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Bosphorus: A Center of Legends

One of the tourist signatures of Istanbul, home to many stories and myths, the heart of Istanbul, and where Asia and Europe separate— the Bosphorus.


As a boarding student coming to Istanbul, a metropolitan of Turkiye, I recall being intimidated. Not because of my school or how I will adjust to living with friends in the dormitory, but of how I was going to be able to leave my hometown behind. I lived my whole life being minutes away from the sea, covered in humidity every summer and even at nighttime, breathing in the saltwater… And it was so comfortable. The warm, sometimes even the scolding heat of Antalya, and the encompassing humidity were just like a hug. A hug that promised safety, familiarity and felt like home. The first time I was able to take in the view of the Bosporus was when we were being shown Istanbul on a field trip. The view of the other side and the gentle breeze were all-welcoming. It wasn’t home, but it was close enough.


Bosphorus is the strait uniting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (Brittanica) as well as the separation point of Anatolia and Europe. Because of this, it’s a strategic place and experienced the reign of many nations throughout history. Many constructions were built to fend off other nations, which can be exemplified by the existence of Rumeli Hisarı and Anadolu Hisarı, built during the Ottoman reign.



Source: Astronaut photograph ISS008-E-21752, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Istanbul_and_Bosporus_big.jpg)

The land Turkiye currently resides in has hosted many nations and has been a part of many myths and legends. Such as how the name “Bosphorus” has a Greek myth behind it. The myth of Zeus and Io.


Zeus, the god of all gods and the god of the skies, was known as a notorious womanizer. He was known for constantly cheating on his wife Hera, the goddess of marriage, with various women. Hera, who was aware of her husband’s notorious cheating habits, was extremely jealous and frustrated by her husband’s ways. Yet Zeus never stopped pursuing other women, driving Hera to lash out in various acts of vengeance.


One of these women is Io, a priestess of the temple of Hera (Britannica). According to the myth, Zeus takes a liking for Io and starts having an affair with her. One day Hera, already suspicious, decides to spy on Zeus to catch him in the act. When Zeus understands what is going on, he tries to hinder Hera’s vision by summoning clouds to surround him and Io, which Hera is said to disperse with a blow of her breath.


As they are on the verge of getting caught, Zeus decides to turn Io into an ox in order to avoid Hera’s wrath. After Hera sees the ox and Zeus, Zeus feigns ignorance and acts nonchalantly about the ox. Hera, still suspicious, asks to keep the ox to herself and assigns Argus, a hundred-eyed creature, to watch over it.


To free his lover, Zeus sends Hermes in disguise to lull Argus into sleep by telling stories and singing. After completing the task successfully, Hermes kills Argus. Despite all this, Hera is not deterred. To retaliate for Io’s escape, she sends gadflies to chase her around. Io, still in ox form, wanders all around and passes a narrow strait to continue from Europe to Asia, making this strait “Bosphorus”— its literal translation into English as “ox ford” or the passage of ox (“Chasing Bosphorus.”)(“İstanbul Boğazı Efsaneleri.”).

The creation of Bosphorus has various other stories and fascinating retellings. An interesting one is about a ruler whose identity is debated.

Source: Merterm, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Turquoise_Bosphorus.jpg)

This ruler is known to conquer all the surrounding empires and be the emperor of them all. However, a queen from the Aegean Region refuses to be under the reign of this emperor. The ruler tries and tries and tries, yet he is unsuccessful in taking over the queen’s nation.


In order to learn about the military aspects of this nation, the ruler goes undercover as a delegate. When he arrives in front of the castle, he says that he is the messenger of the ruler and that he would like to present a letter. However, when the guards let him into the chamber of the queen, she shrieks as loud as she can and demands the delegate be arrested.


The queen reveals that she knows who he is because she has a sketch of him on her desk as a precaution. She questions the ruler about his intentions in infiltrating the nation. After he does, the queen offers a choice: either he will accept the offer and be freed, or he will decline and be sent to dungeons for the rest of his life. The offer is that he will not send soldiers to continue the war. Fearing that he might not be able to escape, the ruler accepts the offer. In return, the queen frees him and sends him off to his empire.


While on his way, the ruler notices the difference in height between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and calculates that if he digs an opening, the entire palace could be left underwater. The ruler gathers millions of workers and in 3 years and 13 days, they dig an opening. On the thirteenth day, the water overflows and creates what we know today as Bosphorus. Yet this leaves out the queen's nation, making sure that the ruler keeps his promise (“İstanbul Boğazı Efsaneleri.”).


Works Cited


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Io". Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Dec. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Io-Greek-mythology. Accessed 24 November 2022.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Bosporus". Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Oct.


2022, https://www.britannica.com/place/Bosporus. Accessed 24 November 2022.

“Chasing Bosphorus.” The Mythology Project, https://themythologyproject.com/chasing-bosphorus/.


Zıhlioglu, Eda. “İstanbul Boğazı Efsaneleri.” İstanbul Boğazı Efsaneleri, 1 Jan. 1970, http://bilgilaboratory.blogspot.com/2012/06/istanbul-bogaz-efsaneleri.html?m=1.


Ali İmer, “İstanbul Boğazı Efsanesi”, Türk Folklor Araştırmaları, C. 18, S. 164,Yıl: 14, 1963, s.2997–2998

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