Built in 1994, Galata Bridge in Bazaar District of Istanbul spans The Golden Horn and links two districts, Eminönü and Beyoğlu. Its name is owed simply to the fact that it’s the fifth in the series of bridges that span the city’s waterways. Galata Bridge is a national treasure as a historical landmark, but it also has great significance to the fishermen of Istanbul and scenic views of the city that have provided inspiration to photographers, poets and singers. 

For over a decade, local fishermen have habitually spent time along Galata Bridge catching favorite fishes such as sardines, bluefish, horse mackerel and palamut, but this was not always the case. In the early 1900s, the Golden Horn once contained a shipyard and over 2000 workshops and factories, which all contributed to the contamination of the water that soon became thick, dark in colour and filled with pollutants. Fishing particularly within the 1980’s became impossible as the water was too dirty to see in, forcing marine life to vanish. Locals were also unable to open their windows as the odor from the Golden Horn became unbearable. 

galata bridge with blue mosque in background
Photo by Nancy Lova.
Fisherman with two dogs
Photo by Tolga Ahmetler.

Between 1997 and 2000 the Halic project was implemented to extract and move waste in the form of liquefied mud from the Halic basin to a more remote location. Nearly five million cubic meters of mud was successfully transferred and the smell was gone. In order to help with the clean-up and to encourage long lasting change, fresh sea water was pumped into the Golden Horn in 2009 through underground tunnels — this not only prevented future odor and contamination, but slowly caused marine life to return to the waters. In 2012 the transfer of fresh sea water was completed.

The clean-up of the waters also changed the situation on land, with the Golden Horn and Halic area now being home to hotels, restaurants, cafes and museums as well as a number of parks. 

Since then, Fishermen have gravitated to Galata Bridge and its waters for work, personal hobbies, to pass time or simply to catch their own dinner. Today hundreds of local Fishermen can be seen during day and night, standing along Galata Bridge, shoulder to shoulder with their long fishing rods planted in the water, all with the intention of trying to fill their buckets. Hooks and bait are sold from small stallholders as well as Turkish tea and Simit, a traditional Turkish round bread. Below on the second level, vendors can be seen preparing and selling fish along the water with a row of restaurants available for visitors to enjoy local Turkish seafood dishes or simply take in the atmosphere. 

boats at galata in istanbul
Photo by Nancy Lova.
Photo by Nancy Lova.

Just a stone’s throw away, you can find Misir Carsisi, also known as the Spice Market and the most famous covered Bazaar after the Grand Bazaar. It is an adventure for the senses as the alleys and shop fronts are flooded with an endless array of treats. Within the Spice Market, locals and visitors are spoilt for choice when deciding on which spices, herbs, dried nuts, teas, caviar and Turkish delights to buy. It is the perfect stop-off for the local Fishermen to pick and choose from either red pepper flakes or cumin, dried oregano or sumac, saffron or green pepper, to season their fish. 

Along with Istanbul’s other historical landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower and the Hagia Sophia, Galata Bridge is an icon to the city and undeniably of great importance to the local Fishermen. 

Header image by Andrea Leopardi.