In view of both the shortness of the journeys undertaken, and particularly as these always follow strictly predetermined routes, ferries may not seem all that interesting compared to the more adventurous realms of world shipping. But that’s not to say a journey by ferry has to be dull, as I found out after taking a trip on the classically proportioned vessels that ply back and forth crossing the choppy waters of the Bosphorus in old Istanbul.Small ships in their own right with a unique appeal of their own that have provided a most valuable form of transport for millions of people over the years between the neighbouring land masses of Europe and Asia Minor.
Whether seen from the shoreline, or contemplated from the pulsating deck of an outward bound ferry, what a magnificent sight these vessels make as they cross the Bosphorus. They pass against the unmistakable Istanbul skyline of towering minarets and massive domed mosques. It is a scene that’s even more dramatic against the amber and blood-red glow of approaching sunset!
Steam ferries were first introduced on the Bosphorus in 1837, and the modern day fleet operated by the Şehir Hatlari concern are all of local manufacture. The overall design closely follows that of the last generation of British-built ferries, as supplied by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Glasgow in 1961; the last of a long line of Fairfield supplied ferries dating back to the beginning of the last century built at the firm’s Govan shipyard, which later went out of business.
Of the nine ferries that made up the original 1961 order built by Fairfield’s, just two have survived in retirement as permanently docked restaurants; the Turan Emeksiz and the Inkilap.
Turkiye Gemi Sanayii AS, the firm that built the present day ferry fleet in Istanbul, has clearly followed the Fairfield design. For example the ferry named Harbiye built by Fairfield’s to a length of 229' and breadth of 441/2', which is almost perfectly matched to the more recently built Ahmet H Yidirih constructed in Istanbul measuring virtually the same at 220' by 39'; the speed of both vessels being identical at 15 knots.
Visually, the comparison is even more striking. Both the shape of the hull and superstructure of the Turkish built ferries are clearly inspired by the Fairfield built ferries, which in turn smacks of the silhouette of larger ships of the post-war era.
To facilitate the carriage of motor vehicles over the Bosphorus, small roll-on roll-off ferries such as the Suhulet cross between Eminönü and Kadıköy: Although the amount of vehicular trafficc has declined dramatically since the construction of the two suspension bridges was completed for the Bosphorus Bridge in 1973 and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in 1988.
Travelling the ferries has become firmly established on the list of many travellers to Istanbul, both for the short hop across the straits from Europe to Asia from beside the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn at Eminönü, also Kabataş or Beşiktaş, to Üsküdar, Harem, Haydarpaşa or Kadıköy.
Other ferry trips travel a short way along the Bosphorus as far as the Fatih suspension bridge. The best value by far to gain an appreciation of the amount of sea traffic through the straits is to take a full day cruise on the Şehir Hatlar ferryboats, such as the Aykut Barka. These travel a northerly route from Eminönü, which zigzags most of the way from shore to shore arriving at three other landings en route before then reaching the entrance to the Black Sea. It is here that the Bosphorus reaches its widest at a width of 3,700 metres.
The ferry then docks at the small village of Anadolu Hisari for a layover of three hours before heading back south towards Istanbul, following the same zigzag course. All at an amazing cost of only £8 or so for what’s almost a full day trip by the time the ferry arrives back at its point of departure in Istanbul!
As well as the opportunity to admire many luxurious Ottoman palaces seen along the shoreline, the ferry passes beneath the 3,524 feet / 1,074 meter length of the Bosphorus Bridge, also the longer by a close margin 3,576 ft / 1,090 meter span of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. Other attractions include the Rumeli Hisar castle that once guarded the Bosphorus; and many slow moving ships of many nations travelling in either direction towards the Sea of Marmara or the Black Sea.