Istanbul is a beautiful city that has many natural wonders in it that await to be discovered and visited by the curious and adventurous. One kind of these natural wonders would be the waters, the lakes, and rivers of this great and ancient city. Sightseeing and leisure walks are a favorite activity of the locals to do around the lakes, but also there is birdwatching in some of the lakes is Istanbul is on the way of seasonal migration of many bird species. Unfortunately, it is deemed unsafe and it is prohibited to swim in these lakes and rivers, although there are some of the lakes that are allowed to swim in, as the waste of this city of 15 million goes through them and on the rivers there’s too much boat traffic in order to swim safely. There are 3, somewhat natural(more on that further down), lakes all on the European, many other dam lakes and 32 rivers within the borders of Istanbul. The “somewhat” natural lakes of Istanbul are;
- Lake Terkos (also known as Lake Durusu)
- Lake Kucukcekmece
- Lake Buyukcekmece
There’s also fishing and angling in the natural and dam lakes of Istanbul, the most common fish types are:
- Squalius Cephalus
- Common Bream
- Black Sea Sprat
- Barbus Cyclolepis
- Alburnus Istanbulensis
The lakes and rivers of Istanbul are the leisure places that present a natural way to pass time and enjoy the city in another aspect. The beautiful nature around these is lush with greenery thanks to the humidity of the city and how the waters feed the plant. Some of the other activities that can be done around and on these waters are:
- Forest trekking on lake and riverside
- Hiking around the hills that form the valleys around the dam lakes
The “somewhat natural” aspect of these lakes is that they were not formed like how lakes generally form; a valley filling with the waters of the rivers flowing through. These lakes were all bays with connection to the sea, with time these bays were blocked off from the sea by the cumulation of sand and gravel at their mouths, thus becoming freshwater and semi freshwater lakes. For example, the largest of these lakes is Lake Terkos on the Blacksea shore, which has an area covering 10 sq/mi, is fed by 2 rivers and it is one of the biggest water sources of the city, was a bay of the Blacksea that was cut off from it, thus becoming a lake.
Watersports such as canoeing, pedal boating, rowing, and paramotoring are done on these lakes in the warmer months between March and November and the lakes are fuller on these months so this is the best period to enjoy them.
Terkos Lake, which is located between Arnavutkoy and Catalca districts of Istanbul, is now also known as Durusu Lake. Terkos Lake, which is fed by Kanlı Creek, Belgrad Creek, Baskoy Creek, and Ciftlikkoy Creek, is a very large lake. The Lake, which also hosts various animal species around, species such as the endangered Siberian swan and the great spotted eagle continue their existence. Terkos Lake, with its lush nature and serene environment, is rushed to by Istanbulites, especially on weekends.
Terkos Lake is the result of a complex valley leaving the Black Sea with a low threshold over time, also meets Istanbul’s drinking water needs. On the weekends, many families prefer Terkos Lake for a picnic. Besides picnic, angling and canoeing there are other activities to be done in and around the lake. In addition to all these, hunting sports are also carried out at certain times of the year in Lake Terkos.
With its wonderful nature, Terkos Lake is one of the rare places to spend stress-free time in Istanbul. If one day you’re visiting Istanbul, don’t forget to stop by Terkos Lake as well.
Buyukcekmece Lake is an abalone lake in Marmara Region, in the southern part of the Catalca district. The lake is used as one of the drinking water sources of Istanbul. The lake has been deepened with structures built by the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works. A dam was built on the sea leg of the lake.
The river (Karasu, Delice Stream), which flows south from the Catalca region, was formed a bay when the downward ground stood below the rising sea level, and then the front was blocked by a blockage made up of gravel, sand, and clay in the middle part of the bay. On this blockage, there is an opening that connected the lake to the sea and the Kanuni Sultan Suleyman(Suleiman the Magnificent) Bridge, a multi-arched historical bridge, passes over it. Buyukcekmece Dam is located where Buyukcekmece Lake meets the Marmara Sea. This lake is a slightly salty lake, with sloughs, and dense reeds between the dam and the sea. Fish are also caught in the lake. While there were 30 species of fish in the lake in the past, this number currently has 15 species, 4 of which are foreign species. There’s also birdwatching around the shores of this lake.
