A Visit to Aya Yorgi and Heybeliada
by Meral Üstün
With the joy of early summer we decided to visit the Princes’ islands, another facet of Istanbul. We took the 09:30 ferry from Bostancı and we enjoyed the excursion while sipping our tea and eating our pogacas (savory pastry) until the ferry docked at Büyükada.
We hurried to find a fayton (horse-drawn carriage) which would take us to the region called Lunapark (literally Funfair). From there we would begin to climb the steep cobbled path to Aya Yorgi Church. Along the road we admired the fantastic pavilions, each as beautiful as the other and once built as the summer places of selected families of Istanbul.
When we arrived at Lunapark there were stands at the beginning of the hill, selling various kinds of talismans. I bought one for health and one for abundance. Even the presentation of the stand is enough to make you feel better.
Aya Yorgi church was built in the name of Saint George and is located on the highest hill of Büyükada, called Yücetepe. In order to fulfill their wish-making rituals, crowds of every religion visit Aya Yorgi twice a year i.e. on April 23 and September 24. Many believe a visit and a prayer will grant a wish such as marriage, health, wealth. The hill is too steep for the horses so everyone must walk up. Benches are scattered around for those who need to take a breath during this tiring climb. However, you don’t really notice the steepness of the ascent with the spectacular view of the forest and the stunning sights of the other islands and sea through the trees.
The Greeks called the church Aya Yorgos, but in time it was converted into Aya Yorgi. The legend, which makes this church such an important center of visit and vow cites:
During the crusades the monks at Aya Yorgi church buried the icons and sacred objects to save them from the crusaders. Several years later Aya Yorgi appeared to a shepherd in his dream three consecutive nights and he was told him to climb the hill leading to the church bare foot alone and in silence and to dig at the spot where the sound of bells was the loudest. It is believed that the shepherd revealed the hidden icons. Today these icons are on display at Aya Yorgi church together with other objects.
Moreover, this church is one of two sacred pilgrimage sites of Christianity in Turkey, the other being Virgin Mary’s House in Ephesus, and on the dates given above hundreds of visitors fill the church. At those times it is almost impossible to find a place to move on the ferries sailing to Büyükada as well on the path and in the church. According to Christian belief, those who visit Aya Yorgi are considered to be half-pilgrims. The visitors climb the trail without talking and they make a wish at the church and buy either a bell or a key from the church. If their wish is realized they should bring back the object they got. The oil they donate to the church is also appreciated. Aya Yorgi is open for visitors throughout the year.
On the way up, we noticed that the path is surrounded with small bushes and trees adorned with yarns, ribbons and meters of thread and some stacked stones. According to a common belief the wishes of those who climb in silence and tie a thread to the bushes come true and their problems are solved. It is also believed that if a woman unravels a string while climbing, she will bear a child and unreeling thread while walking up brings luck and money.
Since our visit was not on those particular dates we just lit a candle and descended to the pier along a different path than our climb. We enjoy the beauties of the houses and took a sea taxi to Heybeliada. As long as you find a sea taxi (they are in very limited number) it is so practical and in addition if you are a group it is quite economical.
Heybeliada is smaller and more peaceful than Büyükada. It is famous for the Naval Forces facilities, sanatorium and the seminary which is on the agenda nowadays.
We had already reserved a table at the Mavi Restoran that we had heard of before. We were very hungry when we arrived there. The restaurant is located just across from the IDO port. Nigar hanım, the owner of the restaurant met us with a broad smile that never fades. We hurried to the kitchen and chose our meze. They were looking so delicious that we tried not to skip any of them while ordering. Rakı accompanied the different fresh and delicious mezes and the fish. Then came the time to leave so we were not able to visit other parts of Heybeliada; we returned to Bostancı port by Mavi Marmara boat.
Yalı Caddesi No:29
Heybeliada / İSTANBUL
(0216) 351 01 28
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Alexandre Vallaury - Architect Alexandre Vallaury was born into a Levantine family in İstanbul in 1850. Apart from the years he spent on architecture education in Paris, he lived in İstanbul for the rest of his life. more...
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