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The Princes’ Islands are a group of nine islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul, Turkey. Their name is variously –and incorrectly- spelled also as “Prince’s Islands” or “Princess’ Islands” across the World Wide Web.
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Points of Interest in Buyukada
- Hagios Giorgios Church (Saint George/Aya Yorgi) is located on one of two summits of Büyükada. After reaching the central point of the island (known as Birlik Meydanı Square), you should climb a steep cobblestoned path on foot to get there (it’s too steep for a fayton, as well as a bike, to climb). It takes about 35-40 minutes. Although the church building itself is unexceptional with nothing really fascinating, the backyard of the church offers some very beautiful sights of the other islands and the sea. On April 23rd every year, which is considered as St George’s holy day, a crowd of seemingly tens of thousands attend the church to make wishes. Wishmaking rituals that day range from usual burning a candle to climbing the cobbled path on bare feet to untying wool balls all along the path. The final part of the path that day is as crowded as a rock concert (except very early in the morning, like 6AM, it’s reported), because police officers let people in in groups of 10-15 at once, to avoid an overcrowding inside the church. If you decide to burn a candle that day keep in mind that nearer the church you are, cheaper the candles being sold around (for example, in 2007 it was YTL 2.00 near the quay, while the going price very near the church was YTL 0.50 per candle). But better of all would be to buy the candle inside the church for a donation (it’s up to you how much to pay) as none of the profit of the candles sold on the streets benefits the church. And a sidenote: Most of the people attending the church and waiting for a blessing from the priest upon exit that day are non-Christian Turks, but there is nothing surprising about that: This is Turkey, where east meets west (and vice versa) and cultures truly mix.
- On the other summit of Büyükada, amidst the pine woods lies the abandoned and dilapidated Greek Orphanage (Rum Yetimhanesi), looking like a haunted manor. Originally built as a hotel in late 19th century, this completely-wooden, 4-story building is the second largest wooden construction in whole world (the largest in Europe). It’s dangerous to enter the building itself (because it’s slowly decaying), and also forbidden.
- Both the eastern and western side of Büyükada is full of wooden Victorian-style mansions dating back to late 19th/early 20th century, similars of which have been bulldozed in the rest of Istanbul (with the exception of neighborhoods on Bosphorus banks) to make way for concrete, multi-story apartment buildings. The ones on the western side (right side when looking out of quay) seem more splendid. Just don’t be surprised and don’t start looking for them as soon as you get off the ship: Around the quay is more like a modest town centre. They are located about 15 min walk away from the quay.
The Princes’ Islands take their name from the fact that during Byzantine and early Ottoman period, members of dynasties who fell out of favor were sent to exile there. Until late 19th century, when regular steamer transportation showed up in the seas around Istanbul, these islands were considered remote and far-away places. Apart from the exiled princes, only a handful of monks found these islands inhabitable then, a fact which gives the islands their former name in Turkish: Keşiş Adaları (“Islands of the Monks”).
The Princes’ Islands consist of four major and five minor islands. Major ones are as follows (from west to east, also from smallest to biggest): Kınalıada, Burgaz, Heybeliada, and Büyükada. Apart from these, only one more island of the archipelago is inhabited, that is Sedef which lies east of Büyükada. The other, unhabited ones are: Tavşan south of Büyükada, Kaşık (between Burgaz and Heybeliada), Yassıada and Sivriada (both lying further away in the sea, southwest of Kınalıada). This article will focus on the four major ones, as public transport to uninhabited islands is virtually non-existent, and much of Sedef is private property with limited access.
The islands are an interesting anomaly because they allow for a very rare, albeit incomplete, insight into a multicultural society in modern Turkey, possibly alike to the multicultural society that once existed during the Ottoman Empire in places such as nearby Istanbul/Constantinople. Prior to 1950s, each of the inhabited islands had significant communities of ethnic minorities of Turkey, which still is the case to a much smaller extent. Since the vast majority of the residents and visitors are Turkish, today their legacy is of cultural rather than of demographic importance: Kınalıada (Greek: Proti) used to be the summer retreat of the Armenian archbishop and the Armenian community of Istanbul, Burgazada (Greek: Antigoni) used to be a sleepy village inhabited by Greek fishermen. Heybeliada (Greek: Halki) was the main Turkish settlement on the Princes' Islands, while Büyükada (Greek: Prinkipos) was mostly favored by local Jews and foreign residents of Istanbul, mostly of European descent, although all of these ethnicities could be encountered on Büyükada. This is partially responsible for the different characters of the islands that lie so close to each other.
