I always find it interesting how functional things can become iconic, take on a life of their own, and embed themselves into the fabric of a location and culture. In Istanbul, this particular ‘functional thing’ is the Galata Bridge which spans the Golden Horn, connecting the city’s two European sides. The area around the Galata Bridge, and the bridge itself, seethes with the hustle and bustle of daily Istanbullu life: there is the Egyptian/Spice Market, the New Mosque, a train station, docks for ferries, and a bus station. The sheer mass of humanity coming and going can be overwhelming but the people-watching is quite phenomenal.
The top level of Galata Bridge has three car lanes complete with tram tracks and one sidewalk on either side of the traffic. Something that is pretty cool to see are the people lined up along the bridge railings with their fishing rods. Just make sure you keep an eye out for anyone casting as you don’t want to end up with a hook in your face! If you walk along the bridge when the sun is starting to get low in the sky, the fishermen and their rods are lit up with the most beautiful light you can imagine. It can start to feel ridiculously romantic and ‘other time-y’ as you stroll along the sidewalk, taking in the sea air and listening to the cries of the people and the sea gulls. Unfortunately, it is automobile traffic rather than clip-clopping of horses these days…
The lower level of the Galata Bridge is totally different from the top level. It is lined with cafés and restaurants and walking along there can feel like running the gauntlet. Waiters lie in wait for you to walk by and then they try their best to get you to come and try the supposedly finest fish/drinks/food/etc. They will tell you why you shouldn’t eat at the other restaurants, they will try to charm you, and they will try to make you laugh. It can be entertaining or obnoxious, depending on what you can tolerate. Personally, I found it a mix of both. But I have to say, I did end up walking along the second level only once – the rest of the time I stuck to the top level.
Did You Know?
The idea of bridges over the Golden Horn has been around for a long time. The first recorded bridge was built by Justinian the Great in the 6th century. In 1502, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to design a bridge and he came up with one that would be the first single span bridge over the Golden Horn. It would have been the longest bridge in the world if it had been built…but it wasn’t. The Sultan of the time didn’t like the design. Michelangelo was also invited to design a bridge but he said nope. A bridge wasn’t built over the Golden Horn until the 19th century. In 1845, the first Galata Bridge was built out of wood. It was replaced in 1863, 1875, and in 1912. That last bridge lasted until 1992 but it was badly damaged in a fire and was replaced in 1994 with the bridge that we see today. The restaurant area below opened to the general public in 2003.