Land of poets: Burgazada
Burgazada has lost nothing of its tranquil atmosphere in the years that have passed. This peaceful island welcomes you on the docks with the sight of its once-popular hotel Antigoni. The best way to explore the island is to take the words of the famous writer Sait Faik as your guide and plunge into the streets adorned with hundreds of years old mansions. Burgazada is approximately two kilometers from one end to the other. In the late fall, towards winter, the island gradually becomes desolate. A perfect destination for those seeking to be away from the crowds.
A dock square with a picturesque sight of moored ships and boats welcomes you in Burgazada. This square, also marking the center of the village, features a sculpture of Faik. Pay special attention to the white building adorned with columns on one side of the square. This is the once-famous Hotel Antigoni. The original building was raised to the ground to be replaced by a pristine concrete block some years ago. The destruction also came for the authentic Greek restaurant, which used to serve on the ground floor of the previous hotel building. In those days, this restaurant was very popular in the heyday of the island.
Burgazada used to be a tiny green village nearly 200 years ago. What changed its destiny were the set of administrative reforms in 1839, which entitled the non-Muslim population with equal rights to those of Muslims. This led them to practice new trends in construction, which were impossible to realize in the incommodity of Istanbul, on the large empty lands of the surrounding islands, including Burgazada.
Only a few mansions and manors existed on the island when the first steamships started operating between Istanbul and the islands in 1846. The large sum of the population, which was not more than one thousand, used to inhabit in small wooden houses then. The important landmark in the history of the island’s development was the rising interest of Jewish businessmen in Burgazada during the 1950s. The fruits of this trend are a number of luxury houses on the slopes that face Heybeliada and a completely new neighborhood in Turgut Reis. As a result of this social vivacity, a number of new clubs have emerged, such as the Burgazada Marine Club.
Do not be surprised if some locals salute you on your excursions. The inhabitants of this little island are quite affable. After our little excursion around the dock, we start walking towards Kalpazankaya. There are many phaetons (horse-drawn carriages) that can pick you up the hill, should you wish to spare your energy for the top. To remind you, it is forbidden to use motor vehicles within the limits of the island. The same rule applies to all the islands around Istanbul.
The road that leads from the dock into the village will take you to Gönüllü Caddesi, where the most beautiful mansions on the island line up. The abandoned Dimitrakopulo Mansion, Burgazada Teacher’s Lodge and the Greek Orthodox monastery of Agios Georgios (St. George) are some of the spots you might want to visit on your way. The most popular Greek-style restaurant, Barba Yani, situated on the left end of the dock, is a perfect place to relax and replenish after a long walk.
Monastries of exile
As you walk along the streets of Burgazada, sheltered by huge pine trees above, the sight of Istanbul as a white strip in the horizon will catch your eye. The waves gallop from across, as if to catch you by arm to tear you apart from this land of peace where you took refuge from the exhausting crowds of the metropolis. Yet, you remain untouched. For today, you have come here to detach yourself from the fast rhythm of Istanbul.
If you are interested in religious rituals, you can travel to Burgazada on the weekend and join the Sunday mass at the Greek Orthodox Church of Ayios Ioannis. Mainly Greeks settled on the island in the Ottoman times. After the Turkish Republic and until the 1960s, the Greek and Turkish population became nearly balanced. Many Greek buildings still stand today, such as the Church of Ayios Ioannis, Hristos Monastery, Agios Georgios Monastery and the Church of Agios Ioannis.
The islands were places of exile and used as royal prisons in Byzantine times. Princes, emperors, lords were sent here for their unwelcome political acts. Thus, the alternative name for the islands, the Princes’ Isles. The Church of Agios Ioannis, where a number of Byzantine emperors were kept captive, is the oldest building on the island with a history of 11 centuries. The Monastery of Agios Georgios, another authentic building, is famous with its three bells. The church of the monastery dates back to the 19th century and it is situated in the western part of the island, under a hillside road, which is known as the Road to Paradise (Cennet Yolu). The monastery—a rectangular, three-story stone building—is positioned at a lower site on the same hillside.
Sait Faik’s hideway
Antoine Ignace Melling, an esteemed architect and painter from France, writes about Burgazada in his book “A Picturesque Voyage to Constantinople and the Shores of the Bosphorus” upon a visit he paid to Istanbul and its environs in the 19th century. Melling describes Burgazada in his book as harsh and sere. However, now, the island is covered with thick trees.
Burgazada offers many shaded, quiet and secluded corners, even in the heat of summer. It was this quality of the island that inspired many poets. A tour of the island is never complete without a visit paid to the house of Faik, probably the most famous of the authors from Burgazada. Faik spent 10 years—from 1954 to his death—in a mansion, which was previously known as the Spanudis Mansion.
The author’s house, which was made into a museum after his death, is situated in the middle of a large garden and is open for visitors during the day. The furniture, goods and documents in the house are left as they were. The museum section features a selection of the author’s epistles, notes, personal belongings and some pieces of his writings. You can further trace Sait Faik in the region known as Kalpazankaya. This is a small bay, adorned with pine trees, at a 15-minute distance from the dock by phaeton. A cute restaurant welcomes you on the bay for an interval, or else to give your Burgazada visit a perfect ending. Another alternative is the fish restaurant, which has a nice view of Sivriada and Yassıada. At the end of the day, you will leave the island with peace and affection in your heart.
*Author of the book “Step by Step Istanbul” (Yürüyerek İstanbul, Mona Books, September 2018)