These islands prove to be a good day-trip especially when you are bored of the crowd, noise, and traffic of Istanbul. Quite a shock is what many travellers experience upon their return to the city, when full-blast car horns are still the way how they were when left behind early in the morning.
One of the best times to be on the islands is during spring (April-May) and during autumn (September-October). During these seasons, the air is neither that cold nor hot, the islands are not very crowded and during spring (especially in late March), the mimosa trees, which are some sort of symbol of the islands, are in full bloom of their yellow flowers. At weekends during summer (June-August), all of the islands are really crowded, and so are the ships. Avoid if you can. During winter, the exact opposite is the case. However, if you want to enjoy the islands blanketed by snow and/or a very gloomy and almost deserted “ghost-town” experience and don’t mind the biting cold, then winter is definitely that season.
If you don’t have time to visit all of the islands, pick Büyükada: it’s undoubtedly the “queen” of the islands.
Upon getting off the ferry, you’ll recognize the clock at the square just a block up in front of you. This is the main square of Büyükada, and around it is the town centre. Most grocery stores are to your left, as well as the restaurants which also occupy the waterfront to your left when exiting the quay. From the clock, major roads of the island diverge left (east), right (west), and straight ahead (south) among some mansions (best of which are lined on the main road to right) towards the hill, as well as narrower streets and alleys connecting these. These roads join each other again in Birlik Meydanı Square (lit. "union square", perhaps because the roads "unite" there), the geographical centre point of the island, lying amongst pine woods between the two main hilltops. From that square, whether you take the road to left or right, you will end up in the same square, as that road encircles the southern half of the island, at a distance to the sea. The Church of St George lies at the end of another cobbled uphill path starting from Birlik Meydanı.
There is a large and detailed map of the island posted at the left of exit of ferry quay.
- Great/Total Circuit (Büyük Tur, about 15 km in Büyükada): Either by fayton or bike. It’s not as hard as it may sound, except a few slopes.
- Have a picnic in a scenic spot.
- Alibaba Restaurant, Gülistan Cad. no: 18, Büyükada (in the town centre, on the left side when walking out of the ferry quay), ☎ +90 216 382-37-33, fax: +90 216 382-36-00. 10AM-1AM. Seafood restaurant in Büyükada. Reservation is advised on Saturdays. Visa, Mastercard and AmEx accepted.
- Konak Lokantası, Recep Koçak Cad. no: 87, Büyükada, ☎ +90 216 382-54-79. Kebab and traditional Turkish cuisine. Visa and Mastercard accepted.
- Köşem Restoran, ş.Recep Koçak Cad. No:49, Büyükada (turn left when you get off the ferry, then see it on your right in about 200m), ☎ +90 216 382-11-20. Very nice and cheap place, lots of locals eat here. There is both cafe-like service and self-service.
- Sofrada Restoran, Recep Koçak Cad. İsa Çelebi Sokak 10, Büyükada (walk towards the clock tower as you exit the ferry and take a left at the clock, walk about 20 meters and take a right on the street with the new, large Marine House Hotel. The restaurant is on the same side as the hotel, on your right.), ☎ +90 216 382-76-39. 10AM-10PM. This small quaint restaurant is run by a family and was formerly called Ada Ev Yemekleri. It features traditional Turkish and Eastern Med cuisine at great prices. Very tasty and an authentic slice of the Islands and Turkish cuisine. From 8 TL (GB£ 4/US$ 6) pp. Credit cards accepted.
- By Şükrü, Gülistan Caddesi #16, Büyükada, ☎ +90 216 382-12-45 (for group or fixed menu pricing, please call Susan at +90-532-700-22-11). 10AM-3AM. By Şükrü is located right on the sea front with a variety of fresh seafood, kebob and vegetarian dishes. You can enjoy live music every Saturday night in the tavern, and for those of you who miss a good T-Bone Steak or Shrimp Scampi you may visit By Şükrü's Winehouse. Just minutes away from the pier, By Şükrü is easy to get to and one of the most visited restaurants on the island. Reservations are suggested for weekends. US$ 20.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Istanbul/Princes' Islands on Wikivoyage.