Princes’ Islands in Istanbul: When Urbanization Is Left Behind By Time

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Princes’ Islands, a beautiful archipelago 20km southeast of Istanbul’s city in the Sea of Marmara

Istanbul, a restless image of rapidly growing population, endlessly congested traffic, and ever-morphing urban modernization. A bustling lifestyle is what the city projects. To contrast the busy megacity lifestyle, an escape to peace and quiet can be found in a beautiful archipelago 20km southeast of the city in the Sea of Marmara. On Princes’ Islands, the nearby urban chaos is irrelevant. Time is paused. The past is present. The air is filled with the romance of history whispered by the still standing buildings of the past.

The Princes’ Islands acquired its name after Byzantine Emperor Justin II built a palace and monastery to establish his residency on the largest of the islands in A.D. 569. During the Byzantine era, the islands were used to keep troublesome or unwanted royal families away from Constantinople. After the Ottoman Empire took over the reign, the darkness of the islands’ history was shed with light; prosperous Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Turks settle on the islands, creating wealthy and pampered resorts. But the islands’ residency was lost dramatically after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. The wooden Ottoman mansions and decorative Victorian villas once home to the islanders were left to wither. The islands become a weekend destination for poor Istanbulites.

The busy street full with tourists right outside the ferry station

The busy street full with tourists outside the impressive Ottoman ferry station

In the recent years, Princes’ Islands revived through the tourism industry, pulling investors to renovate old properties into functional vacation homes and hotels. The elaborate historical buildings, the narrow streets flanked by pine trees and wooden cottages, the horse-drawn faytons and bicycle rides, and the absence of motor vehicles (with the exception of emergency vehicles) keep the islands to its authenticity at best; The place is set to 100 years ago in time with nearly no trace of moving forward in time.

Strolling peacefully on the street

The air is filled with the romance of history whispered by the still standing buildings of the past

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Princes’ Islands is set to 100 years ago in time with nearly no trace of moving forward in time

Vehicles are forbidden on the islands so bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are the main transportation means on the islands.

Horse-drawn faytons and bicycles are the main and only transportation means on the islands

The compact shopping area typical of the Ottoman period

The compact shopping area typical of the Ottoman period

As a time capsule, the urban development of the islands was stopped in the 1900s. Visitors to the islands get to experience the culture and living environment from the perspective of the past. Comparing the simple past with the fast-pace present, the simple past seems to be a healthy lifestyle to revisit. However, a discontinuance of the modern development, such as globalization movement made possible by technology advancement, is exchanged for the islands’ preservation.

Since the beautiful present of the past is what’s unique to the Princes’ Islands, its urban development gap in the current society may be the last thing to worry about. Although the islands was left behind in time, it brings cultural value to the society. It not only provides people the opportunity to understand the islands’ local identity, but also prompts the opportunity to apply the applicable from the past into present living.

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