Can car-free islands have traffic jams? Yes, the Princes’ Islands, an archipelago consisting of nine islands in the sea of Marmara southeast of İstanbul named Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kinaliada, Sedefada, Tavsan Adası, Sivriada, Yassıada and Kaşık adası, can.
The islands consist of hills of various heights. At an altitude of 203 m, Aya Yorgi (Hagios Georgios) is the highest point of these island that is located in Büyükada (Big Island). Only four of these islands, called in general as Adalar (Islands) in Turkish, are open to the public and there are no permanent settlements in other islands Sedefada, Tavsan Adası, Sivriada, Yassıada and Kaşık adası. Meanwhile, Kaşık Adasi is a private island. According to 2014 data, 16.052 people live in these islands territory that covers 16 km2, distancing 7-24 km from İstanbul.
The European portion of Turkey, known as Eastern or just Thrace, encompasses 3% of the total area but is home to more than 10% of the total population. The Princes’ Islands do not belong to Thrace and neither does Marmara, Ekinlik, Avsa, Adasi and Imrali in the southern part of the Marmara Sea. Turkey is not a member of ESIN since it does not have any islands in Europe.
The name of the Princes’ Island comes from the Byzantine period, when royal princes and empresses were exiled there. Leon Trotsky lived here in 1929, his villa is presently for sale for 4 million euro. Today, these Islands are most popular destinations both for local people and tourists especially in the summer time. This leads to scarcity of water, serious problems with garbage and terrible traffic conditions.
There are 20,000 houses on the islands with 90% being used as summerhouses. The population of Princes’ Islands reaches around 100,000 in April and the increase continues up to 150,000 with daily visitors in weekends from July to August. Flows of people coming from Istanbul for picnics generally leave their garbage in the streets and forests.
On all of the nine islands, motorised vehicles – except service vehicles – are forbidden, so visitors explore the island by foot; by riding a bike (numerous bicycle shops rent them with hourly prices); or in horse-drawn phaeton carriages which function like taxi cabs, also offering “round-the-island” sightseeing tours. The number of phaetons has doubled to meet the demand (there are 277 active phaetons and circa 3,000 bikes in the islands). It may seem odd for a car-free island to suffer from the traffic congestion but the Prince’s Islands do, especially in the high season.
The horses are treated in an abominable way. There are insufficient horse barns, they are mistreated, ill-fed, lean and abused. This summer, hundreds of horses will die due to heat, overloaded carriages and exhaustion.
I don’t want to be a horse here. I don’t want to be a visitor here, either.