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Golden Horn calls out to find former glory.

It harboured the navies of two great world empires. Victorious admirals saluted sovereigns proudly from their ships there, safe from the wild currents of the Bosphorus.

Byzantium became history when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror did the unbelievable in 1453 by taking his fleet overland, laying siege to Constantinople which fell to be reborn as Istanbul.

The course of history changed at the Golden Horn.

Today's battle is to save the area described in one 18th century account as a paradise where roses and tulips abounded, nightingales sang and cypress, willow and juniper trees flourished.

Forty years of frantic urban growth have turned its banks into a virtual wasteland and transformed its waters into a stinking mass.

'Boats came right up to here,' said an engineer working on an ambitious project to return the Golden Horn to its former glory.

The project includes reconstructing the vanished palaces and reviving rivers so that boats can cruise deep into Kagithane. The banks will be alive with fairs and sports; fish, it is hoped, will teem again in the waters.

The Golden Horn fed its empires with rich harvests. People found refreshment in the thick forests at its far end where two creeks joined the sea.

What, the present day traveller might ask, went wrong?

Until the late 1950s Istanbul stayed mostly within the boundaries of Ottoman times. The empire had collapsed after World War One, leaving the former capital of the Sultans floundering for a role in the Turkish republic.

These were years of sleep for Istanbul as the young republic embraced distant Ankara as its capital.

By the 1960s, Istanbul was awaking to its nightmare. People flooded to the 'golden' city from vast Anatolia. They needed jobs. Turkey's nascent industry needed cheap labour.

The natural harbour inside the city, the Golden Horn, had always offered the best for industry and trade. Light industrial plants were already based there from late Ottoman times.

Istanbul's one million population in 1950 increased 50 per cent by 1960. It reached 2.1 million in 1970, 4.5 million in 1980 and 7.3 million in 1990. It is estimated to be well over ten million now and the city produces 38 per cent of Turkey's industry, paying 40 per cent of total taxes.

Newcomers settled wherever they could. The valleys of the two rivers that refreshed the Golden Horn became shanty towns. The trees were destroyed, sewage flowed unchecked, uncleaned.

By the 1980s the alarm bells could no longer be ignored.

People turned their back on the Golden Horn, choosing other paths, especially on hot summer days, to avoid its stench.

The first organised action to save the Golden Horn started in the late 1980s. Few believed the blue-eyed mayor of the time when he said: 'The Golden Horn will be the colour of my eyes.'

Factories along the shore were razed for parks, but decades of pollution and sludge deposits would take longer to banish.

Fortunately there was consensus, a rare enough phenomenon in this land. The Golden Horn, everyone agreed, must be cleaned.

Dredgers gouged out the mud, sewers were redirected, creeks cleaned up, shanty houses cleared.

Special equipment was submerged in the Horn to restore the water circulation necessary to life. Istanbul says $500 million was spent on cleaning the waters in the last six years alone.

At last there are signs of life.

Professor Halil Ibrahim Sur of Istanbul University announced in July that up to 16 species of fish had been found. 'This includes species like plaice and whiting that need clear water.'

Not only are the fish returning, but people too. They can be seen resting under young trees there this summer.
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 26, 2000
Words:612
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