Life on the Bosphorus, as we know it today, with its bustling urban centres, was non-existent during the Roman/Byzantine period. Both shores of the Bosphorus were apparently almost uninhabitable. It’s not to say that villages didn’t spring up on the Bosphorus outside the walls of Constantinople. They did, but they were generally unprotected and susceptible to raiding parties. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century, under the protection of the Ottoman navy and a secure harbour, that the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent encouraged his people, to settle in greater numbers around the Bosphorus, that life sprung to its shores. Ortakoy, a former small fishing village was, in particularly, one of those areas that grew in popularity. In general, the stretch of coast on the Bosphorus became a playground for Ottoman Sultans, who built many hunting lodges and great palaces. Among the great Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Abdulmecid, ordered the magnificient Dolmabache Palace to be constructed in the mid-nineteenth century. He also importantly commissioned the same architect, Garabet Balyan, who built the Dolmabache Palace, to build him a beautiful mosque along the Bosphorus shore in Ortakoy.
The Ortakoy Mosque was constructed in 1853, on the former site where once stood, a smaller mosque that had been destroyed during a revolt in 1730. The Ortakoy Mosque was not only used for prayer, but also as the sultan’s apartment during its heyday. Interestingly, one of its most impressive features, the two minarets, almost came undone during an earthquake in 1894. Fortunately, the spire of the minaret was repositioned to save it from ruin. By 1960, another problem was discovered, probably due to earthquake damage, where the Mosque itself was possibly in danger of collapsing. Great efforts were made to help realign the structure with ground reinforcements. Further restoration work over the decades helped bring the mosque back to its former splendour.
In the late nineteenth century photograph, pictured above, the mosque shared its sheltered port with Turkish fishermen and or what looks like long-boat taxis. Interestingly, about thirty years after this photograph was taken, the last Sultan would be deposed and with it the character and use of the mosque. Istanbul and life on the waters of the Bosphorus around Ortakoy would go through a further phrase of change and modernization in the second half of the twentieth century. The magnificent mosque would survive, but it would share its view with a metal giant.
The Ortakoy Mosque, considered one of the most beautiful examples of baroque architecture in the whole of Istanbul, is no less splendid in this exact same view one hundred and fifty years later. Life on the Mosques waterfront today thrives as a tourist hotspot. It is dotted with cafes and on weekends hosts a popular street market. Its view today, for better or worse, is also shared by the Bosphorus Bridge (pictured above).
The bridge across the Bosphorus that links Europe with Asia was completed in 1973, after three years of construction. The rapid demands of growth from the Asiatic side required a solution to help bring traffic into Istanbul, other than the use of ferries. Ferries alone, by the 1970’s couldn’t keep up with the demand of handling cars, trucks and buses.
For a long time, the turks were concerned with the question, whether or not a suspension bridge would destroy the natural beauty of the Bosphorus. I believe it is safe to say, it hasn’t. Its views still remain beautiful and picturesque, where arguably the ‘old meets new’.