The Golden Horn (Turkish: Haliç) is the district of Istanbul surrounding the banks of the body of water of the same name, which is a bay of the Bosphorus along its western, European coast.
This article focuses on the areas around the Golden Horn banks west of the city walls. For the southeastern and the northeastern banks, see the articles for the Old City and Galata districts, respectively.
The English name of the bay comes from its Greek counterpart, Hrison Keras (Χρυσόν Κέρας), which literally translates the "Golden Horn". The "horn" part perhaps comes from the deep curve the bay has towards its end in the northwest. The "golden" part is more obscure, but possibly it's a poetic referral to the reflections on the Horn's water during the beautiful sunsets.
The Ottomans named the Horn as Haliç, which in modern Turkish is a geographical term for an "estuary", although in its original Arabic, it simply means a "gulf".
The Golden Horn is the estuary of the Alibeyköy and Kağıthane Rivers (known collectively as the Sweet Waters of Europe by the early European travellers of the centuries past; joining each other northeast of Eyüp near Silahtar), formed when the waters of the Bosphorus flooded their common riverbed in prehistory. Always been the primary harbour of Istanbul, it can even be argued that Istanbul would never have existed in such a grand way if it weren't for this well sheltered, superb haven (and also the superb trading route through and across Bosphorus, by the way).
In the 18th century, the banks of the Horn and the rivers that form it were adorned with palaces and mansions that were surrounded by large tulip gardens (most of which are now lost without a trace), where the Ottoman high society were enjoying themselves in ostentatious parties. The banks of the Kağıthane River was especially favoured, where the partying suburb of Sadabad, "the happy city" was founded (the "sweet waters" simply wasn't a metaphor for the then-azure rivers, but it more was a referral to all the dolce vita going on). This was the Tulip Era (Lale Devri, 1718-1730), or as some call it, the "Debauch Era" (Sefahat Devri), which was later accused as one of the reasons for the economical weakening, and the eventual dissolution of the empire.
All this festive lifestyle abruptly came to an end with the Janisarry-led Patrona Halil Revolt of 1730, when some of the buildings in Sadabad was arsoned, and much later in the 19th century, with the inevitable arrival of the industrial revolution in Turkey, when the banks of the Golden Horn became one of the industrial powerhouses of the Turkish economy and remained as such until up to the 1980s. This had its heavy toll on what was once the "golden" Horn: the industrial effluents in addition to the untreated wastewater from the rapidly expanding city's sewers caused the Horn stinking to the high heaven, as much as that people were actually trying to avoid the avenues along its banks even if those routes meant a shortcut to where they are heading. Then in the late 1980s, the first attempts to bring the Horn to its former glory began. Today its water is much cleaner (although locals will surely advise against, it's borderline clean enough for a swim—the Epiphany celebrations of the local Greek community, in which several swimmers strive to grab the wooden cross thrown into the water by the Patriarch, have recently returned to the Horn after being relocated to the Bosphorus for decades), and its banks are surrounded by pleasant parks giving the city a new fresh breath, rising on what was once the lots of factories. Some of the neighbourhoods along its banks, Eyüp in special, put a special emphasis on celebrating the Ottoman roots of the area.
According to the local convention, the Golden Horn has a southern coast, and a northern one, which are also the designations used in this guide. However, due to the almost meandering shape of the Horn, the "south" is sometimes more like west, and the "north" looks as if it's in the east. Simple rule of thumb: if you are standing on a contiguous piece of land with the Süleymaniye Mosque, the red brick & domed Phanar Greek College, or the Eyüp Mosque, then you are on the southern bank. Conversely, if you are seeing these landmarks on the opposite shore and are on the same land that the Galata Tower or the Kasımpaşa Shipyards stand, then you are on the northern coast.
- The M2 line of the Istanbul Metro crosses the Golden Horn on a bridge (the only above ground section of that line). Haliç station in mid-channel is connected to both sides with pedestrian bridges. However Şişhane, the next station north, is better placed for north bank locations.
- Buses run from Eminönü and Taksim up the length of the Horn and beyond. Eminönü is better linked to the southern coast and Taksim is better linked to the northern.
- Boats Ferries across the Bosphorus from Üsküdar to Eminönü also zigzag between quays either side of the Horn and go as far west as Eyüp. Smaller ferries also shuttle across the Horn. Unfortunately the ferries still burn fossil fuels. The electric gondolas from Eyüp for nearby destinations on the opposite bank are quieter, cleaner and maybe more romantic. They carry up to 4 people but the price is per boat and destination.
- On foot the main consideration is where to cross the Horn. The main crossing is Galata Bridge (Galata Köprüsü), opened in 1994. It's a bascule bridge, which is sometimes opened so you'll need a work-around when it does. (The famous old pontoon bridge was badly damaged by fire in 1992.)
- A chairlift runs between downtown Eyüp and Pierre Loti on a hill overlooking the Horn, see "Drink" section below.
