A 170 Year Old Friendship: Polonezköy

An Island of culture in the middle of a giant nature park, Polonezköy is celebrating the 170th anniversary of its founding this year. And it’s gearing up now for the cherry festival, June 16-17.

The wooden fences that run right up into the wooded hills at Polonezköy are a throwback to the gardens of old. And the flowery fertile meadows that play host to weddings and festivals preserve their lush green even in summer. Each one of the memory-laden, century-old houses is reminiscent of a museum. The details of everyday life in the houses and gardens are being passed on to future generations in the memories of Polonezköy’s children.

Polonezköy cottages with their red tile roofs remind us of a past based on farming and livestock. But those days are long gone and the local people are seeking their future in tourism now. The house Auntie Zosia left behind more than a century ago is a museum today.  Approached through a natural tunnel of trees, it takes visitors on a journey into the village’s past, like country cottages full of nostalgic objects.
Polonezköy in the wooded hills of Beykoz is just a hop, skip and jump from Istanbul, and we are heading there to hear an extraordinary story. The 20-kilometer road from the Anatolian end of the Second Bosphorus Bridge is marked with signs for deer and antelope, giving some idea of the wildlife in the area. Within a few minutes we find ourselves in a rural atmosphere almost like a mountain village. It’s not for nothing they say that spring in Polonezköy is an invitation from the flowers to the wedding of the swallows! A stroll from the village square to the woods is enough to prove it. Farms with horses in the courtyard, quiet picnic areas, rustic restaurants in vine-covered arbors, charming bed&breakfasts… And the historic church and mosque at the entrance to the village are a symbol of tolerance down the centuries. The houses that dot the valley exhibit a unique style of architecture.

Surrounded by wooden fences, these one or two-story white cottages with dark trim all boast gardens. Pheasants, magpies, robins, titmice and wrens are a common sight as you stroll along the dreamy paths, and the eagle on the Polish flag faces the Turkish flag’s star and crescent on the banners that fly in the village streets. Who all has not come to visit this lovely village, which was declared a Nature Park in 1994? Composer Franz Lizst, writer Gustave Flaubert, soprano Leyla Gencer, poet Adam Mickiewicz… The story of the village’s founding is interesting too. It all started with the Russian occupation of Poland at the end of the 18th century. Taking the side of the Poles, who were inching towards war with Russia at the time, the Ottoman Empire granted permission for a Polish colony to be established in Istanbul. The first houses in what is now Polonezköy went up in 1842. With hard work and by the sweat of their brow, the Polish settlers had soon built a village like those in their homeland. Among the newcomers, some even rose to the rank of general in the Ottoman army. But their greatest contributions were not on the battlefield but in domestic and foreign affairs.

One of them, whose name is synonymous with Polonezköy, was Michal Czajkowski, founder of the village, who named it Adampol in honor of Prince Adam Czartoryski. Czajkowski, whose monumental tomb still stands at Polonezköy, eventually became a Muslim, took the name Mehmed Sadık Pasha and was appointed commander of the Polish units in the Ottoman army. The residents of Adampol were granted equal rights with Turkish villages in the 1908 Constitution, and the village was officially renamed Polonezköy in a friendship treaty signed between Turkey and Poland in 1923. In 1938 the villagers were also granted the right to Turkish citizenship. But the fate of the village began to change with the building of the Second Bosphorus Bridge. As access to the village became easier, farming and livestock gave way to tourism and within a short time the picnic areas, rustic restaurants and family bed&breakfasts became a popular weekend retreat. One by one those who had abandoned the village years earlier began coming back, and the leading promoters of tourism describe their village as ‘a natural resort’ today. Some 40 touristic facilities in the village are hard put to accommodate all those who show up on Friday night without a reservation.

The people of Polonezköy attribute its popularity to their preservation of their native culture and the area’s natural beauty. “We have not destroyed the natural fabric of the village,” they say, “instead we have done all we could to preserve it.” There’s no doubting that when you climb to a high place and look down on the village, you see nothing but greenery. Local residents take great pains to preserve their language and their culture. Modern Polonezköy is a concrete symbol of six centuries of Turkey-Poland relations, a close relationship that continues today. Numerous artists, businessmen, government officials and students visit Polonezköy throughout the year. “We never imagined we’d find a village so beautiful,” they say. As for the natives, they invite everyone to experience this monument to friendship and partake in its beauty. It is up to us to graciously accept.

Open buffets offer leisurely breakfasts in simple village homes. Grilled meat and vegetables are also available, and if you like you can even grill the meat yourself on the braziers provided.

Held since 1992, the Polonezköy Cherry Festival takes place this year June 16-17. Livened up by folklore groups coming from Poland, the festival is a visual and audial feast of colorful costumes and happy melodies.

Handmade glassware, knickknacks, wood carvings, embroidery and homemade jams are sold at stands on the village square. And the local cherries are famous.

Interesting wooden sculptures adorn the House of Culture Park on the village square. A joint project by Mimar Sinan University students and artists from Poland, the sculptures represent the unique treasures of Polonezköy.

There is a fun trail for hiking and cycling at Polonezköy. Totaling 5.4 kilometers, it starts from next to the gendarmerie station, circles the village and comes back to the square from Karşı Mahalle.

Polonezköy in Beykoz township is easily accessible by car after you fly to Istanbul. For flight information:
www.turkishairlines.com

Accommodations in Polonezköy range all the way from simple bed&breakfasts to boutique hotels with swimming pools. Establishments offering honeymoon, weight loss, sports or gourmet specials are also popular with celebrities and VIPs.

A Day In The Countryside
When you stroll down Polonezköy’s dark and wooded paths, you will   definitely come to spacious clearings loud with birdsong and feel   you’re in the bosom of nature amidst the sweet-smelling flowers. The   choices are endless in this green refuge, which you can use as your   observation point for all seasons: reading, lying in the grass,   napping in a hammock, long walks, barbecues...

Besides implements used in the production of honey, you will also find photographs and documents at the Beekeeping Museum on the village square. And the village’s famous chestnut honey is sold in the museum store.

The local countryside is rich in mushrooms. A range of edible varieties including porcini (prawdziwki) are used in everything from soups and pickles to braised meat and beurek.

One of Polonezköy’s oldest historic venues has been opened to visitors as the House in Memory of Aunt Zosia. Letters, books, photographs and objects relating to the history of the village are on display here.

The story of the village from its founding to the present is told in first-hand accounts in the book, Eagle Under the Star and Crescent: Polonezköy, written, and with photographs, by Akgün Akova.

Did You Know?
The countdown has begun at Polonezköy, which celebrates the 170th anniversary of its founding this year. The village is also gearing up for the 600th year of Turkey-Polish relations in 2014 with some surprise events.