Cruising the Bosphorus in Istanbul

Sunlight over Seraglio Point, Istanbul (Lori Erickson photo)

If you were a sailor approaching Istanbul by boat, you would recognize this vista from a long distance away, for it is one of the most easily identifiable skylines in the world.  It shows the historic heart of Istanbul, Seraglio Point, which is unmistakable because of the silhouettes of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both flanked by minarets. At the very end of the peninsula lies the Topkapi Palace, home to the Turkish sultan during the Ottoman Empire.

This picture was taken on a boat cruise on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the must-do attractions if you visit Istanbul.  To be honest, for much of my cruise I was thinking that this was an experience best enjoyed as a description in a book, for it was a windy and cold January day.

And then, near the end of our hour-long cruise, the light shifted and for about a ten-minute period the interplay of sun and clouds was absolutely magical, particularly over Seraglio Point. So much of Istanbul is like that—one moment is ordinary, and the next makes the breath catch in your throat.

Bundled against the cold, I watched as the major landmarks of the city passed by.  We cruised past the huge castle built by Mehmet II in 1452 in preparation for his invasion of Constantinople, and marveled at opulent palaces where sultans once dined overlooking the water.  I could see how the city is built on a series of hills, a fact that Constantine emphasized as he tried to make his new capital a reflection of Rome, another city built on hills.

A Harem girl, getting ready to meet a watery end (from John L. Stoddard’s writings about Constantinople)

And once again, I found myself thinking of my earlier traveling companion to the city, John L. Stoddard (see Following John L. Stoddard to Istanbul).  John was thrilled by his cruise on the Bosphorus, which to him brought thoughts of the intrigues of Topkapi Palace.  He imagined a beautiful young woman in the Harem falsely accused of a crime, and palace guards taking her under cover of night to the Bosphorus, there to have her “slip into the dark waves, whose gloomy depths betrayed no secrets” (a scene that no doubt actually occurred more than a time or two).

When we docked, we exited into the bustling commerce of the centuries-old Spice Bazaar, where brilliantly colored seasonings from around the world filled the air with heady aromas. I kid you not:  for a moment I thought I saw a tweed-clad Victorian gentleman ahead of me, walking with a gold-topped cane.  My friend John?  Who knows?  For Istanbul is the kind of place where anything can happen.

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