They say true love knows no bounds. During last week’s trip to see my wife in Istanbul, I had to test this theory.
The city has many things to see. Hundreds of historic mosques, the breathtaking Hagia Sophia cathedral/mosque/museum, which was built exactly 1,400 years before the Golden Gate Bridge, and Topkapi Palace that served as home for generations of Ottoman sultans and their concubines.
We saw those things, but then I had to see the world’s oldest subway, which opened in 1875.
At 1,180 feet, it may be the world’s shortest subway system, but I found out later that despite all the hype, it’s not as old as London’s Underground, which was inaugurated during the U.S. Civil War.
It has to be a first of something, I’m sure. Besides being underground, it’s a cable car. While it opened two years after San Francisco’s service started on Clay Street, I’m thinking it has to be the oldest cable subway system in the world. Maybe.
I suspected this fraud even before I had a chance to find the thing on Wikipedia, but wouldn’t let that spoil my chance to sample the local transit oddities.
As a true test of her love for me, my wife allowed me to take us up a steep hill to the upper terminus of the thing, known simply as the Tünel.
The tunnel itself is the thing that’s old, lined with dingy gray stones. The cable cars themselves — all two of them — look to be fairly modern.
Wherever I go, I like to sample the public transportation and bring home souvenir tickets. Unfortunately, Tünel runs on “jetons,” as the Turks call them, and you have to drop them in the turnstile to get into the stations. I guess I could have sprung the .9 revalued Turkish Lira (probably about 85 cents) to add a token to my collection.
On the way back from our shopping trip, we took the underground cable car back up, then took the Ottoman-era nostalgic tram, assuring that our trip back to our lodging would be downhill only.
A German journalist we met in Istanbul told us that several attempts had been made to lengthen the underground line in recent years, but all had been stopped by the discovery of sensitive archaeological finds. Don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds plausible in a place that goes back to Classical Greek times.
What I didn’t get to see was the project to tunnel the new subway system under the Bosphorus, making it the first subway tunnel between Europe and Asia. I calculated that such a jaunt would be more of a stag affair, however.