Friday, 24 February 2012 22:33

Bozcaada: An Island for Those Who Love the Aegean

 

Bozcaada is one of the best havens for anyone who loves the Aegean with all their heart, mind and soul. This perfect destination calls anyone who knows that the region exemplifies a traditional lifestyle with a seaside atmosphere full of century-old plane trees, fig trees, olive trees and vineyards stretching for miles.

As the ferryboat departs from the Çanakkale-Geyikli harbor and glides through the deep blue Aegean waters, the passengers begin to get excited as they approach an island pervaded by subtle color. Some talk about how this island’s name comes from the brownish-grey color of the island’s hills, while others reach for their cameras to immortalize the peaceful island resting its head on the blue waters of the Aegean.

The heroes on the stage change in every conversation as each of the island’s characters takes its turn in the spotlight of the island tale. Sometimes the noble Bozcaada Castle comes and takes over, attracting curious glances. Some talk of its strength, while others speak of its magnificence. Then comes the harbor, followed by restaurants and cafes…Each of Bozcaada’s characters boldly show up as if a secret competition between them will show which is the most prominent in the memories of those who love this island.

As the ferry approaches the harbor, memories begin to be replaced by talk of new things you are about to experience on Bozcaada as you unconsciously become part of the unforgettable story of the island. The shore suddenly becomes crowded as if the ferry is bringing life to the island; the streets usually become lively at this time of day. Some people express happiness at returning home, while others thoroughly enjoy the feeling of a return visit to an island they come to regularly.

The castle ranks with certainty the best place to start your tour of Bozcaada, known as Tenedos in ancient times. One of the most prominent castles in the entire Aegean region, this structure has changed hands many times throughout history. Considered to be very important by the Genoese and the Venetians, in 1464, the island became part of the Ottoman Empire. Miniature paintings of houses and two mosques from the nineteenth century can be seen inside the castle. Due to its important location, the castle was attacked many times and often needed repairs. An inscription of the repairs carried out during the reign of Mahmud II (1815) can still be seen on the castle wall. Its museum and commanding view give the castle a special place in the memories of all visitors.

Other historical buildings on the island include Alaybey Mosque, Köprülü Mehmet Pasha Mosque, Virgin Mary Church, Köprülü Turkish Bath, Namazgâh Fountain and the remnants of a windmill. In addition, the Bozcaada Museum of Local History is an enjoyable museum full of documents, photographs and ethnographical artifacts that will take you on a journey into Bozcaada’s past.

The first place to go for an evening meal is Bozcaada Harbor, where fish restaurants and bars make island life interesting. Colorful boats and yachts line up in the harbor, where friends gather to eat, drink and converse in the evening. During the daytime it attracts photography buffs; in the evening it hosts people who enjoy discovering how the bounty of the Aegean Sea creates incredibly tasty dishes. Every evening in Bozcaada restaurants, seafood surrounds mouth-watering Aegean herbs and delicious appetizers while Bozcaada’s famous wines feature prominently.

Passed down since ancient times, winemaking keeps an island tradition and embraces a lifestyle in its own right. According to legend, this ancient profession was handed down by Dionysus, the god of wine, and although the gods and goddesses have been long-forgotten, people have never compromised on their taste for tradition. Vineyards, grapes and wine play a significant role in everyday life on Bozcaada. People who come to Bozcaada invariably visit the wine houses and wine cellars—the best places to taste and purchase wines made from the island’s superb, delicious grapes.

Tea gardens stand as one popular place to stop and rest, a perennial classic of Aegean towns always located in the town center. These tea gardens gather visitors to these special meeting places where one languishes over breakfast or steals time for a tea or coffee break under the deep, peaceful shadows of the trees. After your break, you may purchase a variety of goods from the souvenir stands around the tea garden, including knick-knacks, island jams, the famous island grapes and even grapevine seedlings.

The historical atmosphere of the city is most intense in the area behind the castle. Also known as the Greek District, the stone houses here immediately attract your full attention. The houses display colorfully-painted doors, windows and door knockers, well worth a close look. Whether a figure carved into the corner of a stone house or a flower motif above a main entrance weathered by time, they seem to yearn to describe their memories as they resist the passing of time. Stairway entrances, wooden doors, narrow streets and people chatting on their stoops all make this part of town a must-see for all visitors to Bozcaada, whether Turks or foreigners.

The city square sports a century-old plane tree, a silent witness to every occurrence in Bozcaada. It stands tall and proud in spite of its age and all it has experienced. These days, the village coffee house patrons cool themselves under the shade of this tree—always a favorite rest stop on the island. A wonderful complement to the shade of the tree at Çınaraltı Kahvesi (Coffee House under the Plane Tree), lemonade refreshes the visitors. Made from Madame Sophie’s special recipe, this drink is quickly becoming a tradition on the island.

