The Princes’ Islands are a chain of nine rather small islands in the Sea of Marmara. They evolved from a place of exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites that want to escape from the hectic city life for a day. Of those nine islands, only four of them are open to the public: Büyükada, the biggest and most popular, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada. The main feature of any of the Princes’ Islands is the sound of silence. Since all motorized vehicles are banned and horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main transportation means on the islands, places are an oasis of peace and quiet. The only sounds you’ll hear are bicycle bells and the typical sounds of horse hoofs.
There is a famous hill at Buyukada and at the top of the hill is the small Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. (Aya Yorgi Church). There has been a monastery on the same spot since 963, when the Byzantines ruled the city. The inside of the church is adorned with marble floors and beautiful old icons. One icon in particular will catch your attention – that of St. George. It’s said to have healing powers for those who visit the church. What is so special about this place is the people coming up and down the hill, those lighting candles, and those asking for blessings from the priest. Not everybody is Greek. Not everybody is Christian. And that’s what’s so special about this church. Turks and Muslims join Greeks and Christians every day of the year to come pray at the church.
The second biggest of the Princes’ Islands in Istanbul is Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island), also known by its Greek name, Halki. It makes for a nice, relaxing day trip from the bustling and chaotic mainland. The island historically was home to many Greek and Jewish inhabitants of Istanbul, and its multiculturalism still shows to this day, mostly through religious buildings. There are some restaurants and cafés to eat, or you can jump on a horse-drawn carriage or rent a bike and begin exploring the island. Burgazada and Kınalıada are other Prince’s Islands where nature meets history and offers a wonderful daily trip for those who need fresh air and plenty of fish to eat!