Heybeliada, Princes’ Islands, Istanbul

Heybeliada means saddlebag island due to its shape.

The Princes’ Islands, often known more simply as The Islands (adalar), are a group of 4 large and 5 tiny islands situated in the Sea of Marmara about an hour’s ferry ride from downtown Istanbul.

Map showing the location of Princes' Islands

My son and I caught the public ferry from Kabataş bound for Princes’ Islands and the fare was just a few Turkish Lira.

One of the many ferries criss-crossing Istanbuls' waterways.

The boat ride was great, like a poor man’s cruise, taking in fantastic views of the Bosphorus and Istanbul’s skyline while breathing in fresh ocean air, spoilt only by the occasional whiff of the ferry’s toxic diesel exhaust. At least nobody was allowed to smoke on the open upper deck which made a nice change in this tobacco-addicted city.

They came round with tea and those bagel-shaped Turkish breads which are covered in sesame seeds, just to keep us going during the 55 minute trip.

Monster cruise liner at Istanbul

We decided to get off at Heybeliada, the second largest of the Princes’ Islands, because it was the first stop and we only had half a day to spare.

The most notable thing about these islands is that they are traffic free. Motor vehicles are banned, except for fire engines and other service vehicles. The only methods of transport are horse drawn carriages, which operate as taxis, or bicycles.

Transport on Heybeli Island

To be honest we did not find a huge amount to do on Heybeliada. There is a strip of restaurants and cafés lining the waterfront and, parallel to that another street with some shops and then the residential area begins. After a pleasant seafood lunch, we strolled through the back lanes, lined with wooden houses, and made our way up to the top of the nearest hill which was covered in pine trees.

Heybeliada has many 19th century wooden houses, some in better condition than others.

From the top of the hill there are good views across to the Kadiköy district of Istanbul over on the mainland.

View towards Kadikoy from Heybeliada.

Heybeliada has a very peaceful feel to it and it is easy to imagine how, for Istanbulites, the island would make a welcome weekend getaway and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The island only has a few thousand year-round residents but during the summer, and especially at weekends, the population swells to over 10,000.

For foreign tourists though, with limited time and so many amazing things to see in Turkey, it is not surprising that the Princes’ Islands are not high on the list of must-see attractions.

On the way back to Kabataş, the ferry passed close to Maiden’s Tower, enabling me to take this pic. It was a nice day out and sitting on the ferry gave my son a break from my relentless walking tours around Istanbul (but he still had to climb a hill!).

Maiden's Tower

Istanbul – The Assassin’s Creed Trail

Scene from Assassin's Creed Revelations

When I asked my son if he would like to stop over in Istanbul for a few days on our way back to Malaysia from England, he was very enthusiastic about the idea.

It turns out that Istanbul (or rather, Constantinople, as it was then) is the setting for one of his favourite Play Station games, Assassin’s Creed Revelations. He thought it would be fun to visit some of the actual locations where the game’s action is supposed to take place.

I have watched him play Assassin’s Creed. I can’t pretend to understand what it is all about. It seems to involve a lot of aimless walking and running, scaling impossibly sheer walls, perching on lofty eyries and jumping from enormous heights to land safely in conveniently placed carts of straw. Oh, and quite a few acts of random murder!

While I am not qualified to comment on the game play, I am impressed with the artwork and the game’s designers have done a fantastic job at meticulously recreating the streetscapes of Renaissance era Constantinople, from which period many of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks still survive.

We managed to find many of the locations portrayed in the game (compare the Assassin’s screenshots on the left with our photos on the right) :

Little Hagia Sophia MosqueLittle Hagia Sophia Mosque

Kucuk Ayasofya Mosque (or Little Hagia Sophia Mosque) was built in 527 as a church, the Church of Sergius and Bacchus, for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It was converted into a mosque in 1505, just 6 years before Assassin’s Creed Revelations is supposed to be set.

ObeliskObelisk

There are two obelisks in what used to be the hippodrome, built during Roman times for chariot racing.

Topkapi PalaceTopkapi Palace

This looks like Disneyland but is actually the entrance to Topkapi Palace which was home to the Ottoman Sultans for 380 years. In the game, Master Assassin Ezio has to sneak in here without being noticed by the guards. I was tempted to do the same to avoid the exorbitant TL40 entrance fee!

Entrance to the harem.P5270404

The tower is built above the entrance to the harem section of Topkapi Palace. Although Assassin’s Creed is an 18+ game,  Ezio has no access to the harem. Modern day tourists however can get in for an additional 15 Turkish Lira.

Fountain at Topkapi PalaceFountain at Topkapi Palace

Could this be the same fountain?

Fountain of Sultan Ahmed IIIFountain of Sultan Ahmed III

Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III.

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya, 360-532)Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya, 360-532)

The Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. This mosque, like its little sister, began life as a church. Its minarets, mihrab and madrasah were added by Mehmet II The Conqueror. The building has served as a museum since 1935.

Grand BazaarGrand Bazaar

The Master Assassin goes to the Grand Bazaar to meet with Piri Reis, a famous cartographer, and collect bombs from him. Nowadays there is a Piri Reis shop at Ataturk Airport. There are no assassins in the Grand Bazaar these days but only the strongest willed of tourists can pass through its 18 gates, 65 streets, 21 caravanserais and 4000 shops with their wallets intact.

Galata TowerGalata Tower

Ezio likes to climb the outside of Galata Tower and perch on top of the spire for a bird’s eye view of the city. Modern tourists have to go up by lift and pass through a night club/restaurant before reaching the panoramic viewing deck.

Assassin's eye view from Galata Tower.

This is a modern day Assassin’s eye view over the Golden Horn taken from the top of Galata Tower.

Constantinople CityscapeIstanbul Cityscape

More views of Galata Tower.

Maiden's TowerMaiden's Tower

The Maiden’s Tower is situated on a small island on the Bosphorus, guarding the approaches to the city. As long ago as 410BC, iron chains were stretched between the island and Sarayburnu to prevent vessels from passing without permission. Today the tower is used as a restaurant.

I think my son enjoyed his Assassin’s Creed tour of Istanbul. Next destination Boston, USA for Assassin’s Creed III.

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