This horn-shaped estuary divides European Istanbul. One of the best natural harbors in the world, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests were centered here.
In olden times Haliç (as it is known in Turkish), was referred to as Khrysokeras, which means “The Golden Horn”. It is a perfect inner harbor. Due to the fact that it was rich in fish of all kinds and that the soil on its banks was extremely fertile. It was compared to a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, and in the early ages it was given this name which meant “Golden Horn”. The mouth of this harbour is 700m wide, and the width between Galata and Eminönü is 500m. The Alibey and Kâğıthane creeks flow into the northern end of the Golden Horn, which was navigable in its entirety. There is an elevation between these two creeks known as Silivri Hill. In the distant past the lower part of the Golden Horn was full of shipbuilding and repair yards. After the arrival of the Turks, its upper end became a popular site for summerhouses, waterside residences and palaces. All of these were demolished in the course of time and the northern end of the Golden Horn was invaded by a host of factories and other industrial installations that have given it its present ugly and malodorous aspect.
The pollution of the two creeks feeding the Golden Horn, both famed for their beauty in the past, particularly the Kâğıthane Creek, further accelerated the deterioration of this inlet, which is in fact an extension of the İstanbul Strait. The work carried out in recent years has cleared the banks of some of its industry. However, these projects have failed to get to the root of the problem and because the beauty of its past cannot be recreated, it cannot be expected, at least for the time being, that the banks of the Golden Horn will resemble those depicted in old engravings. Research has shown that the bed of the Golden Horn is V-shaped and is covered with a very thick layer of mud. For the time being, the removal of this layer of mud containing many historic remains is an unrealistic proposition.
Today, lovely parks and promenades line the shores where the setting sun casts a golden hue on the water. At Fener and Balat, neighborhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets full of old wooden houses, churches and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides here at Fener. Eyup, a little further up, reflects Ottoman architecture.
Cemeteries dotted with dark cypress trees cover the hillsides. Many pilgrims come to the Tomb of Eyup in the hope that their prayers will be granted. The Pierre Loti Café, atop the hill overlooking the shrine is a wonderful place to enjoy the tranquility of the view.