The Buyukcekmece Lake is connected by a thin and shallow canal between the Kaldırım Tip in the east and Bababurun Tip in the west. The dam built in front of the lake nowadays completely cuts the connection between the lake and the sea. Buyukcekmece lake is an old valley mouth that has become a bay after being overrun by the sea and then gained a lagoon feature (a ria). The shore of the lake is close to the middle of the bay.
The coast of Buyukcekmece Bay, which extends in the northeast direction of the west coast and is suitable for the accumulation of sand and pebbles in this direction, on the other hand, the shore between Baba Cape and Kumburgaz is not suitable for carrying similarly sand and pebble towards the east side a blockage cord was not formed. Nevertheless, there is an accumulation that enables the narrowing between the Mimarsinan and Buyukcekmece settlements. At this point, the bay has been divided into two, and the northern part has become a lagoon. The famous bridge of Mimarsinan is located near the bay of the lake, just next to the new bridge. Buyukcekmece Lake, which used to be one of the most important stake net fishing of Istanbul, has turned into a dam lake today, and its natural area has reached 16.6 sq/mi after the construction of the dam and the collection of water in 1987.
The name of the lake “Buyukcekmece” comes from the times when the lake did not have a bridge, large rafts were used to ferry across it by hand, called a “drawer”(Cekmece).
Kucukcekmece Lake, which is located between Kucukcekmece and Avcilar and Esenyurt districts of Istanbul, which has the same name as the location in which it is stated, is a Marmara Region lake. Kucukcekmece Lake is located 10 miles west of the city and at sea level, has a length of about 6 miles, a width of 3 miles, a surface area of 6 sq/mi and a maximum depth of 72 ft.
There is a small blockage of sand and pebbles between the sea and the lake. This line, which serves as a bridge between the Marmara Sea and Kucukcekmece Lake, is interrupted in the part of the lake that allows excess water to flow into the sea. In addition to transferring the excess water of the lake to the sea, it also enables the water to be transported from the sea to the lake in cases such as water decrease in the lake or overflow of seawater. Because of this, the waters of Kucukcekmece Lake are slightly salty.
Kucukcekmece Lake, where the Nakkas Creek, Sazli Creek, and Eskinoz streams are located in the north, is fed with these streams along with the seawater. In the eastern part of the lake, Istanbul’s suburban districts, Halkali, Kucukcekmece, Soguksu, Menekse, and Florya are located. In Florya district, there are a few beaches set up for touristic purposes.
Archaeological studies and various researches are carried out by many universities and research institutes in Kucukcekmece Lake, which has a long history. In addition, Kucukcekmece Lake has been the subject of many legends, especially the “Kucukcekmece legend”(Legend says that there is a “minaret” in the lake).
The city named Bathenoa, which is thought to have been destroyed as a result of the big earthquake in 557 A.D., is estimated to be located under the Kucukcekmece Lake. In the archaeological studies, the ruins of this city and the era and lighthouse structures have emerged. The fact that Bathenoa city is a port city proves the accuracy of these ruins.
Kucukcekmece Lake, which is considered as one of the natural beauties of the city, is also of great importance in terms of its geographical location.
There are a total of 32 rivers in Istanbul and none of them can be considered large. The largest is the Riva creek. It stems from the region of Kocaeli and pours into the Black Sea near Cayagzi (Riva) Village. Its length is 40 miles. Yesilcay Creek (Agva), Canak Creek flows into the Black Sea in Uludere west of sile. İstinye Creek and Buyukdere Creek (10 miles), Kagithane Creek (11 miles) and Alibey Creek (0.5 miles) pouring into the Golden Horn, Sazlidere Creek pouring into Kucukcekmece Lake, İstrasca River pouring into Terkos Lake are the important streams of Istanbul.
