Anyone wanting to rid one’s self of weekly stress and fatigue needs only to go past Sarıyer, a district near the Bosporus’s Black Sea end, and head straight for Rumeli Feneri.
The sounds of the city, stop and go traffic, the chaos — these are İstanbul scenes we are all very familiar with. But just think, only a few kilometers beyond Sarıyer, everything begins to change. The road wends its way through a few trees and heads for an actual forest. Somewhere along this road, the smell of the air begins to change. Village life really begins to make itself felt, along with the sea and the nature surrounding you. A little further down is a lighthouse.
This is Rumeli Feneri — the final point at which the Bosporus opens up into the Black Sea. It is also one of Sarıyer’s nine villages. During Turkey’s War of Independence, most of the people living in this village were ethnic Greeks, but today most of the 2,000 or so residents come from the Black Sea provinces of Trabzon and Rize. With the sea only minutes away, locals have made a living out of fishing. Rumeli Feneri’s elderly residents often sit in the shade of a large tree in the center of the village, not unlike İstanbul’s retirees. And homes here carry a definite trace of Black Sea architecture, made predominantly of wood.
The most popular symbol here is the same lighthouse after which the village is named. This lighthouse, which greets ships coming into the Bosporus from the Black Sea, was built in 1856 by the French. Villagers say that at the time the lighthouse was being built, it was destroyed a few times. It was thought that a holy man was buried at this site, and a tomb was first constructed here. Later a tower that stretched 30 meters into the air was built. The Saltuk Baba tomb is now located in the tower structure and is open to visitors.
Dolphins at Rumeli Feneri
Also in this village is the Genoese-built Rumeli Feneri castle, approached by a dirt road. The place where it stands is quite large, but much of what can be seen is simply remains of what was once a large castle that was used to protect İstanbul. While here, look out from the castle’s doors out to sea and listen to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks. Sometimes you may even see dolphins playing in the water here.
Urbanization is slowly creeping in. What was once pure nature is now site to luxurious villas being built along the coast. One sign that the city is spreading into this area is evident in the pools and sports fields to be found behind the gates to these homes.
Continue on through the pine trees, and stop by the village of Marmaracık, where you can enjoy blackberry and rosehip bushes that stretch along the two-kilometer-long road.
Also, having come so far, don’t leave without tasting some fish. Not counting picnic spots that surround the village and castle here, only fish restaurants look out to the water. After all, Black Sea fish is considered by many to be some of the most delicious fish in the world. Some say seas without much salt product delicious fish. This is perhaps why the yield of the Black Sea is so good. It’s wonderful to enjoy the taste of your fresh catch while watching fishermen do their work. Try some hot tea, as well, as no meal is complete without it.
Getting here is very simple. If coming to Rumeli Feneri by car, drive up to Sarıyer and continue in the direction of Rumeli Kavağı. Along the way, you’ll see signs for both Rumeli Feneri and the village of Garipçe. About 10 kilometers later, you’ll reach Rumeli Feneri. Public transportation can also take you all the way here. Buses leave from Sarıyer.
A beautiful coffee shop in Çengelköy: Çınaraltı Kahvesi is a special place where one can enjoy either tea or coffee while enjoying a breathtaking view of the Bosporus. Located in Üsküdar’s Çengelköy neighborhood, the coffee shop gets it name from the historical sycamore tree (Çınar in Turkish) it was built under. It opens at 7:00 a.m. and continues to serve customers until midnight. Çınaraltı Kahvesi was used as a setting for Turkish television shows “Süper Babe” and “Çınaraltı.”
The last ferry stop on the European shore of the Bosphorus is Rumeli Kavagi. A delightful little fisherman village with the ruins of a medieval castle and several fish restaurants, some of which have a spectacular view over the wild and rocky scenery of the last stretch of Bosphorus to the Black Sea, and looking across to the most substantial castle on the Asian shore above Anadolu Kavagi.
In its heyday a wall connected each castle to the quay, from which a mole projected into the channel on each side. Here the Byzantines collected tolls and customs dues from passing ships. In time of danger they could cut off all shipping with a chain linking the moles a formidable continuous line of defense from hilltop to hilltop.
Telli Baba Shrine is set on the very edge of the water. is the turbe of Telli Baba, a holly man whose turbe is one of the most popular shrines in the area, for Telli Baba is thought to be especially helpful to women who wish for a husband. The supplement leaves a strand of tinsel on the holy mans tomb, taking a second strand away with her. When the wish is granted she returns to give thanks and to leave the second strand of tinsel on the tomb.
Rumeli Kavagi: This neighborhood marks the last boat pier on the European side of the Bosphorus. On the rock of the lighthouse stands the Column of Pompeii which was part of an ancient shrine
Rumeli Kavagi, the last station on the European side, below a castle built by Murat IV in 1628. On a hill to the north are the ruins of the Byzantine Castle of Imroz Kalesi, the walls of which once reached right down to the sea and were continued by a mole, which could be linked by a chain with the mole and walls of Yoroz Kalesi on the Asiatic side. Visit the lighthouse in the neighborhood of Rumeli Kavagi. The Column of Pompeii, part of an ancient shrine, stands on the rock of the lighthouse.
In summer the boats usually go on (5minutes) to the resort of Altinkum (Golden Sand), with a restaurant on the plateau of an old fortification (view).
