Adalar – Prince’s Islands – is located in the Sea of Marmara. The district consist of 9 islands, which can be separated into two different groups, the first group, the center islands, consists of Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada. The islands in the second group encircle the center islands and are called Sedefadası, Sivriada, Yassıada, Kaşıkadası and Tavşan Adası. The islands cover a total of 16km2. Büyükada, among the largest islands, is the center of region. Other residential islands include Kınalıada, Burgazada, and Sedefadası.  Kaşıkadası has mostly privately owned property. It has been proposed to build a casino here but negotiatiotions are still ongoing. Yassıada is famous for the political trials after the 27 May Military Coup in Turkey. Sivriada also has a somewhat sad history because Istanbul’s homeless dogs were sent here. However, dogs are not only living creatures that have been expelled to the islands. Princes, queens and other members of the Byzantine ruler class were also exiled to these islands. That’s the reason why the island’s name is Prince’s Islands. It is said that Armenian bishop Narses was the first exile and Leon Trotsky, Marxist revolutionary and theorist, was the last. He will be mentioned later in the Büyükada section.


The islands came under Ottoman rule shortly before II conquered Constantinople. The region was used little until the 16th century, when Greek fishermen, priests, monks started to move to the Prince’s Islands.

Adalar by Kin Mun Lee
Adalar by Kin Mun Lee

Transportation services, for example ferries, between Istanbul and Prince Islands were started in 1846. It was a lot easier to reach the islands now, and their position in society changed. Istanbul’s many rich Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Ottoman rulers built beautiful palaces on the islands. Most of the Turks were located in because of the Naval Academy here. Armenians and Greeks inhabited the majority of other islands. Due to social and political unrest in Turkey, most of the minorities left their houses behind and moved to other places. The Istanbul Pogrom (Events of 6-7 September) was the most touching event among the all. The event was triggered by the false news that the house of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Thessaloniki had been bombed. A Turkish mob assaulted the Greek community in Istanbul, the angry crowd even came to Büyükada, and occupied the island. Eventually, it accelerated Greek emigration from Turkey.

The main feature of the Islands is always peace and quiet. You really feel like you have escaped the buzz of the city. There are no stores or cars like in Istanbul. People ride bicycle and here the taxis are horse-drawn carriages. You can swim in the sea, go for a walk on green hills, and enjoy nature and the peaceful atmosphere, only an hour away from Istanbul. The only thing you have to do is take ferry from Bostancı, Kadıköy or Kabataş. There are two ferry options, sea buses (fast ferries) and conventional ferries which go slowly and let you enjoy the view of Istanbul.


Kınalıada by Pi István Tóth
Kınalıada by Pi István Tóth

Kınalıada is the closest island to Istanbul and the first stop for the ferries from Istanbul. Kınalıada only had electricity in 1946 and running water in 1981. This might be the main reason for the low population of only 2000, although in summer the population increases to 30,000. It is very rocky and there are not mant trees. It is said that those rocks was used to build the city walls of Constantinopolis. People on day trips generally don’t prefer Kınalıada so the island is not as as the others. The best feature of the island is its amazing panoramic views. It is the only island from which you’re able to see Istanbul. If you go there during winter, you can sit in your study and sip your wine with Istanbul in the backdrop. Definetely a must-do in Istanbul.


Burgazada by Maya Trifonova
Burgazada by Maya Trifonova

The second stop on the ferry is Burgazada. It’s larger than Kınalıada and most famous for its elegant wood mansions which are located in the streets Gezinti, Mehtap and Gönül. One of the houses on the island is a museum-house, which belonged to a man whose statue welcomes you to island. He is Sait Faik Abasıyanık who is a very important figure in Turkish literature. His fiction deals with fishermen, Greek priest, workers, clerks, whores and the criminals of Istanbul. It took some time before the general public in Turkey accepted his writings because in the era of nationalism, his works were not deemed nationalist. ”Selected stories and poems” (Indiana University, 1983) and “Sleeping in the Forest” (Syracuse University, 2004) are two of his books that have been translated to English.

Burgazada doesn’t offer very many of activities. The two most visited sights Aya Yani Church and Hristos Monastery. There is also a restaurant called Kalpazankaya, a Burgazada classic.

Aya Triada Monastery
Aya Triada Monastery

is the third stop and the second biggest island. It is a beloved summer resort, featuring of 4 peaks, and among all Değirmentepe is the highest. The others are named Taşocağı, Makarios and Ümit Hill. The Aya Triada Monastery, or known as Halki Seminary, sits on top of the Ümit Hill. It is very famous since many orthodox functionaries hail here. The school was open for 127 years, from 1894 – 1971, and 930 students graduated.

Heybeliada by Tim Rich and Lesley Katon
by Tim Rich and Lesley Katon

Of these graduates 343 went on to become bishops. Some of them became the bishop of major cities such as Istanbul, Alexandra and Antioch. This is the reason the school is very well esteemed in the Orthodox world. The Halki Seminary endured some hard times because of the diplomatic issues between Greece and Turkey after the 1950s. Especially after some social and political actions against minorities, young people preferred countries other than Turkey for their futures. This is why the school started to have difficulties finding students. Eventually the seminary was closed by the government in 1971 because of the secular character of the Turkish Republic. The school will be allowed to continue its theological education, provided it is affiliated with university or religious school. The reopening of school is still a lingering issue, even dear Barrack Obama showed interest at one point.

