The 30km strait known as the Bosphorus divides Europe and Asia and connects the Marmara and Black seas, its width varying from 660m to 4.5km. Its name derives from the Greek myth of Io, lover of Zeus, whom the god transformed into a cow to conceal her from his jealous wife Hera. She plunged into the straits to escape a gadfly, hence Bosphorus, or “Ford of the Cow”.
Around eighty thousand cargo ships, oil tankers and ocean liners pass through the strait each year, while for residents and visitors alike the Bosphorus remains İstanbul’s most important transport artery. The passenger ferries and sea buses that weave their way up and down from shore to shore provide one of the city’s real highlights: along the way are imperial palaces and ancient fortresses interspersed with small fishing villages and wooden yalıs (waterside mansions). Despite its pollution the Bosphorus is also full of fish – from swordfish to hamsi (a small fish belonging to the anchovy family).