As the sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and the narrow meeting point between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus has been of immense strategic and commercial importance ever since humanity first strapped a few planks together and took up paddling. Old Istanbul straddles both sides, with one leg in Europe, the other in Asia and the whole world passing in between. The history of the region is littered with war, invasion, conquest and capture. No doubt, it will be again.
In 2011, BBC Radio 4 ran a three part history of the Bosphorus. It’s an absorbing tale, well told by Edward Stourton. If you have time to spare, tune in the wireless, sit back with a small cup of sweetened kahve, a slice of baklava and lose yourself in the drama while your teeth rot and your arteries harden. Click on the picture link below:
Interestingly, the word “Bosphorus” derives from the ancient Greek “Bosporos” which means “Oxford.” Who knew?
With many thanks to Alan Austin who sent me a link to the programme.
Geographically, Anatolian Turkey is in Asia and Thracian Turkey is in Europe. A simple glance at a map confirms it. Istanbul is not called the city that straddles two continents for nothing. For commercial convenience, the whole of Turkey is often classified as Europe for such things as travel insurance and flights. Lonely Planet lists Turkey under Eastern Europe and the Caucasus when it is part of neither (apart from Thrace). Is Turkey also part of the Middle East? This is less clear. The Middle East is an ill-defined term that always includes Arabic countries, but may or may not include the nations of North Africa (who speak Arabic) and may or may not include non-Arabic Iran. Where does Cyprus fit in? It’s closer to Asia than to Europe and the Greek side is part of the European Union (nominally on behalf of the whole Island but that’s another story).
Does any of it matter? Certainly not to long gone conquerors who marched across Asia Minor from all points of the compass at the drop of a helmet. Take a look at this to see what I mean.
It only matters to me when trying to catch the weather forecast on BBC World. The Beeb doesn’t seem to know where Turkey is either and generally ignores us altogether. Consider this. Geologically, Europe isn’t a continent at all. It’s an appendage to Asia with an arbitrary border drawn along the Ural and Caucasus Mountains. Those in the know describe the entire landmass as Eurasia. You see we’re all Asians really.
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