The Naval Academy is another important school in Heybeliada. After the Russian Armada destroyed the Ottoman Armada in 1770 around Çeşme, the sultan decided to open a naval academy in order to strengthen the Ottoman Navy. It is located on the left side of the pier.

Heybeliada is not only famous for its schools; it also has some beautiful nature. Çam Harbor is the most famous and nicest area of island, with a picnic area famous for its beautiful moonlight walks. Truely, it’s so beautiful that it even has been mentioned in many songs. Almost 400 meters away from pier, Değirmendere is another resort place with a picnic area, snack bar, cafe-restaurant, market and beach.

Where Burgazada has Sait Faik, Heybeliada has Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpinar. He is also a well-known author, who wrote many stories, novels and articles. His stories, all of which take place in Istanbul, are usually funny and reading his novels is easy and enjoyable. He lived in Heybeliada for a long time and died on 8 March 1944, at the age of 80. His museum-house can be visited in Heybeliada on Çayır Sokak No: 15.


Büyükada is last stop for ferries. It’s the largest of the nine islands and the center of the Adalar area. Büyükada became a home for wealthy families and the Turkish elites after 1940s and many elaborate mansions and comfortable villas were constructed in here. After the 1950s, as it happened to all the islands, Büyükada lost its Greek residents. Over the last decade, Büyükada has revived itself. Old Istanbul families returned to their summer homes, wealthy people renovated their old properties and academics, artists, writers and foreigners came to island to escape modern life.

Aya Yorgi Church
Aya Yorgi Church

Büyükada has two peaks; Isa Hill is on the north and Yücetepe is on the south. The Aya Yorgi Church sits on the top of the Yücetepe, the highest peak of the island. The hill is the site of a tradition every 23 of April when pilgrims make their way to Aya Yorgi Church. People usually bring hasps and colorful candles and when they arrive at the top, they tie yarn to the trees. Meanwhile people whose wish has already come true give sweets to others. Upon entering the church everyone lights a candle and they all join in prayer. Finally, they write their wishes on a piece of paper and put in a box before leaving the church.

The Hristov Monastery and Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage are the most visited sites of Büyükada and located on the Isa hill. If you like visiting religions buildings, the San Pacifico Latin Church, Paragia, Ayios Demetrios and Profitis Ilias are other churches. There is also a tabernacle, Hased Le Avraam, and a mosque, Hamideye Mosque, which built in 1895 by Abdülhamid II.

Dilburnu, a famous picnic area, can be found on the west side of Büyükada. There are two coves beside Dilburnu; Nizam Cove in the North and Yörük Ali Cove, with a beach, in the South. Dilburnu is for day trip favorite so it is always very on Sundays.

Leon Trotsky in exile in Büyükada in 1929
Leon Trotsky in exile in Büyükada in 1929

The history of Büyükada is tragic and intriguing at the same time. Many of the princes or empresses were exiled to this particular island. Büyükada was a miserable place for these people but for Leon Trotsky it was only sanctuary. Trotsky was a Marxist revolutionary and theorist, a Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army. Together with Lenin he dominated the Russian Revolution. After leading losing the struggle for power with Joseph Stalin in 1920s, Trotsky was removed from power and expelled from the Communist Party. He was sent to Middle Asia in 1927. After he came back to Soviet Union, he couldn’t stay for very long; in 1929 he was deported to Büyükada from the Soviet Union for his first exile on the island, from 1929-1933. He led a calm life in Büyükada, he was allowed to publish his books so he wrote his autobiography and his “History of Russian Revolution” in his villa on the hillside of Büyükada.

Although he was trying to have a calm life, he broke down after he received some bad news. First, his Soviet citizenship was taken away in 1932 and then his daughter was forced to suicide in Berlin under the regime of Adolf Hitler. He couldn’t stay in Istanbul so he moved to France. His exile ended with his death in Covocan, Mexico. A Stalinist agent wounded Trotsky in the head with an ice pick in his house. He passed away in the hospital a day later. His house in Büyükada is private property and unfortunately is not open to visitors like other famous Turkish residences. You can still have a look at the outside, the address is Çankaya Caddesi No: 55.

1 review

  1. Beautiful scenery amongst a calm atmosphere.

    Lovely islands, my girlfriend and I travelled to Büyükada and Heybeliada on two separate days during our recent trip to Istanbul. The feeling on the islands is one of calmness and beauty. While on the islands we bought, from one of the many street vendor’s, a floral daisy garland that ties around the head, the vendor told us of the fokelore behind the garland, but I could not remember the whole story. I would also like to know the Adalar/Turkish name of this type floral headwear.

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34970 Adalar, İstanbul
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Photo Credits: Pashazade