The Golden Horn (Haliç) is an inlet of the Bosphorus with two rivers draining into it at the far end. It is considered to be the world’s largest natural harbor and separates the European shore of Istanbul into two. The best places to observe the Golden Horn’s activity and grace are the Galata Bridge if you want ringside seats, and the Topkapi Palace or Pierre Loti Café if you prefer a bird’s-eye view.
A Chain to Protect the Golden Horn
As a natural and extremely secure harbor, the Golden Horn has played an important role in the development of Istanbul and was often the subject of attacks. With the absence of tides and currents, the Byzantine Empire had its naval headquarters in this 7,5 km long Bosphorus inlet.
To protect the city of Constantinople from naval attacks, two security measures were put into place. The first and predictable measure was the construction of walls along the shoreline. The second security measure however, consisted of pulling a huge iron chain from Constantinople to the old Galata Tower, hence preventing unwelcomed ships from entering the Golden Horn.
Only on three occasions, the chain across the Horn was either broken or circumvented:
- in the 10th century, the Kievan Rus’ dragged their ships out of the Bosporus, carried them around Galata and again launched them in the Golden Horn.
- in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Venetian ships were able to break the chain with a ram.
- in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II also used the circumventing tactic by towing his ships across Galata by using greased logs since previous attempts to break the chain had failed.
The Golden Horn Today
From the 7th century BC onwards the banks of the Golden Horn have attracted settlers, enabling Constantinople to become a rich and powerful port. After the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, there was an even bigger influx of Greek, Jew and Italian merchants as well as other non-Muslims.
For hundreds of years the city’s trade was conducted by ships that off-loaded their goods in warehouses lining the Golden Horn. Together with the warehouses, more and more nearby factories started to rise. Unfortunately, this industrial activity also heavily polluted the water of the Golden Horn.
Nowadays however, the (container) ships use the port on the Sea of Marmara and the pollution has been addressed. In recent years, over four thousand buildings on the shores of the Golden Horn have been demolished, the businesses moved to new centers outside the city, the shores turned into parks and gardens, and wastewater treated.
Both shores of the Golden Horn are connected by no less then four bridges. The most famous one is undoubtedly the Galata Bridge, which connects Eminönü with Galata. This bridge, with its lower deck of restaurants and bars, replaced the much-loved earlier pontoon bridge. This original Galata Bridge was reconstructed south of the Rahmi Koç Museum. In between these two bridges you’ll find the Atatürk Bridge. The fourth bridge – Fatih – is located deeper in the Golden Horn. A new pedestrian bridge, based on drawing created by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502, will soon be finished.
Why is it Called the Golden Horn?
There are two legends that explain the adjective ‘golden’. According to the first legend, the Byzantines threw so many valuables into it during the Ottoman Conquest that the waters glistened with gold.
The second and more plausible story says that name is given because of the gold light that seemingly comes out of the river when the sun goes down. A view you can’t afford to miss!