The tourist boats continue to the north end of the Bosporus (4.7km/3mi wide) and turn back when they reach the Black Sea. On both sides bare basalt cliffs rise almost vertically from the sea.
Evliya Celebi tells us that the quadrilateral castle at Rumeli Kavagi measured 300 metres across and that there were sixty houses for the soldiers of the garrison and a hundred cannon inside its walls. The castle facing it on the opposite shore at Anadolu Kavagi was also quadrilateral, measuring 240 metres across and with walls 20 m in height. It contained eighty houses to accommodate the garrison and one hundred cannon.
The French artillery engineer Francois Baron de Tott, who arrived in Turkey in 1755, supervised some additions to the castles on the Bosphorus, and in 1770 strengthened two of the castles on Canakkale Strait.
HISTORY MEETS MYTHOLOGY RUMELI FENERI (Rumeli Lighthouse)
Today’s Rumeli Feneri (the Rumeli Lighthouse), situated at the point farthest north along the European side of the Bosphorus, was built in the 19th century, but there had been lighthouses in the same place during previous centuries. The Ali Macar Reis Atlas (16th century) gives the coordinates of a lighthouse on exactly the same spot. According to records from the 17th century, the top of Rumeli Feneri was reached by 110 stone steps, and eight “okka” (10264 grammes) of dolphin fat were burned there from dusk to dawn. In the 18th century, it was believed that if the oil lamp of the mystic Sary Saltyk went out, the lighthouse light would also be extinguished. Rumeli Feneri, a village on the promontory where the Bosphorus unwinds into the Black Sea, is a fishermen’s hamlet with a harbour hewn out of solid rock, dominated by the lighthouse.
This spot was known as Panium in ancient times. The great rocks offshore from Rumeli Feneri, known as the Kyanae or the Symplegadae, are celebrated in mythology.
When the Argonauts were seeking the Golden Fleece they let a wine-coloured (oinas) dove fly between these magic rocks that used to approach and strike one another with thunderous sound and then draw apart again. They followed the bird on its route, led by the goddess Athena. Drawing strength from the sound of the Thracian Orpheus’ lyre and chorusing songs that drowned out those of the sirens trying to lead them to their doom, they were able to reach the Black Sea. (According to myth, wine-coloured doves fed the infant Zeus in a Cretan Cave and offered him ambrosia, the elixir of immortality.) Certain mythographers claim that Triton, a sea-god rising from the depths of the Bosphorus, held the gigantic rocks apart as the Argo sailed through and that the Symplegadae never moved again. The boat Argo (Swift), bearing the name of its legendary builder, Argus, boasted mythological heroes as oarsmen, among them Hercules the Invincible. The Argo’s figurehead was a bough from Zeus’ Prophetic Oak. Antique sources and mythographers such as Apollonius, Apollodorus,
Valerius Placcus and Hygnius offer often contradicting information as far as the names and number of the Argonants are concerned.
With those who leave the Argo “en route” and yet others who join the expedition at various points, the list reaches impressive proportions. Among the most celebrated are Argus the Boat-builder, Asclepius the Healer, Atalanta the Huntress, Glaucus the Fisherman, Phineus the Soothsayer, Orpheus the Minstrel and Tiphys the Helmsman. The “Argonautica” of Apollonius of Rhodes (Apollonius Rhodius, 3rd century BC) and the “Bibliotheca” of Apollodorus (2nd century BC) relate the myth of the Golden Fleece in detail. Jason, the Captain of the Argonauts, was the grandson of Cretheus, the son of Aeson (King of Iolcus) and student of the Learned Centaur Chiron. Living in the Thessalian woodlands, Chiron was skilled in the art of medicine, and it is written that he gave the Prince of Iolcus his name, Jason (“Healer”).
The Golden Fleece, hidden in the Sacred Wood of Ares in the Kingdom of Colchis, somewhere along the shore of the Black Sea, had come from a flying ram sacrificed to Zeus. Born of Poseidon the Sea God and Theophane the Thracian, the ram had been sent by the goddess Hera and brought over by Hermes, Messenger of the Gods. Its pure gold fleece was guarded by Phrixus, son of Athamas (King of Boetia) and of Nephele (Goddess of the Clouds). With the assistance of Phineus the Soothsayer and Medea, High Priestess of the Temple of Hecate, the Argonauts reach Colchis and bring home the Golden Fleece. Classical mythology relates that Helle, Princess of Boeotia, fell into the deep waters of the gulf separating the bulks of Europe and Asia while riding the flying Golden Ram, thus giving the strait its name, the Hellespont (Helle’s Sea). Today it is known as the Dardanelles. The Temple of Apollo that stood on top of the rock near Rumeli Feneri is mentioned in the legends. It is also said that Apollo would transform himself into a dolphin and guide Tiphys the Helmsman.
In Byzantine times, a high column named the Pompeius Column was erected on this rock to prevent shipwrecks. The Ottomans gave the name Mavi Kayalar (the Blue Rocks), A?layan Kayalar (the Weeping Rocks) or Kanly Kayalar (the Bloody Rocks) to these great stones protruding from the sea. Later, they came to be known as Kocata? (the Great Stone) and Körta? (the Blind Stone).
* Prof. Dr. Jak Deleon is a lecturer at Bo?aziçi University