But this isn’t the first time Turkey’s largest city has been devastated by an outbreak of disease.
When it was hit by another outbreak in the 16th century, many fled the city, some choosing to take refuge in Princes’ Islands, located about a 90-minute boat ride from central Istanbul.
Buyukada Island is one of the largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands.
It’s easy to see why this cluster of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara would’ve seemed like the promised land while the city was being ravaged by another pandemic.
Not only do the idyllic islands, of which Buyukada and Heybeliada are the best known, offer a respite from Istanbul’s frantic energy, time actually seems to move slower here.
In fact, first-time visitors would be forgiven for thinking they’d been transported back a century on the ferry ride over.
While Istanbul’s busting streets are teeming with traffic, on the islands cars are banned and the pace is a great deal slower.
Princes’ Islands remains a popular haven for those keen on escaping the city today — albeit for very different reasons.
Those who visit come to take in the islands’ beautiful landscapes, marvel at its pretty 19th-century wooden houses, as well as the Ottoman-style architecture of Buyukada and Heybeliada, to ride bicycles and to sample great local food.
The Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery on Buyukada island, near Istanbul.
They later became a refuge for religious minorities, particularly Christians, and holds a number of historic religious monuments.
In fact, one of Buyukada’s most popular sights is the sixth-century Aya Yorgi church and monastery.
Situated on top of the island’s highest hill, it offers up fantastic views of Istanbul and beyond.
In Heybeliada, the magnificent Ruhban Okulu, once a theology school run by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, stands surrounded by pine trees.
While the striking structure shut its doors as a school back in 1971, it remains open to visitors.