Sketches, by Benjamin Disraeli

The Bosphorus

The stranger whose felicity it has been to float between the shores of the Bosphorus will often glance back with mingled feelings of regret and satisfaction to the memory of those magical waters. This splendid strait, stretching from the harbour of Constantinople to the mouth of the Euxine, may be about twenty miles in length, and its ordinary breadth seldom exceeds one mile. The old Greek story tells that one might hear the birds sing on the opposite shore. And thus two great continents are divided by an ocean stream narrower than many rivers that are the mere boundaries of kingdoms. Yet it is strange that the character of these two famous divisions of our earth is nowhere more marked than on the shores of the Bosphorus. The traveller turns without disappointment from the gay and glittering shores of Europe to the sublimer beauty and the dusky grandeur of Asia.

The European side, until you advance within four or five miles of the Black Sea, is almost uninterruptedly studded with fanciful and ornamental buildings: beautiful villages, and brilliant summer palaces, and bright kiosks, painted in arabesque, and often gilt. The green background to the scene is a sparkling screen of terraced gardens, rising up a chain of hills whose graceful undulations are crowned with groves of cypress and of chestnut, occasionally breaking into fair and delicate valleys, richly wooded, and crossed by a grey and antique aqueduct.

But in Asia the hills rise into mountains, and the groves swell into forests. Everything denotes a vast, rich and prolific land, but there is something classical, antique, and even mysterious in its general appearance. An air of stillness and deep repose pervades its less cultivated and less frequented shores; and the very eagles, as they linger over the lofty peak of ‘the Giant’s grave,’ seem conscious that they are haunting some heroic burial-place.

I remember that one of the most strange, and even sublime, spectacles that I ever beheld occurred to me one balmy autumnal eve as I returned home in my caique from Terapia, a beautiful village on the Bosphorus, where I had been passing the day, to Pera. I encountered an army of dolphins, who were making their way from the Ægean and the Sea of Marmora through the Strait to the Euxine. They stretched right across the water, and I should calculate that they covered, with very little interval, a space of three or four miles. It is very difficult to form an estimate of their number, but there must, of course, have been many thousands. They advanced in grand style, and produced an immense agitation: the snorting, spouting, and splashing, and the wild panting rush, I shall never forget. As it was late, no other caique was in sight, and my boatmen, apprehensive of being run down, stopped to defend themselves with their oars. I had my pistols with me, and found great sport, as, although the dolphins made every effort to avoid us, there were really crowds always in shot. Whenever one was hit, general confusion ran through the whole line. They all flounced about with increased energy, ducked their round heads under water, and turned up their arrowy tails. We remained thus stationary for nearly three-quarters of an hour, and very diverting I found the delay. At length the mighty troop of strangers passed us, and, I suppose, must have arrived at the Symplegades about the same time that I sought the elegant hospitality of the British Palace at Pera.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53