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Island Retreat Burgaz Island
2003 / AUGUST

'In the 16th century there was a painter whose wife would ask him to add an island just for herself whenever he painted a world map, and the painter would not feel able to refuse.' Aksit Göktürk relates this anecdote in his book The Island. The Spanish painter lived in a century when the world was still a place of mysteries, and evidently he thought there could be no harm in humouring his senora. After all it was just a dot in an expanse of blue, like a freckle on tanned skin. But woe on the sailor who saw this imaginary island on the map and tried to reach it! You should not be angry at the Spanish painter for his thoughtlessness, though. He was not concerned with them but with his beloved, offering her an island as a gift, a promise of eternal happiness, a utopia. An island all to oneself is an irresistible dream; a beach of many coloured pebbles lapped by waves in the middle of the turquoise sea; tranquility itself, far from jostling crowds.

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Island Retreat Burgaz Island
2003 / AUGUST

'I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made / Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee / And live alone in the bee-loud glade.' So writes the poet Y. B. Yeats in his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. But it is not always feasible to play Robinson Crusoe in our modern times. A more accessible retreat from the concrete jungle is all we need; closer at hand, in familiar seas, and offering peace, liberty and happiness without isolation. Just such an island retreat exists a short distance from Istanbul, in the Marmara Sea. This is Burgaz, part of a tiny archipelago known as the Princes Islands. In ancient times the island was called Panormos, a name meaning 'safe harbour,' because between Burgaz and Heybeli Island (the ancient Halki) to the east is a shallow channel 600-700 metres wide offering shelter from gales. After nightfall the twinkling nights on the neighbouring islands are like a reflection of the twinkling stars in the sky. The Princes Islands consist of Kinali, Burgaz, Kasik, Heybeli, Büyük, Sedef and three uninhabited islets.

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Island Retreat Burgaz Island
2003 / AUGUST
As the ferryboat heads away from the mainland a happy feeling of freedom and escaping from cares takes over. Sitting comfortably on one of the wooden seats facing the sea you open your book. Yet if you had sailed to the Islands at a time when Istanbul was called Constantinople, you might not have been so delighted. Then they were places of exile, difficult to reach and almost impossible to escape from, where deposed Byzantine emperors and princes in disfavour were sent. Hence the name Princes Islands. Burgaz is the second stop for ferryboats from Istanbul. At a time when the tiny town here was a little Greek fishing village, it was called Antigone. When the first steam-boats commenced the Island run in 1846, it was still a small village of cottages set amongst vineyards and orchards, with a sprinkling of grander wooden houses. And nothing changed much until the 1950s, when it was 'discovered' as a summer resort, and elegant villas were built on its green hillsides, modern apartments along its side streets, the old wooden houses restored, and luxury yachts began to moor at the quay.
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Island Retreat Burgaz Island
2003 / AUGUST
When you disembark on the pier the first thing you notice is a large white colonnaded building, the Antigone Hotel. Formerly a wooden building, it has been rebuilt in concrete. Right behind it rises the splendid dome of the Church of Saint John the Baptist, and above that the pine-clad hill of Hristos Tepe where the Byzantine Hristos Monastery and Church stand. Burgaz Island measures around 2 kilometres in length and width, so everywhere is a short walk away. Even in the middle of the day there is no noise apart from the singing of small birds and the screeching of gulls and crows. An old man sits in front of his house slowly sipping a cup of coffee. Strolling through the backstreets you come to the house of the 20th century Turkish poet Sait Faik which is now a museum open to the public. Faik's stories were often set in Burgaz Island, and tell of its people, sea, fish, soil and perfumed air. The white painted wooden house is shaded by mulberry trees, plum trees and palms, and its modest garden is overgrown with pink oleanders, red and white geraniums and blue hydrangeas.
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Island Retreat Burgaz Island
2003 / AUGUST

The branches of the mulberry tree hang almost to the ground, so that visitors only have to reach out to taste the ripe juicy fruit. Wandering through the rooms with their creaking floorboards, visitors walk carefully so as not to disturb the writr'sl tranquil private world. Through the open door of the balcony you see pots of geraniums that have been newly watered, and out to sea beyond them the verdant Kasik Island. This is a balcony that invites you to sit down to read, chat, drink tea or daydream. If Sait Faik had been alive he might have walked to Kalpazankaya like us, or gone to swim off the rocks facing Yassi and Sivri islands. He would have stopped to talk to the dolphins, fishermen and Greek girls in windblown skirts, and perhaps lit a cigarette. Everyone on the island used to recognise him from a distance by the dog which never left his side, and say to one another, 'That was Sait.'

* By EMEL ÇELEBI Photos BARIS HASAN BEDIR

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