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Büyükada: The Holiday Retreat of Istanbul

(Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, U.K., G236:22/7)

A map of Büyükada, Harita Şirketi, 1938 (Source: Istanbul Atatürk Library, Turkey, Hrt_001708–Hrt_001715).

Büyükada, or Prinkipo (Πρίγκηπος) in Greek, is the largest of the four main Prince's Islands Archipelago (Adalar in Turkish) in the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul eleven miles from the port of Polis (the short form of Constantinople in Greek). The Island is 5.5 square kilometers with the highest peak reaching 202 meters at the Monastery of Agios Georgios.

(Source: Kultur Envanteri, 2023)
(Sources: Travelogues Traveler’s Views)

Its entrance into history can be traced back to the Byzantine Empire. Its long tenure as a vacation spot for the wealthy non-Muslims of the region begins in the eighth century when Emperor Justinian II built a monastery and summer palace. After the initial settlement by Justinian, more monasteries and churches began to crop up around the island and this population growth spurred the building of a fisherman's village which was the center of local life on the island for many centuries. Büyükada’s main economic output was produced from the monastery's gardens and fishing from the village. This made Büyükada a target for numerous lootings until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

(Image source: Kultur Envanteri 2023;)

The island was one of the last territories the Ottomans seized. In 1846, the island transformed itself, once again, into the premier vacation spot of the Istanbul elite when Şirket-i Hayriye, a premier Istanbul ferry boat company over the Bosphorus, opened the first ferry system connecting the island and Istanbul. With a history of non-Muslim settlement, Büyükada gained popularity among Greeks, Armenians, and Jews.

“Prinkipo was all Greek. When Turks came to Prinkipo for sightseeing, they would feel themselves as if they went out of the Ottoman lands. Sometimes, one would come across Turkish women walking arm in arm with their husbands, or sitting in coffeeshops as their face unveiled. They could not behave so freely in Istanbul"-Yorgo Zarifi, Greek banker

(Source: Salt Research)

At the time, Büyükada was known for its idyllic landscape dotted with iconic summer houses which were leveraged by residents as displays of wealth and social status and became a source of rich architectural innovation and tradition. The culture of the island as a resort destination saw an emphasis on the outdoors with large landscaped gardens and terraces.

“a unique urban fabric and lifestyle associated with phaeton sightseeing, sea bathing ceremonies, moonlight pleasure trips, picnics, musical performances, and sailing competitions as an integral part of daily life” - from Büyükada, Its Summer Residence, and the Bourgeois Ottoman Interior at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Models of Houses in Büyükada (Source: Salt Research)

Walking through the island, one can find examples of Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque, Art Nouveau, Imperial Architecture, and early Istanbul Art-Nouveau which combined the modern style with traditional Ottoman woodwork construction. These styles are evidence of a movement in the nineteenth century to modernize Istanbul in a distinctly European manner.

Splendid Palace (Source: Salt Research)

Some notable architects that worked and lived on the island include Alexander Vallaury, an Italian-Greek who built the Prinkipo Palas hotel which was later converted into a Greek orphanage, Kaludis Laskaris the Greek architect of the Splendid Palace, and Mihran Azaryan an Armenian architect responsible for the Büyükada Pier. Another notable feature of the island is the diversity of religious buildings. The island boasts 5 Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries (built between 1858 and 1908), a Roman Catholic church called Santa Pacifico Latine (1866), an Armenian church called Surp Asdvadzadzin Church (1858), a mosque called Hamidiye Mosque (1892), and Hased la Avraam Synagogue (1904).

From Left to Right: Hesed Le Avraam Synagogue (Source: Türk Yahudileri), Hagio Yorgi Church (Source: Nomadic Niko), and Santa Pacifico Latine Church (Source: Adalar Turizm)
(Source: Büyükada, Its Summer Residence, and the Bourgeois Ottoman Interior At the Turn of the Twentieth Century)

In 1926, after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic, the newly appointed president Atatürk began to host diplomats, bureaucrats, and members of the Muslim-Turkish bourgeoisie on the Island. By the mid-twentieth century, the population of the Island had severely decreased with the majority of Greek residents leaving after the Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey as well as the Pogrom of 1955, a series of anti-Greek riots and the Armenian residents leaving due to the Armenian Genocide, leaving behind only a few Jewish residents. This large-scale migration and deportation of non-Muslims combined with a lack of resources to the island saw Büyükada falling into disrepair. It wasn’t until later in the century that improvements to the infrastructure led to an increase in tourism and a new wave of permanent residence, though this time the distinctly non-Muslim characteristic of Büyükada had been lost.



“Büyükada.” n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed 2023.

Ceylanlı, Zeynep. 2015. Buyukada, Its Summer Residences, and the Bourgeois Ottoman

Interior at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Ankara, Türkiye: The Graduate School of

Social Sciences of Middle East Technical University.

Hundred Year Stories. n.d. “Splendid Palace.” Yüzyıllık Hikayeler. Accessed 2023.

Schulmbergerr, Gustave. 1884. Les Iles des Princes. Paris, France: Calmann Lévy.

Karsan Ayanoğlu, Selin, and Yegan Kahya. 2019. "The Characteristics of Büyükada as a

Cultural Landscape" Heritage 2, no. 1: 86-103.

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