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The Bosphorus of Turkey: Story of a strait

February 07, 20224 min read.

The Bosphorus, with its 32 kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, is a constant in Istanbul's hectic history. Although it divides the city, it is also the symbolic meeting point of Europe and Asia.

The Bosphorus is essential in the history of Istanbul and Turkey. Ancient history indicates that the Emperor Constantine was successful in moving the capital of the Roman Empire to Istanbul, then known as the Greek city Byzantium, before being renamed Constantinople in 330 AD. Protected by the currents of the Bosphorus Strait, the city proved impenetrable against attacks for more than a thousand years. In addition, the imperial armies could navigate the Bosphorus on their way to Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, to fight and return with the spoils of war.

But the expansive Ottoman Empire wanted the strategic strait for itself and in 1452 the Rumeli Hisari fortress was built at its narrowest on the European side, in front of Anadolu Hisari on the Asian side, to control the passage, Istanbul fell and it was then that the Turkish sultan settled in the Topkapi Palace to watch as ships full of treasures, victorious armies and foreign ambassadors arrived in abundance. Some areas of the shoreline were covered with earth to build palaces with peaceful gardens.

The Bosphorus at war

Although the decisive Turkish defense in Gallipoli in 1915 saved Istanbul from the humiliation of suffering another naval invasion, the Treaty of Sevres, after the First World War, turned the strait into a peaceful international waterway. In the 1920s, from his residence at the Dolmabahçe Palace, Atatürk bathed in the Bosphorus.

The Montreux Convention in 1936 restricted the passage of military traffic, specifically from Soviet aircraft carriers. After World War II, smaller Soviet battleships entered the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus, but each ship passed through the strait with only a small command group; the rest of the crew were locked inside. Despite the restrictions, Soviet submarines penetrated the strait at night. When the Cold War antagonism disappeared, the titanic Ukrainian aircraft carrier Varyag was sold to the Chinese government in 1998. A Chinese ministerial delegation, plus a support group of 20 ships, had to persuade Turkey to open the Bosphorus to this ship of 305 meters long.

Commercial trade

The Bosphorus is a bottleneck for the world's energy and cargo industry, as navigating its waters is a complicated matter. In some places it is only 645 meters wide and has several 45 ° turns altered by seven knot countercurrents. Occasionally, the thick fog reduces visibility to just 90 meters and pilots have to use radars to move the numerous tugs, fishing boats, and ferries that crowd this step.

The disastrous collision of the tanker MT Independenta with a Greek cargo ship in 1979, which blew up the windows of the Haydrarpasa railway station and caused 43 deaths, demonstrates how dangerous traffic can be in this area. Currently, merchant ships travel in one direction, which changes every 12 hours, and tankers can transit only during the day.

However, the accidents are still seasonal and in March 2010 the Giant Pescadores, 288 meters long, collided with another boat and drifted. Finally, a crew of passenger ferries and tugs managed to get him to safety.
As world merchandise trade begins to pick up after the recent financial crisis, pressure on the strait grows. The Marmara Tunnel, under the Bosphorus, promises to cut some of the daily commute, but the strait's maritime traffic is so dense that crossings can be delayed for up to a month.

The Bosphorus is a particularly important artery for the oil industry, with a steady stream of oil tankers leaving Russian ports, such as Novorossyisk, en route to the United States and Europe.

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