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The Bridges Over the Bosphorus

Monday, November 4, 2013


A fun fact for all you geography buffs out there: the city of Istanbul is actually on two different continents. Divided between Europe and Asia, the city is bisected by the Bosphorus Strait, a narrow body of water that connects the Black Sea to the north with the Sea of Marmara to the south. 


I took a screenshot on Google Maps to give you a visual. The left hand side of the city is European, the right is Asian

If you have been paying attention to the international media in the past couple of weeks, you may have even seen a story on the Marmaray Tunnel. The Marmaray is a recently completed underwater tunnel that allows a subway line to run across the Bosphorus and connect the continents.


There are also a number of ferries lines that run back and forth between the two halves of the intercontinental city. In terms of commuting, any of these public transportation methods are by far the easiest. However, there are two bridges that connect the city for cars, and these two bridges say a lot about Istanbul as a city.


The two bridges, named the Boğaziçi (pronounced Boh-ah-zi-chee) and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, provide a visual reminder of the connected city. That is to say, I can actually look up at them, and see the brick and mortar straddling two continents, and the cars that run along them quietly humming into another place.


The bridge itself isn't really anything special, but it is still pretty.


However, at some point after their construction, the city realized what an opportunity they had just wasted by building two unremarkable bridges, so they added some nice lighting features at night. Now the bridges stay lit throughout the night, and the colors change periodically. Even better, in the time since I have been in Istanbul they have added a nice little light show at the top and bottom of every hour.


The bridge lit up


The view from up close

To be frank, both bridges are simple, and whoever designed them was not particularly concerned with their aesthetic value. They are identical suspension bridges, grey in color, and with no outstanding features. But in reality if I was busy admiring some aesthetic achievement, I might be missing out on the greater meaning of the bridges. Despite their generic architecture, hey lord over the city in a provocative sort of way.



But it's the symbolism of the bridges that is their best feature. Looking up at the manmade roads (and that's really the only use the bridges provide, a road) connecting the continents says a lot about Istanbul as a city. I won't go into the clichés about how connected we all are, and how in our society today, information is available in an instant, but I will say that the bridges represent a tangible and visceral reminder of just how grand this city is.


The bridge straddling from Europe across to Asia

Politically, Istanbul isn't even the capital of Turkey (for the geo buffs, it's Ankara), but culturally it is the unrivaled center for northern Africa, the middle east, southeastern Europe and the Black Sea regions. So, in a greater sense, the fact that Istanbul is so firmly rooted in two continents is indicative of the greater importance of the city. 


It's fitting really. The city that holds influence over so much of the world shouldn't belong to one single place. At the risk of over poeticizing it, for all of it's cultural and historical significance, Istanbul deserves to be bigger than any continent. And it is. 


So I'll forgive the architects for their lack of imagination. The bridges were not built to wow the citizens of this city with their looks, they were built to connect the city. 


So when it feels that the city may be fraying at the edges (and it often does), I can look up at the bridges, stoically holding everything together, and be reminded of just how big this city is.




From a place bigger than continents,



Marketing • Boulder, CO

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