by Joy E. Stocke
(Editor’s Note: Istanbul was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2010. The Galata Bridge separates the European Side iof istanbul from the Asian or Anatolian side.)
There you are and there it is: Sunset fast approaching.
You are outside Istanbul’s Egyptian Spice Bazaar, part of a crowd of people rearranging packages of Antep pepper, cumin, coffee; sipping glasses of tea, talking on cell phones as you pass through a swirl of more than a hundred pigeons who fight greedily for scraps of bread.
In front of you, Eminönü Station where the ferries line up and bellow a deep collective moan. Rust-covered chains lower gangplanks for the rush hour crowd heading up the Bosphorus past the Sea of Marmara to Üsküdar, Hydarpasa and Kadikoy on the Asian side.
Ahead, your destination, the Galata Bridge, the so-called Milky Way that spans the base of the Golden Horn from Eminonu to the suburb of Galata. Galaktos means milk in Greek and the word Bosphorus means cow ford, and you are about to watch the sun set aflame the estuary known as the cow’s Golden Horn.
The name Istanbul is also said to come from the Greek, “eis tin Polis”; simply, “to the City.” A city of hills surrounded by water intermingling in the Bosphorus Channel – the heavy saline Sea of Marmara, son of the Aegean; and the less salty Black Sea, daughter of the Caucasus.
Below the Golden Horn, at the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, construction is underway to build the world’s deepest underwater tunnel. There, engineers discovered a gravesite that pushes the city’s first inhabitants back to the 7th millennium when agriculture spread from Anatolia – as Turkey is also called – to the Balkans. The excavation has uncovered pottery fragments, shells, horse skulls, and human remains in fetal positions, poised for rebirth.
And the Golden Horn spanned by the Galata Bridge whose metal steps you are now climbing, gives definition to a city that seems to float on water. Formed by the sweet water of two underground springs flowing toward the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn has protected ships for the Byzantines, Venetians, Genoese, Ottomans; an estuary rich enough to provide nutrients for many species of fish including gray mullet sold in the markets along the its banks.
Water flowing in currents, people flowing in currents, boys selling rings of sesame-topped bread called simits. Along the bridge’s railed expanse, vendors grill mussels and chewy corn on the cob. Girls in peg-leg jeans, some in headscarves, and boys in black T-shirts flirt and tease and tap at the keyboards of their cell phones. Men, young and old in caps with their buckets of bait rest fishing poles against the railing and wait.
Flash of gold, flush of honey over the suburbs that fan out from the Golden Horn in a maze of streets and brick and stone and mortar: Fener, Balat, Galata.
Cries of sea gulls, rocking of pleasure boats, a reddening as if the horn is lit from within. You look up when the muezzin’s call to prayer rises from the minaret of the Süleymaniye Mosque, tinny, distorted, la il’allalh ilallalh – there is no god, but god.
The sun drops, flamingo-red, burning through the atmosphere. Fire meets water and the whole lot of you – commuters, sightseers, fishermen, lovers – breathe in the golden air, breathe in the scent of diesel, brine, muck, fruit blossoms, yeast.
A ferry pulls away from the dock and you think about a Phoenician maiden called Europe who fell in love with a bull; how, on his back he carried her and her culture across the water from Asia Minor to the continent that would bear her name.
There you are. And there it is: Impossible to grasp.
Darkness gathers and with your heart full of wonder you cross the bridge to Galata to a taverna where a beloved friend waits in candlelight at a table on the crescent edge of the Golden Horn.
To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.