The Bosphorus is Istanbul’s defining geographical feature. Dividing Europe and Asia and connecting the Black and Mediterranean Seas, the Bosphorus Strait has been strategically important for eons. Did you know that the Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation? Cargo ships and passenger boats compete for space on the water as they pass through downtown Istanbul.
An easy way to see the entirety of the Bosphorus is by ferry. Stopping numerous places along the way, boats take visitors and commuters from Istanbul to the southern edge of the Black Sea. From the deck of the ferry, passengers can see ancient forts built on the hillsides; these are the structures that once governed passage through the strait. Overhead are suspension bridges that allow modern drivers to commute between the continents. On a ferry the round-trip cruise to the Black Sea and back takes about three hours.
The Bosphorus is 19 miles long; its average width is less than a mile. At its narrowest, the strait is less than 900 yards wide. A substantial volume of water flows from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Indeed, researchers say that the Bosphorus, based on the extent of its water flow, would be the sixth largest river in the world, if it were a river. With the bends, the current, and the ship traffic, it would seem to be a tricky waterway to navigate. Nevertheless, massive oil and LPG tankers frequently travel the Bosphorus bisecting Istanbul with its 13+ million residents. There have been few incidents.
Istanbul has historically been defined by its strategic position at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the intersection of east and west. The Bosphorus is the border of the continents. Istanbul also sits at the intersection between north and south, between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The city’s privileged location on the Bosphorus Strait’s has shaped its colorful history. Without the Bosphorus, Istanbul would not be the complex and intriguing city that it is today.