There are also streams, many of which are places of excursion and entertainment. Kurbagalidere (12 miles) in Kadikoy, Goksu, Kucuksu (10 miles), Elmalı, Baltalimanı (9.6 miles), Belgrade, Sariyer streams in the Bosphorus are small streams. Here is a list of all streams in Istanbul;
- Alibey Creek
- Fener Creek (also known as Silivri Stream or Suluklu Creek)
- Haramidere Creek
- Kemerdere Creek
- Lomborloz Creek
- Cayirbasi Creek
- Kagithane Creek
- Pot Creek
- Kusdili Creek (Kurbagali Dere)
- Tavukcu Creek
- Ayamama Creek
- Riva Creek
- Sazlidere Creek
- Goksu Creek
- Kucuksu Creek
- Halkali Creek
- Nakkasdere Creek
- Eskinoz Creek
- Ambarli Creek
- Menekse Creek
- Hasanoglu Creek
- Hamamdere Creek
- Topuz Creek
- Kurudere Creek
- Cakil Creek
- Istranca Creek
- Karasu Creek
- Sarisu Creek
- Hiciv Creek
- Agva Creek
- İstinye Creek
- Uludere Creek
To be clear, we will not talk about all the rivers in Istanbul, some of them are too small to have any real information about them except that they are connecting to other larger rivers or being small arms of other bigger streams, by which enlarging them. Some of the rivers that have no bigger impact on the city other than being the water source of the local neighborhood in the past. Some of them dried altogether leaving just damp patch of earth where they used to be, the beds of the dried rivers and streams have become settlements long ago and the ones that were too slim just got redirected into bigger canals. Here are some of the important ones.
Alibey Creek merges with Kagıthane Creek in Istanbul, forming the Golden Horn. Its sources are located in the hilly area near Tayakadin, in the northern part of the Catalca Peninsula, and from there it flows to the southeast. Since the upper and middle grounds are buried in the plateau, an embankment was attempted in this part to partially meet the water need of Istanbul. The downward slope has expanded and the floor and the slope of the valley are covered with residential and business suburbs of Istanbul. There is a large thermal power plant in Silahtar, where the stream meets Kagithane Creek.
Alibey Creek attracts attention with its unique natural beauty located in Istanbul’s Eyup district. The surroundings of the stream are covered with pine trees and it is a peaceful place where the residents often come to have a picnic. Although the dam is connected to the Eyup district, it is located within the borders of the Gazi District in Sultangazi. This is famous for the Magola Aqueduct, built by Mimar Sinan 450 years ago.
Kagithane Creek is a small river in Istanbul. It originates from a source in the east of Terkos Lake. It passes through the districts of Sisli and Eyupsultan then flows into the Golden Horn in Kagithane. It is rumored that the creek, known as Barbisos during the Byzantine period, started to be referred to as the Kagithane Creek due to the paper factory around it during the Ottoman period. (Kagit means paper in Turkish) Today, on the edges of the stream, there is a dense settlement around, where were covered with large meadows in the past. The horses belonging to the palace were grazed in these meadows. The creek was one of the main promenade places for the people of Istanbul. There were boat rides in it. Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi talks about Kagithane Creek with all these features in the section he describes Istanbul in his book Seyahatname.
Kusdili Creek or Kurbagalidere is one of the main streams flowing into the Sea of Marmara on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Kusdili Creek, is approximately 9 km long, takes its source from Kucukbakkalkoy on the skirts of Kayis Mountain. After growing with the waters coming from Mimi Creek and Kucukcamlica, it reaches the Marmara Sea in the north of Kalamis Bay.
Today, it is mostly included in a channel. The upper part of the stream, where water increases after rainy days, is almost completely dry in summer. Today, the boats coming from Kalamis Bay can only pass 100 ft under the Kurbagali Creek Bridge, which was formerly called Kasr-i Ali Bridge.
