New York has its Hamptons, Italy has its Cinqueterre, Istanbul has the Princes's Islands. Old-fashioned decor, deliciously peaceful, almost rural, to be enjoyed during the sunny days.
On 9 islands, only 4 are reachable in 1 hour by boat from European or Asian Istanbul: Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada, can be seen from the city on clear weather.
An archipelago for the rich and disgraced people, the Princes' Islands have welcomed since the Byzantium era all kinds of bourgeoisies, who came willingly or forcefully. First «Iles des Prêtres» (Panadanisia) because of the large number of convents on the spot, both isolated and not far from the capital, their geographical location is ideal to exile bulky princes. Tortured, they never came back.
During the Byzantine period, a cripple could not be emperor. This is why, in the 8th century, Empress Irene (or Irene the Athenian), known for her cruelty, had her son Constantine VI’s eyes pierced in order to reign in his place and avoid a civil war in the Empire. Hard to enjoy the view in this case… The fallen emperor Roman IV Diogenes was also blinded, not by the beauty of the island of Kınalı, but by another emperor, and left for dead there. Ambiance.
After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans took the example of their predecessors and abandoned high Ottoman dignitaries on one of these islands. Without gouging their eyes, it’s already better!
In the middle of the 19th century, ferry lines replaced the Caye watches and changed the situation. The Istanbul elite, charmed by the calm and vegetation of the islands, spent their weekends there and built their summer residences. It is these old bourgeois mansions that can see it on the largest of the islands.
Why go there. You will come and get on these islands the same thing as the Istanbul intellectuals and bourgeois: a bucolic getaway far from the tumultuous Istanbul, between Victorian villas, synagogues, churches and mosques.Sometimes Greek, sometimes Armenian, but always cosmopolitan. Of the 80,000 inhabitants, 30,000 are Jewish, Christian and Armenian.
Büyukada or Prinkipo,
between communists and treasure without pirate
The largest and most populous of the archipelago, especially in summer (up to 40,000 residents!), is definitely the most touristic.
In 1840 it became the favourite resort of the rich merchants and Greeks of Constantinople.
In 1920, 30,000 to 40,000 white Russians, those Tsar supporters expelled by the Bolshevik revolution, took refuge in Istanbul. But Trotsky, banished from the USSR in 1929 by Stalin, was invited by President Atatürk to Büyükada. He will reside there for four years, in an atmosphere of paranoia that we can easily understand. To avoid leaking information and thwarting possible attempted murder, he demanded that his cooks be deaf, and his housekeepers illiterate. His house, located on Cankaya Street in the Nizam district, is still visible. Honestly, it's a ruin. Put on sale, it can’t find taker.
Also worth seeing is the Aya Nikola church, in much better condition, and the Greek monastery Orthodox Aya Yorgi, especially for its view of Istanbul and the archipelago.
For the record, a treasure consisting of 207 coins was discovered on the island in 1930. It belonged to the father of Alexander the Great and is now part of the collections of the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul.
Heybeliada, the green escape
The second largest and greenest island. Nature break. Formerly, the territory of the Armenians and the rich Greeks. But they fled riots after 1956.
Burgaz or Antigoni
The third, ancient village of Greek sinners. Very quiet.
Kınalı or Proti
The first on the road but the smallest. Marginal interest regarding the other areas.
What to do in the Princes's islands ?
In any case no car! The only authorized transport is the horse and buggy, the bike, or your feet. Admire the old barracks, picnic, eat ice cream, take the boat "vapur" between each island. Personally, I would love to photograph the outdated charm of the islands with my film camera.
On the return ferry, if you’re smart enough to find a place on the bridge, don’t miss the “palace tip” for the view of the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
You can come back late and enjoy the sunset as the ferries sail from 7 am to 11:30 pm.
Best time to go. In the spring (late May to early July) and on weekdays, to avoid both the crowd (of tourists and of Istanbul) and the heat.
Budget. The ferry from Istanbul: 1€. Once there, 21 € (100 TL) for the big carriage tour. This is clearly expensive, but to be divided by the number of people. The bike is 3.20€ (15TL) the day. A good option when you see how exhausted horses are in the summer…