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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul

What is the Bosphorus Bridge?

The Bosphorus Bridge is an elegant, continent-connecting suspension bridge that’s an iconic symbol of contemporary Istanbul.

Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge History

Although bridging the Bosphorus Strait, the 30-kilometre-long ribbon of water connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, had been done as long ago as the 6th century BC by the Persian King Darius the Great using a pontoon of boats, it wasn’t until 1973 that a permanent bridge was built. Symbolic not only of the technological progress of modern Turkey, opening as it did 50 years and a day after the formation of the Republic, it was the first physical link between the two continents Turkey straddles, Europe and Asia.

There are twin currents in the strait: the main surface current running southwest from the Black Sea into the Sea of Marmara and thence on to the Mediterranean, and a lower, more saline-rich current flowing in the opposite direction. Both are strong, so a suspension bridge was the most obvious option. It would also allow clearance for the huge vessels using what is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

A British firm of structural engineers, Freeman, Fox and Partners, were contracted for the consultancy. The bridge was built by the Turkish firm Enka Construction and the Darlington-based Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, to a design by British civil engineers Roberts, Brown and Parsons. A zig-zag mesh of cables suspended from twin steel pylons, each anchored by cables to the ground either side of the strait, support the road deck of the bridge. It’s a graceful structure, some 1,560 metres long, with a width of 33 metres, and is suspended 64 metres above the waters beneath.

Upon its completion in October 1973, the Bosphorus Bridge became the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest in Europe until the construction of the Humber Bridge in the UK in 1981. Although it has since dropped down in the world rankings, it continues to be of crucial importance to Istanbul, despite the subsequent opening of two more Bosphorus-spanning bridges, as well as rail and road tunnels under the strait. Over 180,000 vehicles use the eight-lane toll bridge daily. In 2005, the bridge witnessed the first tennis match played on two continents when Venus Williams took on Ipek Şenoğlu. Also in 2005, British Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard drove his racing car across the bridge and got a fine for not paying the toll, and in 2013, golfer Tiger Woods played a couple of publicity shots on the bridge.

Its iconic status was assured when, in July 2016, a faction of anti-government soldiers closed off the bridge with tanks and other military vehicles as part of an ultimately unsuccessful coup attempt. Istanbul citizens loyal to the government flocked to the bridge and confronted the soldiers. Some were killed in the stand-off but eventually the soldiers surrendered. After the government regained complete authority, they renamed the Bosphorus Bridge, the ‘15th of July Martyrs Bridge’.

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