Ayamama Creek is a river located on the European side of Istanbul. It originates from a source in the eastern parts of the Basaksehir district. It flows from Bagcilar and Bahcelievler districts and pours its waters into the Marmara Sea within the borders of Bakirkoy district.
Ayamama Creek, flowing since millennia as a rushing river, has shrunk and diminished over a long period of time. It continues to exist in the present day as a small creek. The name of the stream comes from a saint, Agios Mamas (Saint Mamas) who was born and raised in the village of Mamasum, or Gokce village as it is known today of Aksaray in ancient Cappadocia, during the Byzantine period. He was a Christian who got slaughtered by pagan Romans because he adopted the teaching of Jesus.
Another rumor of how this creek got its name is the attribution of the “Mamas” with the word “Mary” in ancient Greek thus making it “Holy Mary”
Riva Creek or Cayagzi Creek is a creek located on the Kocaeli Peninsula in the north of the Marmara region. It flows into the Blacksea in the district of Beykoz where it pours into the sea, there is a Cayagzi (old Riva) quarter of Beykoz of the same name.
The stream forms the Omerli Dam Lake in the Pendik district of Istanbul. This reservoir meets 48% of the drinking water needs of Istanbul. It has a total length of 45 miles. After Omerli Dam Lake, the surroundings are covered with mostly forest. The remaining areas are agricultural areas and pastures. It is suitable for boating as it is fairly calm and has a large surface. There are also local fishing activities along the creek.
Goksu Creek is the stream flowing from the Anadoluhisari district of Beykoz, a district on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus. It is a quiet natural wonder with its trees and centuries-old plane trees that remain green on the coast even in winter. The name of Goksu Creek goes back to Byzantine times. During the Byzantine Empire, the name Goksu was derived from the name Potamion, the small river. The stream, which pours in the Bosphorus right next to the castle in Anadoluhisari, provides an environment where you can spend a pleasant time both in a fishermen’s shelter and in places built on its edge. Goksu Creek and its surroundings are valued as the most beautiful parts of the district. The Goksu and Kucuksu promenade areas, which spread from the coasts to the hills of the district, are preferred by both residents and visitors from other parts of Istanbul. Especially in the spring and summer, you can eat fresh seafood at the restaurants near Goksu Creek and have a good time with your loved ones.
Where Goksu pours in the sea, there is a beautiful and special place, Agva.
“Agva” comes from the Latin word aqua. Because Agva is a small and cozy town surrounded by two creeks and sea that make it “have something to do with heaven”. Located on the shore of the Black Sea, 22 miles away from Sile, Agva is located between Goksu and Yesilcay creeks that both originate from Izmit. If you come to this small earth paradise between holiday resorts close to Istanbul and stay in one of the log houses by the lake, you are sure to find the inner peace you are looking for if you sit on the rock in the lighthouse and watch the view.
Besides the calm of Agva, the best part is both having the opportunity to swim in the near Blacksea and being surrounded by a natural wonder like Goksu stream. While traveling by boat in Goksu, you can go fishing, on the one hand, go to the other side of Goksu by raft, you can reach the point where it joins the sea either by canoe/sea bike or by motorboat. If you visit there as a group of friends, the motorboat is a good idea, but if you want to sail through Goksu in all that silence, the classic boat would be a much better idea.
Unfortunately, as you can tell from what we’ve gone through until now most of the rivers, creeks, and streams of Istanbul got surrounded by industrial zones and got closed off in canals to block the smell of the chemicals released from the factories. In a city as huge as this, it is a sad reality. Fortunately, there are still some left that can be enjoyed for their natural aspect and that they are the main source of water for the forests around them.
But do not let that discourage you from visiting and adventuring to find out what you can do to hang out on and around these freshwater sources of the city. You can do lots of walking in the refreshing nature around the waters, you can enjoy catching some freshwater fish in Istanbul to have some change form the sea fish. You can do many watersports that use boats on these waters and find that you enjoy being in sync with the natural beauty around.