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Marmara Islands

Marmara Islands
As these islands are also in the Sea of Marmara they are often confused with the Princes’ Islands but are considerably further from central Istanbul on the south side of the sea. There are regular ferries that run from Yenikapi during summer and at other times of the year it is easier to get here from Erdek.  Unlike the upscale Princes’ Islands visitors here are usually from the middle and working classes and who come in their droves, especially during the long summer school holidays. 

There are a total of seven islands and only four are actually inhabited and although they are not free of motor vehicles there is little traffic and are pleasantly quiet.  Up until the First World War all the islands had a substantial Greek population that are since long gone and there is not much to show that they were ever there.

Marmara Island

This is the largest of the islands and was originally known as Procennesus by Greek descendants of Miletian who settled here.  Marmara takes its name from the marble quarries on the north side of the island that supplied
the white-grey marble used on some of the columns at Hagia Sophia.  The rest of the island is mostly residential developments that include Marmara Town to the south, and the islands interior is mainly taken up by Mount Ilyas (Ilyas Dağı) which stands at 700 metres high.  Marmara Town has kept some of its rural charm although there are no historical monuments to speak of other than the fine Marmara High School and Government Buildings (Hükümet Konağı), and in its backstreets there is a plaque that mentions a lost church, there are a couple of old marble fountains and a group of old Ottoman gravestones.  The island has a lovely waterside promenade lined with shops and restaurants and the better beach is located at Çınarlı, so named from the 1000 year old plane trees that are at the entrance to the village.  There is another beachside promenade that has a row of cheap pide (Turkish pizza) and kebab restaurants.

Avsa Adasi or Island

This is the second largest of the islands and has unfortunately been completely over-developed with a hotchpotch of summer houses, beach restaurants and cheap souvenir shops.  The beaches are sandy and fairly narrow and during the summer school break become packed like sardines.  The only reminder of the days it was populated by Greeks, who called the island Ophioussa, are the ruins of the Church of Hagia Triada.

Paşalimanı Adasi or Island

Once known as “the Pasha’s Harbour” this is the third largest of the islands and is a 10 kilometre stretch of rock dotted with plane trees.  In its tiny main town of Balıklı you can rent one of the few private rooms that are available.

Ekinlik Adasi or Island

The smallest of the islands is also known as Kaşık ( Spoon ) Island because of its shape, it is inhabited, has a pretty village and a ruined church, and also a charming Tea garden but there are no beaches. 

Imralı Adasi or Island

This island is far out to the east and houses a high-security prison which currently detains Abdullah Öcalan the leader of the PKK terrorist group, and is also infamous as the place where Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his associates were hanged.  There were once three Greek villages on the island who residents relied on income from fishing, viticulture and silk production and who left after the 1923 Greco-Turkish population exchange.  The prison opened in 1935 and for obvious reasons the island is closed to the public.

Hotels, Restaurants and Shops in Marmara Islands

Whilst on Marmara Island buy some delicious sardines that are preserved in olive oil and stock up on the wonderful local dried herbs.  The best fish restaurants are on Marmara and you will find many stalls selling meatballs (köfte), white beans (piyaz), stuffed mussels (midye dolması) and a type of dessert made from helva (höşmerim).  The local hotels remain fairly basic and the cheapest are on Avsa that has several budget priced bed and breakfast establishments.

To get to the Marmara Islands

From June to September there are high speed sea-buses ( from Yenikapı to Marmara and Avşa and in summer less frequent ferries to Paşalimanı and Ekinlik from Erdek but not Istanbul .  Ferries also run in summer from Avsa to Paşalimanı and Ekinlik.  There are other ferry services to the islands that operate from Tekirdag in Thrace.

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