Take a stroll in the slow lane on Burgazada

Take a stroll in the slow lane on Burgazada

Wilco Van HERPEN ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Take a stroll in the slow lane on Burgazada

‘The island is not that big, so you can walk around without any map. There are just a couple of main roads that will lead you to the most interesting places of the island.’

If you live in Istanbul, one of the most popular escape routes during the weekend is Büyükada. But have you ever been to Burgazada? You can reach it with the same ferry that goes to Büyükada, and the island is smaller, more intimate and cozier than its more famous neighbor. Everybody knows each other on the island.

Burgazada is an old Greek island and has several churches, one monastery, an Alevi cemevi, a mosque and a synagogue. To enjoy the atmosphere and life on the island, I recommend you come during the off season, from October until May. This is the time when you can see the island peacefully as if it is sleeping. During wintertime, the population is around 700 people. This changes once the temperatures rises again and during the summer, the number living on the island can grow to 6,000.

I took the ferry from Kabataş. At 6.45 a.m. sharp, the boat left and it took about 50 minutes to reach the island. The only living souls to welcome me that morning were a couple of stray dogs and a man from the municipality who was cleaning the quay. The friendly cleaner’s house was situated halfway up the one and only hill on Burgazada, and as far as I could see from his indication, his house had a beautiful view of the island, the sea and hectic Istanbul.

During wintertime it is quiet, very quiet. Life is not easy during wintertime. There might be a storm (ferries don’t sail then), fewer ships visit the island, and if you have school-aged children, Büyükada is one of the only two options you have for education. Island life is different; it’s not always easy, but the people I spoke with were very happy with their lives.

Like in the Netherlands

It is as if you are living in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, there is a certain kind of anarchy. Where does it come from? During difficult times (like storms or floods), the dikes occasionally burst. In order to repair the breeches in the dike, lawyers, mayors, doctors, farmers, housewives and teachers work together to fix the hole. There is no time to think about ranks and classes. On the island, life is more or less the same. The people cleaning the streets are the same as the local doctor or the police officer, so it is nice to talk to several people and within a couple of minutes you understand this is really true.

The island is not that big, so you can walk around without any map. There are just a couple of main roads that will lead you to the most interesting places of the island. With just one cemevi, one synagogue and one mosque, the number of churches – all of them Greek Orthodox churches – easily exceeds the number of places of worship of the other religions. There are also three or four graves belonging to foreigners; such people loved Turkey so much that they wanted to be buried at their favorite spot: a view from Burgaz toward the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul.

The size of the island means that even a 5-year-child can also complete the island tour. While walking, there are a lot of things to enjoy. First of all, of course, there are the beautiful buildings. Then you have the natural beauty and on top of this, there is the religious tolerance; people still live side by side, sharing life with each other on the island, and religion, in that sense, is not important. Unfortunately, the cemevi, mosque and synagogue were closed when I was there, but I was so lucky that they opened the churches for me. It was great. They are obviously not as dominant and impressive as the Hagia Sophia, featuring instead more of a boutique feeling. The light was gorgeous; it was a joy to walk around and visit the churches.

There was one church that impressed me a lot. For me, as a kind of non-believer, living in Turkey I have slowly started to believe. My lack of belief comes from the fact that my father was a Catholic and my mother was a Protestant; when they wanted to get married, the pastor of the church told my father that there was no place for a Protestant in the Catholic church. That decision not only affected my father’s life; it also influenced my life. But living in Turkey, I am constantly confronted with one “rule”: Whenever I see a Byzantine church, there generally used to be temple in that spot. During time, when religion changed from polytheism to monotheism, churches were frequently built on top of the temples. Then, during the Ottoman period, those Christian places of worship were converted into Islamic ones. For that reason, I slowly start to believe that there is something, let’s call it an “energy,” that is more powerful than we are. The only thing I do not want to do is give it a name – that would limit me too much.

Impressive, overwhelming

It’s the same old story here on the island; on top of the highest (and only) hill there used to be a temple. Then, on top of this temple, people built a church, whose ruins you can still see. From this vantage point, you have a beautiful view of the whole island and Istanbul. For me, it was time to get back to the harbor. Most of the restaurants, which offer fresh fish and great appetizers, were still open, but within a couple of weeks, they will also close their doors. For that reason, get some nice nuts, dried figs or other dried fruits and start your trip. The motto: better with then without. But generally one or two places will be open, so there is always a chance to get some food.

Burgazada might be small, but it is impressive and overwhelming at the same time.