A delight to look at with its wooden chairs and checked tablecloths, this village coffee house also serves up marvelous Turkish coffee with a gum-mastic flavor. When added to the familiar taste of coffee, gum mastic, a perennial Aegean favorite, adds a unique aroma to the traditional coffee-drinking experience. Of course, the key is not just the flavoring but the way the gum-mastic coffee is served—a piece of chocolate and a flavored cigarette placed beside it—the combination appeals to the eye as well as the palate. The almond liqueur served in a tiny glass next to the coffee declares the final surprise of this delightful coffee extravaganza.

It would be unthinkable to come to Bozcaada and leave the island without exploration of its beaches and coves and submerging your body in its invigorating waters. Ayazma ranks as the most popular beach on the island during the summer and the top choice to cool off or enjoy yourself in the sea. When you experience the color of the sea here, you cannot help but wonder if you have entered paradise. After taking a revitalizing swim and basking in the sun, indulge in a drink or something to eat at one of the restaurants lined up behind the beach.

The spring (“ayazma” in Turkish) sits on the hill above the beach and reveals how Ayazma beach received its name. Hagia Paraskevi Spring is not only a historical site, but also famous for the massive plane trees in front of it. These magnificent plane trees create a peaceful atmosphere as shelter from the sun, and every time the wind blows, they seem to whisper century-old Bozcaada legends to their old friends.

There are many coves on Bozcaada where you can dive into the legendary blue waters of the Aegean. The first coves that come to mind are Sulubahçe, Habbele, Tuzburnu and Akvaryum. You soon realize nature truly has its way on these beaches where the color of the water flirts with turquoise near the shore and dances with dark blue in the open sea. Here on these beaches, where the sun has caressed the sand for centuries, the true meaning of “untouched” is possible to see and experience.

As you wander about on Bozcaada, you are sure to come across either a bunch of grapes or a lighthouse. Anyone who loves lighthouses will be delighted with Polente Lighthouse in particular. As you head toward this lighthouse on the island’s western peninsula, be amazed at the technology of the windmills used to generate electricity. Boreas, the god of fierce winds, certainly left his mark on this part of Bozcaada, where Aegean myths seem to constantly blow about. Almost all visitors to Bozcaada get their picture taken in front of these wind vanes, which stand in stark contrast to the calm, delicate Polente Windmill not far off. Both the lighthouse and the windmills are popular subjects for photography buffs.

It would be no exaggeration to say that one of the most popular traditions in recent years is to say goodbye to the sun’s rays as they strike the other side of the Aegean while drinking a glass of local Bozcaada wine. The incomparable views of the Aegean Sea, the lighthouses and wind vanes will be etched in your memory forever, while your heart and mind will treasure the sharp smell of thyme until you return again.

If you wonder what to eat while in Bozcaada, seafood is the first choice, of course. Visitors to the island are served unforgettable feasts of delicious food like fish, octopus, lobster, crab and sea beans. Other memorable treats available include tomato jam, fig jam, ‘sergeant grapes, and a selection of superb island wines.

Bozcaada has been able to preserve something from all segments of its historical past, promising you a calm, quiet holiday with a thoroughly enjoyable Aegean atmosphere. Your perspective of holidays will change after the experience. Bozcaada will always remain in one corner of your heart and mind as if you have just gotten to know an old friend with whom you share many memories.

Finally, I will share just one last indulgence about Bozcaada.

Bozca Hanim (Bozca Lady): A Modern Symbol of Bozcaada

Bozcaada now courts a new symbol to represent it along with its castle, harbor, Polente Lighthouse, windmills and grapes. Both local and foreign tourists show great interest in Bozca Hanım figures which become more and more popular every day. Bozca Hanım figures greet Turkish and foreign visitors with the air of a friendly hostess. Made by Sinem and Tonguç Kayacık, they are actually ceramic wind chimes. It took no time at all for Bozca Hanım figures to be placed in prominent locations in many homes and cafes in Bozcaada. At the end of your visit to Bozcaada, take some Bozca Hanım figures with you to your home or garden, along with other local products. They will help keep your memories fresh and beckon you to visit Bozcaada once again.


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Bora Esiz

Bora Eşiz is an archaeologist and a travel writer. After his education on Classical Archaeology and Museum Studies in Istanbul, Bora Eşiz worked in the field of magazine and internet publishing. For many years Bora Eşiz worked as a travel writer for several magazines mostly for in-flight magazines. In his travel articles he focused on archaeology, museums, local arts, local food culture and art of travelling. Also Bora Eşiz has three travel books about Turkish cities. 

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