It’s been hot in Istanbul, and the Princes’ Islands are a favorite summer escape from hectic city life. Nine peaceful islands form an archipelago in the Sea of Marmara off the coast of Istanbul. Some are uninhabited. Yesterday, I took the ferry from Kabataş and spent time on beautiful Heybeliada (a.k.a. Saddlebag), the second largest island. The ride takes an hour, and there’s a welcome sea breeze along the way.
Automobiles and motorcycles aren’t allowed on most of the islands, except for a few small transport buses and emergency vehicles. You can hire a horse-drawn buggy, but I didn’t see any. Bicycles are abundant, and they’re the most popular means of transportation. Heybeliada has a population of around 3,000. The island is said to be bitterly cold in the winter, but in the heat of summer, when tourists and vacation home owners return, sometimes the population swells to over 10,000.
Sea of Marmara
The Bosphorus has been hazy lately, not great for photography. Winds usually pick up around 5 p.m., and the ferry ride back was bumpy. For the first time, I noticed the “sea snot” phenomena. Its gross!
The cause of the nasty looking stuff isn’t certain, but untreated waste dumped into the Sea of Marmara and a rise in water temperatures from climate change are blamed. The “mucilage” is even visible from space. The area is highly-populated with 16 million Istanbul residents, and five other provinces, factories, and industrial hubs bordering the sea.
“A huge mass of marine mucilage – a thick, slimy substance made up of compounds released by marine organisms – has bloomed in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara, as well as the adjoining Black and Aegean Seas.” Al Jazeera
During the Byzantine Period, “princes and other royalty were exiled on the Princes’ Islands”. Members of the Ottoman Sultan’s family were also banished there, giving the islands their present name. The islands were taken by the Ottomans during the Siege of Constantinople in 1453.
In the nineteenth century, the Princes’ Islands became a “popular resort for Istanbul’s wealthy. Victorian-era cottages and houses are still preserved on some of the largest islands”. Tourists can stay in beautiful boutique mansions – a great place to hide!
Heybeliada is considered the “greenest” of the Princes’ Islands. The slope of the island facing Istanbul is a residential area, but other parts are green. The island has four hills. I climbed the Hill of Hope to experience spetacular sea vistas and seminaries hidden away in the trees..
Heybeliada’s original population was mostly Turkish and Greek. The “islands have become more and more ethnically Turkish in character”. This is due partly to the “influx of wealthy Turkish jetsetters, a process which began in the first days of the Turkish Republic, when the British Yacht Club on Büyükada was appropriated for Turkish parliamentarians to enjoy Istanbul in the summer”.
The islands are an “interesting anomaly, because they allow for a rare, albeit incomplete, insight into a multicultural society in modern Turkey”. This might be “akin to the multicultural society that once existed in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire”. Today, “the majority of Heybeliada residents and visitors are Turkish”. I can vouch for that! Very little (zero) English is spoken.
The Halki Seminary, was founded on Heybeliada in 1844 as the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarchate. The school is located at the top of the highest hill on Heybeliada, at the site of the Byzantine-era Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
Heybeliada Naval High School
Heybeliada Naval High School was founded in 1773 by Algerian Hasan Pasha, an Ottoman statesman and soldier. This beautiful building is no longer a naval officer training school. In 2016, after 245 years in its capacity as a naval school, it was closed and opened to the public.
İsmet İnönü House
When İsmet Pasha, a major commander in the Turkish War of Liberation. became ill in 1924, doctors suggested he get away from state affairs and rest. The family rented a house on quiet Heybeliada Island. Today, İsmet İnönü Evi, is a museum.
Heybeliada Sanatorium was established in 1924 “by the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to cure long-lasting diseases”. The sanatorium became a training and research hospital, where many “well-known people stayed for a period of treatment”. The sanatorium closed in 2005. In 2013, a part of the hospital was restored for the shooting of the award-winning Turkish movie The Butterfly’s Dream.
Kamariotissa is the only remaining Byzantine church on the island. It was the last church built before the conquest of Constantinople. It rests on the grounds of the Naval Cadet School overlooking the jetty.
The grave of Edward Barton, the second English Ambassador sent to Constantinople by Elizabeth I of England was also on naval school grounds. Barton chose to live on Heybeliada to escape the bustle of Istanbul. His remains were eventually relocated to the British Cemetery in nearby Üsküdar.
Değirmenburnu Park is along the seaside of the area I hiked. To honor Atatürk’s 100th birthday, it was “reorganized” in 1981. Except for a very small part, the picnic section is cordoned off because of covid,
Heybeliada’s Mediterranean Forest and sweeping sea views are extraordinary! The hike around the island is about 5 miles, excluding side excursions. There are a few steep hills, but most of the trail is easy, and the views make it more than worthwhile. I was great to get some exercise. In my opinion, Heybeliada is about as close to heaven as you could expect to get!