- 1 Eyüp Mosque Complex (Eyüp Camii), Eyüp. This is the main attraction around this part of the city. The holiest Islamic shrine in the city, the complex includes, right next to the mosque, the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Ensari Türbesi), the standard bearer of Prophet Mohammad, died and buried here during the first Muslim siege of Constantinople (674-678 AD). The neighbourhood was named after him. Muslims flock—in such huge numbers that sometimes you have to queue for a few minutes before entering the tomb—here also to see a rather uninteresting plaque made of plastic, which is purported to be Mohammad's footprint. The interior of the tomb, covered with fine tiles/faience, is nonetheless well worth a look, however. It is also interesting to see the devout Muslims leaving the place by walking backwards through its exit hallway, as not to turn their backs to al-Ansari's catafalque, though obviously no one expects everyone to quit the place in the same manner. Free.
- Around the mosque complex is cemeteries and tombs all of which date back to Ottoman period, with their distinctively decorated marble headstones. Besides, there are a number of other mosques, streets, and stores surrounding the Eyüp Complex, all pleasantly preserved, and give the visitors an idea of how Ottoman Istanbul should be looking like. Here is where all of those "boys-to-be-circumsized photos" are taken, as it’s a tradition to take the boys in their special Ottoman prince clothes to this particular mosque before the event. In the adjoining streets, you can find shops offering interesting Ottoman-style stuff like wooden toys or traditional salty cookies shaped like a ring (halka) which you cannot easily find elsewhere.
- 2 Feshane, Eski Feshane Caddesi, Eyüp (on the waterfront, just east of downtown Eyüp; get off the bus at 'Defterdar' stop), ☏ , fax: . Originally a factory producing fezzes (fes), Ottoman red hats made of felt, adopted in Ottoman Empire in early 1800s as a part of westernizing efforts in lieu of much more traditional turbans. However, as an irony of fate, fez itself was scrapped away in favour of outright western garments during Atatürk's reforms of 1920s and '30s as it was thought to symbolize the old, decidedly oriental regime. Today, Feshane serves as a cultural and exhibition centre, which hosts celebrations on local days, and some temporary art exhibitions. During Ramadan, it becomes some sort of playground showcasing how Ramadan was celebrated during Ottoman era, with traditional sweets and all.
- 3 Santral İstanbul, Silahtar Mah., Kazım Karabekir Cad. 1, Eyüp (at the upper end of the Horn, confluence of two creeks; free shuttles every half an hour 08:30-21:00 daily from Atatürk Cultural Centre in Taksim Square is available in addition to a wide array of public buses which call at the nearby 'Silahtar' stop), ☏ . Tu-Su 10:00-20:00. A contemporary art museum located in a building converted from an old power plant (first such plant in Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire). Part of the plant was kept in almost exact original condition and now serves as the "Energy Museum". 7 TL (students 3 TL, under 12 and over 65 years of age free).
- 4 Kemerburgaz. A village (and nowadays a commuter suburb) at the edge of the forest, 5 km west of Bahçeköy. Several ancient aqueducts stand nearby, notably Kurt Kemeri ("Wolf's Aqueduct") and Uzun Kemer ("Long Aqueduct"). The oldest were Byzantine, but rebuilt, and others added, in the 16th C to boost the water supply to the city. The residents were Greek until the 1920s population exchange, when Turks from Thessaloniki were re-settled here. Several small eating places in town, but it lacks visitor accommodation. Bus 48 runs here from the city.
- 1 Cable car. Offers a very short ride up the nearby hill. And it can get very crowded during summer. The same price as in public transport, 2.6TL for IstanbulCard holders and 5TL for others.
Tons of souvenir shops around Eyüp Mosque Complex.
- 1 Akmanoğlu Fırını (near Eyüp Mosque), ☏ . This is the bakery where halkas mentioned in see section, as well as a number of other traditional cookies, both sweet and salty alike, are produced and sold. 38-48 TL/kg.
- Lale Lokantasi, Feshane Caddesi, Eyüp (inside Feshane Kültür Merkezi - cultural centre), ☏ . Traditional Turkish/Ottoman cuisine.
- 2 Pierre Loti. An open air café on a hill overlooking Golden Horn in Eyüp. It’s rumored that a famous French writer used to love to visit this café during his residence in Istanbul. There is a cable (enclosed chairlift) line (which lasts about 3 minutes; departs every 5 min 09:00-24:00), which offers some nice views, between the shore of Golden Horn and the hill on which café is situated. It’s also possible to walk uphill or to take a taxi. Drinks 4-10TL.
There's not much accommodation in Golden Horn, most visitors just walk here from nearby Sultanahmet Old City or from Galata.
Because of the effects of the refugee crisis due to the ongoing civil war in the neighbouring Syria, and while many refugees are just shy and/or friendly, it's nevertheless best to steer clear of the parks on the banks of the Golden Horn, especially those located near its northwestern end, in lonely times.
A trip to Eyüp can easily be combined with some more sightseeing in areas of old city of Istanbul that are close to the banks of Golden Horn, such as the former Greek neighbourhood of Fener/Phanar, which houses Patriarchate of Constantinople and Bulgarian church of St. Stephen, one of few prefabricated cast iron churches in the world.