ISTANBUL, GIFT OF THE BOSPHORUS

Istanbul is a gift of the Bosphorus, Hérodote would have been able to say, if this Greek geographer had crossed over there before going to Egypt where he declared ' Egypt is a gift of the Nile '. But those days Istanbul was only Byzance , named after king Byzas. In the IV th century the city was called Constantinople, when Emperor Constantin made it the capital of the new Roman empire of the East, but paradoxically the Greeks refused this naming and continued to call it Byzance or even sometimes simply ' this city ' : in Greek ' isten polis ' which, for the Ottomans after the conquest of the city in 1453 became Istanbul.

The etymology of the word Bosphorus comes from the Greek mythology, Era chasing Io, for his idyll with Zeus, transformed her into a cow and to avoid the wrath of the goddess, the poor animal was forced to cross the strait which took the name of Bosphorus : The ford of the cow (bos =cow ; phorus = ford) like Oxford in England.

The etymology of the Greek word still in use today shows a certain tolerance on the part of the Ottomans. The Greeks, formerly colonized by the Ottomans, today behave much more aggressively against the Turks. The relationship of the colonizer and the colonized has left wounds between the two peoples. In fact the Greeks still name Istanbul Constantinople and still consider it their territory which they hope they will repossess one day. The proof, these Greek road signs which mention Constantinople instead of Istanbul before crossing the border after the Greek town of Thessalonique. Another panel announces ' Tourist my friend, please, remember the Turkish aggression on Cyprus in 1974 '. A Greek way of inviting the tourists not to enter Turkey. Could one imagine a similar panel in French : ' Tourist, my friend do you remember that Germany was once a nazi state ' ? This is unthinkable. The quarrel among the two enemy brothers moved to Brussels where the Greeks systematically set their veto against the Turkish candidature to the entrance to the EC.

Besides, the Greeks, especially since Giscard D'estaing made them enter the EC, lost their sense of the welcoming of the tourists which is not the case of the Turks who have an extraordinary sense of hospitality. You may tell me it is normal since these Turks have not become part of the EC and we shall see if it is still the case on the day when they are European. Fortunately the earthquakes of the summer 1999 enabled the two countries to get closer by mutual help.

Today, Istanbul extends over the banks of the Bosphorus on about 100 km. A city on both sides of two continents, this town exists because of the water and nevertheless the water was and still is a crucial problem for its inhabitants.

The sultans and their viziers had understood that well pretty. They offered the population magnificent monumental fountains (photo on the right), often situated near a mosque. But naturally Istanbul is also strewed with small uncountable fountains called ' sébil ' from ' public ' in Arabic. And often, in these fountains, a saucer to drink was hung to a chain , which in French gave the word ' sébile ' a bowl used for beging.

But today the daily fare of the inhabitants of Istanbul is chopped by multitudes of water cuts . Cuts which force the inhabitants to arm themselves with cisterns and water compressors for the richest.

The Byzantines had built subterranean cisterns such as 'Yérébatan' (photo to the left) called also basilica cistern or 'Bin bir direk' with one thousand one pillars. The basilica cistern is one of the most unusual tourist places of Istanbul, mainly if one visits it in summer, a haven of coolness. Immense cellar supported by more than 300 pillars some of which were 'stolen' from Greek temples as this pillar decorated with a Gorgone's gigantic head curiously placed back to front.

The Turks understood the magic of this place because often concerts of western or oriental classical musics take place there. The other known, but not yet restored cistern, 'Bin bir direk', was the set of several films of the sixties, and one can still see there in the middle of the rubbles the dolly rails. In the VI th century the basileus Valens built an immense aqueduct to carry the water of the forest from Belgrade to Istanbul.

For a long time, this scarceness of the water has shown itself, by the arrival of water carriers in summer. Dressed in aprons and white leather gaiters , their ewers on their backs. See them bending precisely to fill the glasses of water, the beak of the container over their shoulders. Streetcraft which appears and disapears, according to the seasons. Scarce drinking water and unhealthy water in excess, a paradox which shows the state of decay of the water pipes.

Tap water can't be drunk because the pipes are too old and contain heavy metals, then since the 90s service stations of drinking water have grown in Istanbul like mushrooms. And one goes and gets one's fill of water, flanked with all kinds of containers, - as one goes to get one's tank filled with petrol - for water is served at the pump (the water pump).

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