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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Galata Bridge in Istanbul

What is Galata Bridge?

Galata Bridge is an unassuming yet iconic bridge that spans the historic Golden Horn waterway.

Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge History

The Galata Bridge is unlikely to win any architectural awards, nor does the current structure, dating back only to the early 1990s, possess any antiquity. Nonetheless, this functional crossing is as much a part of the fabric of the teeming metropolis of Istanbul as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia or Galata Tower.

Prior to the construction of the first Galata Bridge in 1845, the only way to cross the Golden Horn, an eight-kilometre-long inlet which pours into the continent-dividing Bosphorus strait, was by rowing boat. The Golden Horn formed a natural barrier between two very distinct parts of the city. South of the Golden Horn was the conservative old city, built on a peninsula and dominated by imperial Ottoman mosques, as well as that fulcrum of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace, and the ghosts of the city’s Byzantine Christian past. North of the Horn was Europeanised and Christianised Pera (today’s Beyoğlu), home to minority groups such as the Greeks and Armenians, Levantines and other foreigners, embassies, Parisian-style apartment blocks, streetcars, bars and dance halls. This new 500-metre-long bridge did not simply link two different areas of the city, it connected two different worlds.

In 1863, the bridge was rebuilt of sturdier timber, and the following decade this was in turn replaced by a steel and timber structure resting on 24 pontoons. Passengers on the Orient Express could now easily cross from the terminus station in Sirkeci, in the old city, to Pera and check in to grandiose new European-style hotels, such as the Pera Palace and Hotel Bristol. In 1909, the bridge was renewed yet again, this time by the German company MAN, again supported on pontoons but with an innovative rotating central section permitting large ships to pass. Soon a suspended level of shops and restaurants was added.

In the 1980s, with plans already afoot to replace the 1909 bridge, it burnt down. Its replacement, the current structure, rests on 114 columns (the old pontoons were found to disrupt the flow of the Golden Horn), each 80 metres high. The central section can be lifted rather than rotated to allow the passage of ships – mainly passenger ferries as the Golden Horn is no longer a shipbuilding centre. Whilst cars, trucks, buses and the tram rumble across the upper level of the bridge, a lower level is devoted to dozens of restaurants and bars. The bridge is almost constantly heaving with people. Local anglers line every bit of railing on the upper level, whilst visitors to the metropolis throng the cafés and restaurants below, watching the commuter ferries dock in Eminönü and Karaköy, or head out to the confluence of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus and thence to Asia, a smudge of grey blue in the distance.

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