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many Istanbullus avoided the islands; they seemed too close to the North Anatolian Fault
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 27 Jul 2008 Sun 04:22 pm

The seabuses and ferries arriving at the Princes´ Islands piers this summer remind me of the old circus cars disgorging 1,000 clowns. Once the gangplank is down, there seems to be an endless stream of disembarking visitors.

These islands, inhabited for some 2,000 years, have had their ups and downs. This year, the day-tripper trend is definitely up. But that doesn´t constitute a “renaissance.” Less visible, but with more lasting impact, is Istanbullus´ rediscovery of the islands as a place to live.Only for monasteries and imperial exiles in the Byzantine era, and pretty much ignored through the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire, the islands gained popularity in the mid-19th century when the first steam ferries provided easier access. Before steam, it was a multi-hour excursion by caique, an Ottoman skiff powered by a team of rowers. Few bothered to come, and there were few amenities for them if they did.About the same time as the advent of the new steam ferries, the Sultan permitted non-Muslim minorities to own property. On the islands the minorities soon became the majority. Even today, Kınalıada remains largely Armenian, and Büyükada´s Jewish community is still a major presence. Heybeliada was once mostly Rum (Greeks of Turkey), but today they are few. Burgazada´s Greek fishermen are gone, but the church, a sacred spring and other memories remain.

The golden age of the islands was probably the first half of the 20th century, but by the 1980s and ‘90s, they no longer had the same cachet. Many longtime residents had left, and Istanbullus, enjoying the economic transformation of those years, had new holiday options—the Aegean, the Mediterranean, Western Europe. When we first moved to the islands in the 1990s, many of the fine old wooden houses were in disrepair, weekend crowds were sparse, and international tourists were rare. And for several years after the 1999 earthquake, many Istanbullus avoided the islands; they seemed too close to the North Anatolian Fault under the Sea of Marmara.For the last couple of years, we´ve seen a gradual increase in visitors, but this year has been a flood of both Istanbullus and foreigners. By mid-May, the ferries were already full, the picnic areas were lively, and several island merchants had added bicycle rentals to their main business. On a Sunday morning in May, I counted more than 50 pleasure-craft (50! In May!) moored in Heybeliada´s Çam Limanı bay. The Princes´ Islands season – including the expanded summer boat schedule – has traditionally been defined by the school holidays, mid-June to mid-September. That now seems inadequate.The islands may go in and out of fashion for the day-tripper and tourist, but the more significant renaissance promises to be a long-lasting one. Some of the houses we thought were goners have, at the eleventh hour, found new owners who are lovingly restoring them to their former beauty. Just two years ago, the municipality began to pipe in natural gas, allowing residents to install central heating. A simple change, but it has made year-round living on the island a far more attractive idea. Istanbullus who are fed up with the noise and congestion of the city are finding just what they need on the Princes´ Islands: a calm retreat, a safe environment for their families, and easy access to jobs in the city. Now if we can just get İDO (the ferry and seabus company) to expand the convenient summer boat frequency into the winter months. M.A. Whitten is the author of An Island in Istanbul: At Home on Heybeliada.

http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=110471


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