The second biggest of the Princes’ Islands in Istanbul is Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island), also known by its Greek name, Halki (Χάλκη). It makes for a nice, relaxing day trip from the bustling and chaotic mainland. The island historically was home to many Greek and Jewish inhabitants of Istanbul, and its multiculturalism still shows to this day, mostly through religious buildings.
The ferry terminal is located in the center of town. You’ll be able to find some restaurants and cafés to eat, or you can jump on a fayton (horse-drawn carriage) or rent a bike and begin exploring the island.
If you are into Ottoman architecture, there are plenty of beautiful homes to be found in town.
I personally like the ones along Refah Şehitleri Caddesi. One highlight is the İnönü Evi Müzesi, which was rented in 1924 and later bought by İsmet İnönü, a Turkish general and the second president of Turkey. It’s open daily except Mondays from 10am to 6pm. Another is the Halki Palas Oteli.
There are also a few points of interest related to the Greek and Jewish inhabitants of the island. The red Greek Orthodox church of St. Nicholas is just a few steps from the pier, standing in the center of town.
The Heybeliada İlm-i Musiki Derneği (Heybeliada Society for the Science of Music) is an interesting pink building just a short walk from the pier. It’s a former Greek school that was funded by the Greek Department of International Development Cooperation and the Greek NGO Bosphorus Cultural Alliance. The building still has some markings from its original use as a Greek school.
Not too far from the music school is the Bet Yaakov Synagogue, built in 1952.
Perhaps the reason the island of Heybeliada is internationally-known is the controversy surrounding Halki Seminary, which sits on a hill just above town. It’s the main seminary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Unfortunately, it has been closed since 1971. Several international efforts by human rights groups and foreign governments to urge Turkey into reopening the seminary based on the basic human right of freedom of religion have thus far failed to make progress. The attendant let us visit and walk through the main building.
At the bottom of the hill where Halki Seminary is situated is Değirmen Burnu. There’s a small road from town that winds around the hill into a park. A small admission fee must be paid. In the park are picnic tables and an old mill.
If you get a bike to explore the rest of the island, there are a few more points of interest. The bike rental outlets should be able to provide you with a map to find everything and get around, but it’s nearly impossible to get lost. There’s really only one road making a ring around the island once you’re out of town.
Going clockwise out of town, the first point of interest is the St. George Greek Orthodox Monastery. It was built in 1758 and is very easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.
Next are two abandoned sanatoriums, one for females, up on a hill hidden behind some trees, and one for males. The one for males is much better seen from further away. They were both open from 1924-2005 and were the premier tuberculosis hospitals in Turkey.
A large white building in between the two hills on the island is the Turkish Naval Academy. It was founded in 1773, and was relocated to Heybeliada from 1822-38, 1850-1941, and 1946-present. The Byzantine church of Panagia Kamariotissa, built in 1341, is on the grounds of the academy. It’s used for storage and closed to visitors.
South of the Naval Academy is Çam Limanı (Pine Harbor). It was known as St. Mary’s Harbor in Byzantine times.
On the west end of Çam Limanı is a small dirt road with some horses. Follow the road to the St. Spyridon Monastery. It was built in 1868 and rebuilt in 1894 after it was destroyed in an earthquake. In Turkish, it’s called “Terki Dünya” or “Leaving the World Behind” Monastery. There should be a caretaker on the grounds to let you into the church.
The rest of the island is covered in a beautiful forest. I followed the map indicating other points of interest, including another monastery in the middle of the island, but found nothing.
To learn about the other islands and for instructions on how to get to Heybeliada, read my intro to the Princes’ Islands.