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Buyukada Istanbul

Buyukada Istanbul
The island was once known as Prinkipo and is the largest of the Princes’ Islands.  Büyükada (Big Island) is a world away from busy Istanbul and this traffic free peaceful haven makes a perfect retreat at any time of year.  The best time to visit is in spring or autumn, it has beautiful wooden houses, pine forests and flowering Judas trees. 

Sit back and enjoy the long ferry ride to the island and once here take a horse-drawn phaeton carriage around the island and then dine at one of the many waterside fish restaurants.  Although Buyukada is the furthest from the mainland it is the most beautiful of all them all. 

It has two hills; Hill of Christ (Isa Tepesi) 164m (538ft) and the Great Hill (Yücetepe) 202m (663ft), a valley between them and a thin beach that stretches around the perimeter.  The entire island only measures 4.3km (2.6 miles) long by 1.3km (0.80 miles) wide, and is very easy to explore by foot or bicycle.  

History of Buyukada

Büyükada’s history dates back to the 6th century when a convent was erected here by Emperor Justin II who reigned from 565 to 578 in the area that is now called Maden (Mine).  In the late 8th century the convent was expanded by Empress Eirene (752-803) an infamous character who blinded her own son and began a tradition of exiling those that were awkward or inconvenient to here, and to other monasteries on the islands.  Another Eirene, and wife of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, was the last self imposed exile to retire here and who came on the death of her husband in 1118. 

It is believed that Büyükada was the last place to surrender to the Ottomans in the 15th century, and in the mid-18th century, when a ferry service came into operation, it brought the island
within an easier reach of the rest of Istanbul and gradually became very popular and a perfect place to escape the city’s oppressive summer heat.  When Sultan Abdulhamid II was ousted by the “Young Turks” in the 1909 coup many of his cronies were exiled to the island and were later joined by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in 1929.  Even on this beautiful piece of paradise with its palms, plane and pine trees it is not without its own common problems such as litter and inferior building work and people complain that some of the horses that pull the phaetons are not looked after as well as they should be.

Buyukada Harbour Building or Iskele

The ferries bring you into the Büyükada two-storey landing stage that was designed in 1899 by architect Mihran Azaryan in the First National Architectural style but it wasn’t actually built until 1915.  It is adorned with Kutahya tiles designed by the great master himself Hacı Hafız Mehmed Emin Efendi who was also responsible for the tiles used on the landing stage at Haydarpaşa station, and has an excellent octagonal booking hall.  The building has had many guises over time that includes housing the first cinema on the island and the top floor has a café with a very nice outdoor terrace.

Buyukada’s Places of Worship

Church of the Panagia

The island once had a large Greek population and two Greek Orthodox churches still remain here; the Church of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) dating from 1735 that was originally on another part of the island and moved to here in 1793.   It underwent complete renovation in the late 19th century and its best part is the impressive pulpit. 

Church of Hagios Demetrios

The second church is dedicated to the island’s patron saint, Hagios Demetrios, was designed in 1856-1860 by the Greek architect Fistikos Kalfa, and the church serves as the seat of the bishopric for all the islands.

Franciscan Church of San Pacifico

The Franciscan Church of San Pacifico dates from 1866 and has a painting by Giovanni Battista, an Italian artist, which depicts Saints Pacifico, Ignatius and Sophia flying over the Princes’ Islands.

Church of the Surp Astvadzadzin Verapolium

There is also an Armenian Catholic Church of the Surp Astvadzadzin Verapolium that dates back to the mid 18th century.

Hamidiye Mosque

The best mosque on the island is Hamidiye which was constructed in 1892 during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II and there is also a synagogue that dates back to 1903.

Buyukada’s Monasteries

There are two monasteries that are really worth checking out and sit at the top of two hills. 

Monastery of Hagios Georgios Koudonas

On Yucetepe is the Monastery of Hagios Georgios Koudonas (St. George of the Bells) believed to have been founded in 963 during Emperor Nicephoros II Pho Kas reign from 963 to 969 although the first reference to it was made in the mid-12th century.  A story that dates back to 1625 relates of a shepherd boy hearing the sound of bells coming from underground he dug down and uncovered an ancient icon of St. George which had been buried there by priests in 1204 when they saw the Crusaders approaching, hence the monastery’s name.  The original icon has been preserved at the Patriarchate in Fener although there is a copy of it on display here. 

Today’s monastery has six churches and chapels that range in date from 1752 to 1909 and are
spread over three levels, one of which still contains metal chains that mentally ill people would be tied to in the hope of a miracle cure.  There were several miracles accredited to the icon of St. George and on April 23 every year there is a pilgrimage to the Church of St. George that is mainly a Greek Christian event although also observed by non-Christians, where the pilgrims, some barefoot, walk up the steep stone path and briefly stop to tie pieces of paper and plastic to the trees that are alongside and also unwind cotton reels which is if you read the signs that are up is prohibited but these are ignored.

Monastery of Sotiros Christou

The Monastery of Sotiros Christou (Christ the Saviour) is on Isa Tepesi and dates back to the Byzantine period although the earliest reference of it only dates from 1158.  It was restored by the Greek Patriarchate at the end of the 16th century and only managed to keep going through Ottoman times because of funds given by Greek merchants and Phanariote noblemen.  Several patriarchs lived here in the 19th century and it was restored again in 1869.  All that remains of the original building today is the katholikon (the church with the iconostasis), a two-storey south wing and a few outbuildings.
On the east of the island near the coast there is a third monastery that has been dedicated to Hagios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) and whose earliest reference only dates back to the 17th century.  The building completely burnt down in 1852 and the structure you see today dates back to 1860 and the narthex to 1873.

Buyukada Houses and Mansions

The island is famous for its beautiful wooden houses and its most magnificent mansion is the Con Paşa Köşkü which can be found on Çankaya Road.  Although recently restored it was built for Travsivolos Yannaros (Con Paşa) by Achilleus Politis in 1880, and Con (pronounced John) Paşa was the man responsible for bringing the ferry service to the islands.  The building’s extraordinary ornate style was very popular on the mainland at the time it was constructed. 

Other here mansions have features that have been copied from Europe, like the Yelkencizade Köşkü at No. 3 Kadiyoran Road, which is almost an exact copy from a design of a Venetian building by architect Josef Maria Olbrich.  Another superb mansion is the Fabiato Köşkü at No. 21 Çankaya Caddesi, built in 1878 and was restored by Çelik Gülersoy who died here and is now a cultural centre with a lovely garden where they hold concerts during the summer. 

Nearby at No. 31 is the red-brick Mizzi Köşkü constructed in 1894-1895 and has its own observation tower; it was designed by Raimondo d’Aronco for a the lawyer, Giovanni Mizzi, and although the very square proportions of the structure hint at Art Nouveau the balconies and lamp holders are pure “jugendstil” a particular German style of Art Nouveau. 

On the same road at No. 44 is the Adalar Kaymakamlığı (local government headquarters) and is housed inside what was the Hotel Imperial and although the exterior is somewhat shabby inside there are some lovely frescoed ceilings.  You will notice that some of the more ordinary houses on the island have decorative features added to their door and window frames that give them an Art Nouveau look.

Things to do in Buyukada

Take a horse-drawn phaeton carriage around the island and you can find them 50m inland from the ferry terminal and take a left turn at the clock tower.  The long tour (büyük tur) takes around 75 minutes and does a complete circuit of the island; the short tour (küçük tur) only goes to the northern part of the island.

To get to Buyukada

Take the regular high speed ferry from Kabatas , Kadikoy or Bostanci ( and note they will be extremely busy at weekends and during school holidays.

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