy.

There was no bridge over the Golden Horn before the 19th century. Small boats provided transportation between the two shores. The first Galata Bridge, which connects present day Karaköy to Eminonü, was built in 1836, rebuilt in 1845, again in 1912, and lastly in 1993. The Unkapani (or Atatürk) Bridge further up the Golden Horn handles the flow of traffic between Beyoglu and Saraçhane. The third one over the Horn is called the Haliç Bridge. There is also a modern bridge on the Golden Horn for subway trains. Small ferries and boats connect various small piers along the shores.

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