Büyükada is the largest island of the The Princes’ Islands, an archipelago off the Asian coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. From Kadıköy, it’s about 1.5 hour ferry ride to Büyükada literally “big island” (büyük=big ada=island) and the last stop. With an Istanbul Kart the ride costs 3.85 TL each way.
English guidebooks and signs read Princes’ Islands instead of adalar (islands). Curious about the origin of the name I did some internet digging. According to Adalar Turizm, the Byzantine emperor Justin II built himself a palace and monastery on Büyükada in 569. After the emperor established residence there it came to be known as Prinkipo, the Island of the Prince. Later the entire archipelago came to be called the Prinkiponisos, or the Princes’ Islands. (Prinkipo is the greek word for prince).
Büyükada is similar and reminiscent of the Hamptons, where people actually live all year round, rich people have beautiful mansions and on the weekends, especially in the Summer, it’s overrun by people escaping city life.
Unlike the mainland, the island is free of traffic. Motorized vehicles are banned – except for service vehicles. Visitors and locals get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriages (phaeton).
When you arrive on the island, you exit the ferry and walk through the beautiful port to quickly enter into the heart of the town. It can be a bit overwhelming, as you proceed to walk straight through a street lined with ice cream vendors. As you walk towards the city center and start to climb up the hill you start to leave the crowds behind and explore the charm of the island. It feels as if you’re going back into time or entering another world.
As you walk through the tree-lined streets, you can explore the beautifully crafted mansions and old wooden homes as phaetons race by right beside you. It’s truly a place where time stands still.
Any guesses on which historic figure lived here, on the island, in exile?
His home was featured in the The 14th Istanbul Art Biennial.