Very close to Istanbul, just 25 kilometers southeast there is a group of islands known as the Prince Islands, which we decided to go to on our last day in the city. Getting there is very simple, ferries leave every few minutes and the ticket costs just 4.4 lire (just over one euro). The trip is quiet and relaxed, and lasts about an hour and a half before arriving at Büyükada, the main island.
After arriving to the city a very interesting sight awaits us. Instead of the traditional houses, made with brick or stone, the place is littered with wooden houses that reminded me of those in Caribbean cities or even New Orleans. This, combined with the constant horse carriages and tourists on bicycles (it’s not allowed to use motor vehicles) gives the island a very special atmosphere. Leon Trotsky lived in one of those houses (although I couldn’t find which one) for several years after he was expelled from Russia.
Following one of the main streets, littered with small cafes, we found a small park at the base of one of the nearby hills. Walking a little further we reached an open space full of food stalls and souvenirs. That also seems to be the point where the horse carriages end their journey. From there a path rises up the hill. At the top, apparently, there is a monastery dedicated to St. George, and the day of our visit was St. George’s Day, a happy coincidence, so the whole area was full of pilgrims.
The pilgrims had interesting traditions. One of them was to tie a spool with thread on a tree at the base of the mountain, which they had to unravel little by little as they went up to the monastery, trying their best to not to break it. Another was climbing with sugar cubes of different colors, and once the top was reached they used them to write messages or shapes, or just put them on the walls of the monastery. We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently the threads represent desires or prayers, and the sugar cubes symbolize different wishes depending on the color (money, health, love…). If the thread breaks, the desire doesn’t come true, and you had to resign yourself or start over.
Once we arrived at the monastery we found another funny tradition, the pilgrims tied ribbons to the trees, apparently also with prayers or prayers, so all the trees of the monastery had this interesting decoration. They also had, of course, the usual traditions, such as lighting candles or burning incense.
The monastery itself is not very large, but it has a very decorated interior. Apparently the throne of the patriarch of the Orthodox Church was there for several years after the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Turks. They also keep several sacred relics of Saint George. The whole place had a heavy security system due to a terrorist attack in 1997. Oh, and next to the monastery there is a small restaurant where they sell food and drink, really convenient to restore strength after the hike uphill.
After the ascent, time to go down again (although it’s much more bearable), and return home. We leave the island at sunset, with good memories of the place and the interesting traditions of Saint George’s Day.