Once Jason needed a pigeon to get past Rumeli Feneri. Today all you need is a spirit of discovery
Issue 61-62, October-November 2011
by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff
Cosmopolitan Istanbul has straddled the Bosporus in a way
that has rendered the city and the strait synonymous. But
alongside the passage of water between the Black and the
Marmara seas an explorer can find some utterly un-Istanbul-like
highlights, which differ immensely from a standard sightseeing
tour of the strait.
One of them is Rumeli Feneri.
In theory at least, this piece of land is part of the Istanbul
megapolis, but even the most detailed travel guides fail to mention
its name. And even if you know for sure that such a place exists,
you'll need to put some effort into finding it. Rumeli Feneri is on
the sea shore but is impossible to reach by taking the picturesque
road along the European coast of the Bosporus. Just before you
get near the place the road ends at the solemn gate of a Turkish
military base. The road from Istanbul – the Istanbul worshipped
by tourists, bohemians, poets and historians – to Rumeli Feneri
cuts through inland, but you have to be prepared to rough it for
a while, and even overcome some challenges during your quest.
After all, this bit of land is located at Europe's very end. In fact,
it is the end of Europe.
Rumeli Feneri has an idyllic beauty that rather befits a postcard
from the Cote d'Azur than the tip of a continent. A cape with
cliffs projects into a photogenic sea. A white lighthouse rises on
the promontory and it is this that has given the place its name,
as Rumeli Feneri translates as "European Lighthouse."
There's a deep cove near the cape that's full of
yachts and fishing boats, all white too, or at
least most of them.
Rumeli Feneri is a border not only in relation
to Europe as a continent. The lighthouse is
one of the two points that delimit the Black
Sea border of the Bosporus. The other is the
lighthouse on the opposite shore, which,
logically, bears the name of Anadolu Feneri,
the "Asian Lighthouse."
The Rumeli Feneri lighthouse is a relatively
new construction, the product of the attempt
at building modern infrastructure that the
Ottoman Empire started during the Crimean
War of 1853-56. This military conflict was
central for the popularisation of a string of
technological and intellectual novelties in
the empire. Its European lands were full of
French and English troops, who introduced
the locals to concepts such as theatre, and
musical instruments such as the violin.
Sultan Abdülmecid I (1839-61), for his part,
recognised that his empire was falling behind
Europe and tried to catch up speedily.
Building the lighthouses Rumeli and Anadolu
was part of this effort. Communications and
navigation in the Black Sea were in need
of improvement, and the sultan decreed
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers