Istanbul: Places to Explore

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Princes' Islands

The Prince's Islands, known simply as Adalar in Turkish, are everything that Istanbul isn't: quiet, green, and car-less. They are primarily a relaxing getaway from the noise and traffic of the big city, though can be quite crowded on sunny weekends. Restrictions on development and a ban on automobiles help maintain the old-fashioned peace and quiet—transportation here is only by horse-drawn carriage or bicycle. There are no real "sights," per se; the attraction is the relaxed peaceful atmosphere. Of the nine islands, four have regular ferry service, but only the two largest, Büyükada and Heybeliada, are of real interest to the general traveler. Both are hilly and wooded, and the fresh breeze is gently pine-scented. They make fun day trips from Istanbul, and with some beautiful hotels, you can even stay overnight. There are frequent ferries—both the atmospheric old boats and the faster, less atmospheric catamarans known as sea buses—from Katabaş, near Taksim at the end of the tram line.

These nine islands of the Sea of Marmara have provided various uses for the people of Istanbul over the years. Back in the days when the city was known as Constantinople, religious undesirables sought refuge here, while in the time of the sultans, the islands provided a convenient place to exile untrustworthy hangers-on. By the turn of the 18th century, well-heeled businessmen had staked their claim and built many of the Victorian gingerbread–style houses that lend the islands their charm. For several years in the 1930s, Büyükada, the largest of the islands, was the home of the exiled Leon Trotsky: the islands were considered to be safer than Istanbul, with its 35,000 hostile white Russian refugees.

From the ferry you can see the two smallest, uninhabited, islands, known in Greek and Turkish as the "pointy" Oxya/Sivri and the "flat" Plate/Yassı. Sivri's main claim to fame was that in the 19th and early 20th centuries Istanbul's stray dogs would be occasionally rounded up and dumped there, while Yassı was the site of the trial and execution of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes after the 1960 military coup. Two of the other inhabited islands are Kınalıada, popular with the city's Armenians, and Burgaz Ada, know to be more Greek, though neither have any significant sights.

Princes' Islands at a Glance

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