Despite being so near to crowded Istanbul, Büyükada is a place of tranquility, miles away from busy city life. The island offers historical beauty, magnificent houses, and colorful streets that are straight out of a fairy tale. This year, the Istanbul Biennial is being held here.
As you disembark from the ferry at the Büyükada pier and pass the square, you feel miles away from Istanbul. However, the distance between the city and the island is not great; if you board the ferry at Eminönü, the journey takes 90 minutes and from Bostancı it is a journey of only 30 minutes. At the end of this short journey, you find yourself in a completely different atmosphere, surrounded by historical wooden manors, 2-3 stories high, hidden among pine trees, small beaches, and beautiful coves. There are walking and bicycle trails, tea gardens, and picnic areas.
Büyükada is not large, but it is not so small that you can explore it in one day. It is called Büyükada (Large Island) as it is the largest of the nine islands known as the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea. From end to end it measures four kilometers; the population, consisting of Muslims, Christians (Armenians and Greeks), Jews numbers just over 7,000. For this reason, it is a unique residential area which is peaceful, calm, and far from the hustle and bustle. In the summer months, residents of Istanbul come here for a day trip, or stay in the hotels and boarding houses for a weekend holiday.
The island calms down in the autumn. The beaches become empty as fewer picnickers come, and the streets are reclaimed by the “islanders.” This is actually the best time to tour the island. Bicyclists can ride easier, the queue in front of the ice-cream shop Roma is shorter. And this year, Büyükada is hosting a section of the 16th Istanbul Biennial, organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV). The biennial, which is entitled “The Seventh Continent,” referring to the enormous mass of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean that measures 3.4 million square kilometers and weighs 7 million tons, focuses on environmental issues. As part of the biennial, which is free and will continue until November10, the exhibitions will hold guided tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The exhibitions on Büyükada are held at Mizzi Mansion, Hacopulo Mansion, Taş Mektep, and Anadolu Club, all close to the main tourist routes. As a result, visitors can enjoy touring the island and taking in the works of art.
There are two choices to explore the island as motorized vehicles, except official vehicles, are not allowed: you can walk or ride a bicycle. Of course, the horse-drawn carriages continue to function, but the fact that horses become exhausted and often collapse has led to a negative public reaction. So, the best choice is to rent a bicycle from the shops by the pier and cycle across the island. The two most popular routes are known as the big and small tour -the two routes overlap at certain points. However, if you get a map, not only will you be able to discover the places on the itinerary better, but you can also devise your own route.
When you pass the shops in the center, the jewelry stalls, and the cafés, you arrive at the Clock Tower. Now follow the sign to Kolbaşı Street. First you see the San Pacifico Latin Catholic Church and its magnificent garden; then, the most beautiful houses on the island. The 19th-century wooden houses and buildings were built in neobaroque, neo-Gothic, neo-Greek, Empire, neoclassical, and Anglo-Saxon styles. The houses also display the corbels, close proximity, and simple style of Turkish houses, creating an atmosphere that reminds one of a fairy tale. Then, you will come out on Kadıyoran Street and the oldest church on the island, İsa Rum Monastery, appears. Walk a little further and you are in the island’s mining region. On Adalar Street, you see the second largest wooden building, the Büyükada Greek Orphanage. The orphanage is derelict and one of the island’s mysterious structures. Following this route, you will see two more important buildings, the Greek Church and the Ada (Island) Museum. If you want to take a break here, you can have a delicious meal at the Lunapark Restaurant.
Now you have arrived at the most challenging section of the route. This tiring wooded cliff, takes you to the top of the hill, where Aya Yorgi (St. George) Church is located. You will know that you have arrived at your destination when you see the ribbons tied on the trees on both sides of the road, indicating prayers and wishes. Finally, the Aya Yorgi Church appears before you... The building is the symbol of the island and is visited by locals and foreigners every year. If you still haven’t had a meal, you can stop by Yücetepe, a rural restaurant where you can enjoy the view.
On the way back, you will head down Nizam and Çankaya Streets, where you will see the most magnificent buildings on the island. Con Paşa Manor on Nizam Avenue was built in 1880 by Con Paşa, who was born on the island of Lesbos. This manor, the garden of which is like a small open-air museum with its statues, has balconies surrounded by wooden columns, towers on the roof, and wood-carved decorations, making it the most magnificent building on the island. The house in which the Soviet leader Leo Trotsky, the founder of the Red Army, lived in exile, is located on Hamlacı Street, which goes from Nizam Avenue to the sea. Trotsky stayed here between 1929 and 1933, and wrote his last books in the house built on an area of 3,000 square meters with views of the sea. Still on Nizam Avenue, you will see the Agasi Efendi Mansion. On Çankaya Street, the Yalman Mansion, where the series Hatırla Sevgili was filmed, is well worth seeing. Another magnificent building here is the Mizzi Mansion, one of the venues of the Istanbul Biennial, whose red walls are striking.
After coming to the island and seeing this much, a great reward would be a dinner. It is the fishing season and the restaurants, which are mostly located on the coastal Gülistan Avenue, offer great meals. Many mezes, from topik to Girit ezmesi have found their way into the Turkish cuisine; these, along with the vegetable dishes are the best and most popular accompaniments to fish. In the month of October, you can eat fresh anchovies, red mullet, sea bass, blue fin, sardine, and bonito. If you aren’t interested in fish, there are many other choices, from kebabs to dishes cooked in stone ovens. Ice cream is still the favorite, but you can try the lokma if you want a hot desert.