Approach to the city by water
Until the Orient Express pulled into Sirkeci Station in 1883 at the end of its maiden journey, most Westerners first saw Istanbul from the water. Today’s taxi ride from Atatürk International Airport is more efficient but rather less spectacular.
It is only by re-creating that approach to the city by sea – which at its simplest you can do by hopping aboard the ferry back to the Old City from the Asian shore – that you get a true hint of the psychological impact felt by generations of visitors on their first vision of the city. From the water, the massiveness of the Hagia Sophia and the great Blue Mosque and Süleymaniye are all the more powerful and surreal, the city more exotic.
Their effect on one admittedly famously romantic eye is recorded in Byron’s epic poem Don Juan: ‘The European with the Asian shore/ Sprinkled with palaces; the Ocean stream/ Here and there studded with a seventy-four;/ Sophia’s cupola with golden gleam;/ The cypress groves; Olympus high and hoar;/ The twelve isles, and the more than I could dream…’