Eternal Greece, Buyukada Island, Before Turkey Existed
Turkey might not be Greece today but Greek history and culture is intertwined with it.
The Turks might be finding sly ways to define their country without its Greco-Roman heritage, especially the Greco part but they will not succeed.
From turning the Agia Sofia into a Mosque and trying to refer to Byzantium as "The Roman Empire" so that the idea of the Greek culture associated with Byzantium is eliminated. Of course it’s true that Byzantium was the Roman Empire but you can clearly read between the lines.
None of that is enough to wipe out the Greek history of the land though.Visitors to Turkey, especially to Asia Minor, feel like they're in Greece with the small roads, white washed houses and sea side villages but more than that they feel Greece since almost all of the Turkish tourist attractions are Greco-Roman.
This all came about when I was wondering how much "Greekness" I would find if I took a map of Asia Minor, closed my eyes and threw a dart. Would the spot the dart landed on have any Greek culture and history still alive in the area?
The answer is yes. So let’s take a trip to a group of islands outside of the Ionian and Aegean. Come to the Sea of Marmara which has a group of islands called Princes' Islands that are overflowing with Greek history.
Clock Tower of Buyukada
Büyükada means Big Island and obviously it's the biggest of the group.
In the Byzantine period Buyukada and the rest of the Princes' Islands is where royalty was exiled to. Of course the Ottomans later did the same.
The architecture is stunning and none of the nine islands have any motorized vehicles. Your choices are foot, bicycle and a Phaeton horse carriage named after the mythical Phaeton who was the son of Helios (sun).
Prior to the population exchange the affluent Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Turks loved to vacation here and so do today's tourists. Must see's are the Greek churches and monasteries, Ottoman era mansions, Leon Trotsky's house, the manor's of Nizam District, make a wish at Agio Giorgi Church (spelled Hagia Yorgi Church for some reason) which locals say always come true and the main attraction, the Greek Orphanage.
Leon Trotsky's house while in exile in 1929-33
Built by a French-Ottoman named Alexander Vallaury the Greek Orphanage was first a hotel and casino. The luxury hotel was meant for the Wagons-Lits company that was in charge of on-train services but it's better known as the operator of the famous Orient Express.
Unfortunately the Sultan didn't give permission for operations and it was sold.
The person that purchased it was a wealthy Greek banker who donated it to the Ecumanical Patriarchate of Constantinople who used it as an orphanage.
The orphanage was later shut down by the Turks and hasn't reopened since. The building has been neglected even though it's the second larges wooden building in the world and the largest in all of Europe. I wonder why.
The Turks have rejected claims that the orphanage belongs to the patriarchate based on a law that states that any property that falls out of use for 10 years automatically becomes property of the state. The European Court of Human Rights though declared the property to be returned to the Patriarchate.
This is huge because it's the absolute first time a property belonging to a minority has been returned. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew will turn the old orphanage into a global environmental center.
If that's not Greek enough for you don't worry, there's more. Not all Greeks left Turkey during the population exchange. One family that remained on Buyukada had a son that today is recognized as Turkey's greatest football player. His name is Lefter Küçükandonyadis in Turkish and in Greek it's Lefteris Antoniadis and his career started in 1938.
He started off with Taksim SK but the main team he played for was Fenerbahçe in which he scored 423 goals in 615 games in his 1953-64 season.
He also became Turkey's first player to ever play abroad. He played for Italy, France and Greece.
Statue of Fenerbahçe S.K. footballer Lefter Küçükandonyadis, Kadıköy İstanbul
Photo from Wikipedia Licensing
That's not all. Because he played for the National Selection in 50 international matches the Turkish Football Federation awarded him the "Golden Honor medal".
His last time as a player was with AEK where he played for one season and was forced to retire after an injury but this wasn't his last time on the field.
He then started coaching soccer which from then on the Turks called him "Ordinaryüs" which translates to "professor of professors" in Turkish.
Eventually he passed away in January of 2012 in Istanbul and was buried in the Greek Orthodox cemetery on Buyukada.
Now that we've found the Greekness alive and well in Greece's old lands it's time to head back and tell our friends.
As soon as you're packed up and ready to go back to Is-tan-bol AKA εἰς τὴν Πόλιν AKA Istanbul (which means "to the town" in Greek) you will use the Buyukada Pier. It was built by Mihran Azaryan, an Ottoman Armenian.
Grab some ice cream or coffee while you wait to depart and contemplate how as a Greek your culture has penetrated all other cultures it came in contact with. The Romans, the Balkans, the Turks who wanted to be the continuation of Byzantium and also
how the western world around you is based off of your culture and you are technically a citizen of the world.