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x0x Büyükada

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  • Turkish Radio San Francisco
    x0x Büyükada By Çelik Gülersoy * Off Istanbuls Asian shore is a group of small wooded islands. On the mainland the last two low mountains of Kayýþdað
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2000
      x0x Büyükada

      By Çelik Gülersoy *

      Off Istanbuls Asian shore is a group of small wooded islands. On the
      mainland the last two low mountains of Kayýþdað and Alemdaðý mark the
      western extremity of the great continent of Asia, which in expending its
      final energies overreached the shore to raise up these hilly islands.

      Altogether nine islands of different sizes lie peacefully on the blue
      waters of the eastern Marmara Sea. Most are covered with pine woods,
      although the two westernmost islands, one pointed and the other flat
      (features after which they take their names), are bare of trees, and hence
      known as the Hayýrsýz (Inauspicious) islands. Beyond these are the four
      main islands, each extensively settled, and arranged in order of
      increasing size: Kýnalý, Burgaz, Heybeli and Büyükada. Facing Burgaz is
      its tiny offspring, an island in the shape of an inverted spoon, hence the
      name Spoon Island.

      Finally, beyond Büyükada, are two more islands. One faces the open sea,
      the empty and bare Tavþan Adasý, and the other on the landward side is
      Sedef Adasý which has recently been settled.

      The islands form a necklace of large emeralds on blue satin, the largest
      and the loveliest of all being Büyükada.

      When the nearby settlement on the mainland grew into a great city, the
      islands began to share not only the blessings of crown and throne but also
      the sufferings which power and supremacy brought. While ambition and
      treachery repeatedly stained the Byzantine throne in blood, the islands
      watching silently on. Büyükada was occupied only by a few monasteries
      amidst its green pines and on its sandy shores, but before long these
      mossy stone buildings began to serve as places of exile and imprisonment
      for members of the dynasty. What a tragic destiny, so out of keeping with
      the beauty of the islands!Despite everything, unconscious of human malice,
      nature continued to pour out its own uninhibited beauty.

      Before winter was even over it bedecked the bare branches with the bright
      yellow flowers of mimosa, and in the early spring the glowing purple pink
      blossoms of the Judas tree. It painted the pine glades with clouds of pink
      cyclamen, and between the rocks along the deserted paths set a profusion
      of daisies, pink and white rockroses, arbutus, thyme, mint, rosemary and
      lavender, as if decorating the island for a wedding.

      The coming of the Ottomans marked a turning point in the destiny of
      Büyükada. No longer was this corner of paradise the scene of torture and
      brutality. Instead, sultans deposed from their thrones and vezirs deprived
      of their seals of office were dealt with inside Topkapý Palace.

      Büyükada and the other islands were left to their own devices for the next
      four centuries, inhabited only by a handful of monks and a few poor
      gardeners and fisherman. They continued to lead their simple lives, eating
      vegetables and cereals grown in the fertile soil, and the abundant seafood
      of all kinds. The monks who had abandoned the material world for a life of
      prayer and contemplation lived first in the ancient convent on the shore,
      and when that became too ruinous moved to the monasteries on Ýsa Hill and
      the even higher Haghia Yorgi to live out their lives overlooking the blue
      horizons and listening to the sound of the rustling breeze.

      The city folk did not make excursions to these corners of paradise because
      there were plenty of woods and meadows close at hand on the Golden Horn
      and the Bosphorus which sufficed for the small population of the time.
      Then came the 19th century, and a new invention manufactured in the
      distant land of Britain arrived in the capital city of the sultan: the
      steam ship! This needed neither the strength of human arms like the kayýk,
      nor sails to harness wind power like the galleon. Instead coal was
      shovelled into the furnace to boil water whose steam turned a great paddle
      wheel at the side of the ship, which moved forward literally under its own
      steam. Moreover a steam ferry could carry a hundred people at one go.

      This innovation fundamentally altered Büyükadas destiny. Wealthy
      foreigners and members of the local Christian communities began to build
      themselves summer villas on the island, and some Turkish statesman
      followed the new fashion.

      At first the journey to the islands took a considerable time, no less than
      six hours! So that when one Ottoman gentleman was asked where he lived on
      the island, he replied On the ferryboat! But the ferries were safe even in
      bad weather, and the delights of life on the island made up for its

      In the beginning, between the 1850s and the 1870s, the summer villas were
      plain unostentatious wooden houses, but in subsequent decades under the
      influence of western fashions they became taller, acquired carved
      decoration, and the old fashioned door shutters were replaced by slatted
      ones. Social life on the island, too, rose to the occasion. Büyükadas high
      society belonged to the Yacht Club established by the British. For the
      less privileged there were hotels, restaurants and cafés. Magnificent
      picnics at which lambs were roasted on spits, dancing parties, walks by
      moonlight and musical evenings kept the leisured summer inhabitants of
      Büyükada happily occupied.

      The departure of most of Istanbuls foreign businessmen with the
      establishment of the Turkish Republic, and the removal of the capital to
      Ankara took some of the glitter out of Büyükada as it did from societys
      winter quarter of Beyoðlu, but Istanbuls genteel classes continued to
      frequent the island. The sharp population growth and consequent concrete
      building spree of the 1960s and 1970s reflected to some extent on the
      islands, but not enough to spoil their natural beauty and character, and
      they continue to be a delightful place for days out or to spend the
      summers for many Istanbul people today.

      As the example of the Touring Associations Cultural House shows, by
      careful conservation of this important legacy and by encouraging small
      scale convention tourism and perhaps honeymoon holidays, the islands and
      their flagship, Büyükada, could make both economic and cultural progress.

      * Celik Gulersoy is a writer and the former president of the Turkish
      Touring Association
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