The Steamboats of Istanbul
Travel posters always catch my eye, particularly if they illustrate a waterfront scene. with boats and ships.
Posters advertising Turkey seem to invariably focus on the splendors of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
The standard views show the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Top Kepi Palace against a blue backgroundthe waters of the Bosporus.
Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a city whose identity and raison d’etre derive from her waterways.
The Bosporus separates Europe from Asia while connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and the eastern Mediterranean.
Due to her unique geographical situation, Istanbul commands a position of strategic importance dating to pre-classical times.
No less strategic today than in antiquity, her waterways also serve as
the thoroughfare over which her people commute between the European and Asian sides of the city via harbor steamers.
I first went to Istanbul to see whether, in the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, steam vessels still plied the waters of Lhe Bosporus.
My interest centered on the Istanbul ‘ un buharli gemileri–coalfired , reciprocating steam-engined ships of another era.
These smoking, hissing samovars have throbbed their way into the 1980s thanks to the ready availability of cheap coal, cheap labor and the proven reliability of stean1 power.
Istanbul ‘un Buharli Gemileri: bIt was night when I first hit the streets of Istanbul.
My nostrils were tantalized by the dank salty bouquet of a waterfront pervaded by sulphurous coal smoke.
An occasional hooting answered by the drawnout moan of a steam whistle echoed through the cobbled streets
and dark alleys of the Serkeci, the ancient waterside quarter of the city.
At first light the next day I fo llowed the harbor sounds to the Golden Hom, the inlet penetrating the European side of Istanbul.
This is where colonists from Megara founded Byzantium in 667Bc.
More than a few plumes of coal smoke marked the passage of steamers moving purposefully over the waters of the Bosporus.
Rafted three and four abreast at the Serkeci docks, still more steamers lay ready for their human cargos.
Passengers elbowed and shoved across gangways like rushhour crowds in any major city.
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