Adalar: Istanbul’s Historic Car-Free Islands Blend Dark Past with Cultural Richness

Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands offer a journey through history and a green escape from the city. Explore the blend of cultures and sustainable transport.

Seagulls circled Istanbul’s iconic Galata Tower and foghorns boomed across the Bosphorus. Kabatas ferry terminal was a whirl of morning activity, and simit sellers did a brisk trade as commuters crashed through turnstiles. The sun was shining, but the ferry, one of the yellow, white, and black vapur that connects Istanbul’s myriad neighbourhoods in Europe and Asia, edged into the Sea of Marmara, the January swells rocked it like a drunken sailor.

From Byzantine Exile to Modern Refuge

Known in English as “Princes’ Islands”, Adalar is where Byzantine Emperors and Ottoman Sultans banished bothersome princes and political foes into exile. This was the last refuge of the Ottoman Empire’s Greek and Armenian communities, too, and today, the car-free islands offer a glimpse into Istanbul’s multicultural past as well as a green escape from Europe’s largest city. Historian Bettany Hughes notes the islands’ dark history of blinding, torturing,and imprisoning princes, transforming into a place of self-imposed exile and inspiration for writers and artists like Istanbul novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Multicultural Legacy and Modern-Day Harmony

Özge Acar, a guide from Istanbul Tour Studio, highlights the archipelago’s evolution while maintaining its strong Byzantine identity even after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Greeks and Armenians, often from the upper classes of the multicultural Ottoman Empire, still have houses here, preserving a remnant of the Ottoman age of old. Despite historical tensions, local Muslims, Armenian Christians, and a few Greek Christians coexist peacefully on the islands, showcasing a unique blend of cultures and religions.

Adalar’s Green Escape and Sustainable Transport

Aside from the odd police car, the islands are car-free, and locals as well as tourists navigate using electric scooters, golf buggies, or bicycles. This has helped Adalar maintain its verdant landscape, offering a fresh-air haven for visitors from the mainland. The banishment of horse-drawn carts in 2020, replaced by electric vehicles, marked a significant step towards sustainable transport, aligning with the islands’ commitment to preserving their environment and culture.

Adalar’s historical significance, combined with its modern-day appeal as a car-free, green escape from the bustling city of Istanbul, offers a unique glimpse into the past while advocating for a sustainable future. The islands represent a microcosm of Istanbul’s rich, multicultural heritage, standing as a testament to the city’s ability to evolve while preserving its historical identity.

Source: bnnbreaking

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