An Ever Mutating Mirage, or, Dolphins and the Bosphorous

To be traveling through the middle of a city as great, historic, and forlorn as Istanbul, and yet to feel the freedom of the open sea— that is the thrill of a trip along the Bosphorus. Pushed along by its strong currents, invigorated by the sea air that bears no trace of the dirt, smoke, and noise of the crowded city that surrounds it, the traveler begins to feel that, in spite of everything, this is still a place in which he can enjoy solitude and freedom. This waterway that passes through the center of the city is not to be confused with the canals of Amsterdam or Venice or the rivers that divide Paris and Rome in two: Strong currents run through the Bosphorus, its surface is always ruled by wind and waves, and its waters are deep and dark. If you have the current behind you, if you are following the itinerary of a city ferry, you will see apartment buildings and yalis, old ladies watching you from balconies as they sip their tea, the pergolas of coffeehouses perched by landings, children in their underwear entering the sea just where the sewers empty into it and sunning themselves on the concrete, men fishing from the banks, people lazing on their yachts,  schoolchildren emptying out of school and walking along the shore, travelers gazing through bus windows out to the sea while stuck in traffic, cats sitting on wharfs waiting for fishermen, trees you hadn’t realized were so tall, hidden villas and walled gardens you didn’t even know existed, narrow alleyways rising up into the hills, tall apartment buildings looming in the background, and slowly, in the distance, Istanbul in all its confusion—its mosques, poor quarters, bridges, minarets, towers, gardens, and ever-multiplying high-rises. To travel along the Bosphorus, be it in a ferry, a motor launch, or a rowboat, is to see the city house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and also from afar as a silhouette, an ever-mutating mirage  – Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City

We’ve been in Istanbul for about 72 hours now – and it’s been great.  Being on the Bosphorous today, though… that was the clincher.


We visited the Kanyon Mall (Done by the Jerde Partnership, yes, of MOA fame in Bloomington – along with local firm Tabanlioglu Architects), then took the ferries to Asia (Dolphins were special ordered to accompany our boat), then back to Europe; getting more acquainted with the Bosphorous and the studio project site at Kabatas ferry station.  We walked up through Sultanahmet, to the Nurosmaniye mosque for a primer on mosque architecture, then into the Grand Bazaar for a brief foray into the tangle of streets, tchochke and tourist-schlock hustlers – for a counterpoint to Kanyon’s contemporary form and expression.  We walked back through Sultanahmet, past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – sublime and luminous in the afternoon setting sun and, a little footsore, made it back to Taksim Square.  A good day – but the dolphins.  Boy, they were something else in those Bosphorous blue waters.

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