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19Last Boatmen of the Golden Horn

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  • TurkC-L
    Sep 3, 1998
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      Last Boatmen of the Golden Horn

      By GOKHAN KEPTIG


      The Golden Horn, translation of the Byzantine Khrysokeras, is a long
      winding inlet at the southern end of the Bosphorus Strait. Before
      Istanbul's suburbs spread along its shores in the 19th and 20th centuries
      the upper reaches of the inlet were lined with summer palaces, pavilions
      and meadows. Caiques carried their passengers here to picnic beneath the
      shade of spreading trees, and the boat trip up the inlet and Kagithane
      river was perhaps the most pleasurable part of the excursion. According to
      the 17th century writer Evliya Celebi, illusionists, magicians and other
      performers put on shows for the crowds who came here during the summer.

      Caiques, the graceful narrow rowing boats which were a principal form of
      transport around Istanbul in past centuries, were the only way to cross
      the Golden Horn which divided Istanbul proper from the Genoese town of
      Pera. Although the first wooden bridge was constructed over the waterway
      in the 19th century, caiques were still widely used, and today there are
      still a handful of boatmen who stubbornly continue to ply this ancient
      trade. One of them is Mehmet Cinar, who has been ferrying passengers in
      his rowing boat for the past sixty years, as his father did before him.
      When I met Cinar at Eyupsultan jetty he explained that until a decade ago
      there were still boatmen carrying passengers across the Golden Horn
      between HaskOy and Balat, and until 15 years ago between YemiS and
      Yagkapani. But today the remaining boatmen only ferry across the upper end
      of the waterway between Eyupsultan on the southern shore and Sutluce on
      the northern shore. Motor ferries carry passsengers as far as Balat,
      starting from Uskudar and stopping at EminOnu, KasimpaSa and Fener on the
      way. From Balat it is a 10 or 15 minute walk to Eyupsultan. The upper
      reaches of the Golden Horn became too silted up at one time for even
      rowing boats to cross, but eight months ago a dredging operation made this
      area of the waterway navigable once more. The gentle sound of splashing
      oars is a pleasant change from the roar of engines, and I wished that the
      trip across lasted longer than the brief five minutes it took for the boat
      to ferry me across to Sutluce. I was reminded of the following lines by
      the poet Kemal Ozer:
      The caiques never tire
      As they ply from shore to shore.
      With invisible stitches
      The caiques weave a destiny.

      * GOkhan Keptig is a photographer.