Princess Islands in Istanbul
The Princess Islands are a combination of nine islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. Regular or fast passenger ferries operate to the four of these islands from different parts of the city; from Bostanci, Kadikoy and Kartal neighborhoods on the Asian side, from Sirkeci and Kabatas neighborhoods on the European side. Motorists are not permitted on the islands except the ones belonging to the local municipality for public works, therefore you have to walk or rent a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage (fayton in Turkish), even a donkey. Many local people in Istanbul own or rent their summer houses, or just go there at the weekends for swimming in the tiny beaches and for picnicking.
These four islands are called in general as Adalar (Islands) in Turkish and their names are; Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada. Sedefada is the fifth inhabited island but it isn't much popular as the other ones, there is a very small settlement on it. Beside these, Tavsan Adasi, Sivriada and Yassiada have no settlements on them, meanwhile Kasik Adasi is a private island. Yassiada whitnessed a tragic moment in our recent history when one of our early Republic period prime ministers, Adnan Menderes, was sentenced to death penalty after spending his last days of life in a prison on this island.
The name of the islands comes from the Byzantine period, when royal princes and empresses were exiled there. With the intruduction of steamboats during the late Ottoman period around the 19th century, these islands became popular resorts for the rich people who built their wooden houses. Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities were a large part of the inhabitants here. Today, the islands are popular tourist destinations for daily excursions especially in the summer time. There are many monasteries and historic buildings on the islands, besides 19th century Victorian style old wooden mansions.
Buyukada is the largest and the most popular of Princess Islands, having an area of 5,4 square kilometers and a population of 7.500 approximately, which goes up to 10-15 times more in the summer. Earlier name of the island was Prinkipo. There are some historical buildings such as Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery from 6th century, Ayios Dimitrios Church, Hristos Church and Monastery, and Hamidiye Mosque built by sultan Abdulhamit II. When you rent a horse-drawn carriage, you can choose between a long route or a short one to visit the island. South of Buyukada is very calm and forested, but the northern side is a heavy residential area being close to the pier, therefore most of the private yachts anchor on the southern tip. Dil promontory on the west is a favorite spot for picnickers. Yoruk Ali beach, Princess beach, Kumsal beach and Nakibey beach are open to the public for swimmers. There are many restaurants, cafeterias and shops situated around the pier. The museum of the islands can be visited near the pier. It's also possible to overnight in small hotels on Buyukada.
Heybeliada, second largest island in the archipelago, was known as Khalkitis or Chalki during the Byzantine period and had many copper mines, which are shut down today. There are some interesting buildings on the island such as the Naval Academy founded in 1773 and the Greek Orthodox High School. The high school is a large building up on the northern hill and in the middle of pine trees, but it's closed today. Halki Palace is a well-known hotel built in 1862 for the parents of students attending the Greek high School, it was destroyed by a fire and than restored as a hotel in 1995. A small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary stands in the courtyard of the Naval Academy. There are two small museums on Heybeliada; one is the house of Inönü, second president of the Republic, and other one is the house of Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpinar, an early Republic writer. Degirmen (Mill) is a nice picnic area on the side facing to Kasik island. There is also a public beach set in a nice cove and a water sports club on this side of Heybeli. There are many trekking and hiking trails over the hills and through the pine groves. Several restaurants and cafeterias are lined up around the pier which gets very popular during the summer months, especially at the weekends. The island is also busy during the winter months because of many schools and the sanatorium.
Burgazada, third largest of the Princess Islands, was known as Panormos during the Hellenistic period. Today, it's famous for the house of Sait Faik Abasiyanik, a Turkish story writer from the beginning of 20th century, who lived here. His house is now converted into a museum, and in Kalpazan Kaya, a place he used to visit often, there is now a cafeteria offering great views of the sunset. Other places to visit are some churches and monasteries from the Byzantines, such as Hagia Ioannes Prodromos (Aya Yani) church, Christos Metamorfosis Monastery, and Hagia Gheorghios (Aya Yorgi) Church and Monastery. There is a nice sailing and water sports club and many rocky beaches, but the island doesn't offer much places to overnight. Burgazada was covered with pine forests but in 2003 most of it was destroyed by a big fire unfortunately.
Kinaliada, smallest of these four islands, has beautiful summer homes which people rent it for the season, and a large Armenian community prefers this island for their summer vacations. Its name Kinali, meaning Henna, comes from its reddish colour because of the iron and copper that has been mined here in the past. Its nice beaches attract many people from the city, Ayazma beach is one of them. Water Sports Club has an Olympic pool as well. The island is very rocky so there aren't much trees around, and big TV and radio antennas on top of the hill are ruining the beauty of this tiny island. There are several restaurants and cafeterias along the pier, where there is a very modern mosque to the left. Hristos Monastery is located up on a hill and was built by the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV (Diogenes) while he was exiled here and where he was buried. The monastery is open to the public only on Fridays. There are no horse carriages here because of the size of the island, you can easily walk everywhere. There aren't much alternatives to overnight on the island.
Hope to see you soon in Istanbul.