Danger on the Horse Highway: a slightly skeptical tourist remembers why the car replaced our equestrian friends.

Horse highway Kızıl Adalar, Turkey

It is a long forgotten fact that when cars were first introduced into cities in the late 19th Century they were welcomed as an environmentally friendly alternative to horses. With the help of two economists, a short trip around a ‘secluded’ island is a fun day out and a sanguine reminder of just why that might be.

 A 90 minute boat trip from Istanbul brings you Kızıl Adalar or the “Red Islands” in the Sea of Marmara.  The Byzantines and Ottomans alike used these islands to exile royalty that were not in favour. Hence, the group of nine islands have become more commonly known as The Prince Islands. Today tourists exile themselves there for a couple of hours, enjoying the Victorian style houses and just time for a gentle walk or bike ride.

Horse highway The Prince Islands, Turkey

The Prince Islands were formerly used to exile royalty but are a popular tourist destination today.

The largest of these islands is known as Büyükada or “Big Island” (I wonder how they came up with the name) attracts the greatest number of tourists. Private cars are banned from these islands, making them a very peaceful place to while away a few hours away from the traffic of Istanbul. Still, business is business and the island has found a lucrative alternative. About one hundred coachmen with a horse and carriage service  accompany eager tourists around the island for a price that is not only reasonable, but also has a fixed tariff rate just like taxis. If you are thinking of doing this come early as the queues can get very long. Indeed, A 45 minute carriage ride around the Büyükada is great fun, but also a gentle reminder that past forms of transport were by no means perfect.

If you are not used to being around horses, the first thing you may probably notice is just how smelly they are (or “fragrantly challenged” if you prefer you language to be politically correct at all times). For sure, if humans spent the entire day running around an island pulling a few hundred kilos plus of carriage with temperature just above 30°C they probably wouldn’t smell too good either. The “pleasant aroma deficiency” (i.e. awful smell) is quite naturally indexed to the quantity of equestrian friends present. One horse can be pretty whiffy just by itself, but when you get 20 plus in a small space, well the smell can be quite potent. Queueing at the ‘horse taxi rank’ requires a considerable degree of abnegation. Suddenly, those images of women in the Middle Ages holding perfumed handkerchiefs to their noses don’t look quite so ridiculous. And of course, horses do produce their share of methane gases which are none too good for the ozone layer.

Horse highway Kızıl Adalar, Turkey

You’re a beautiful magnificent creature, but you are just a little bit smelly.

This leads us to the delicate little question of horse…err…“output”. If you have a huge garden and are keen on entering rose growing competitions, then the sight of a heap of horse manure might seem like the sweet smell of success. (Lots of metaphors being randomly mixed up here, but it is the holidays). However, for the rest of us, well, again, it isn’t the most pleasant of aromatic experiences. In their book, Superfreakonmics (2009), Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner report that by the beginning of the 20th Century, 200 000 horses lived and worked in New York City. These horses produced a colossal amount of manure and there simply weren’t enough rose gardens to go around. In fact, the manure was piled up in certain parts of the city making it an immense health hazard and breeding ground for all sorts of diseases. And the smell across the city, particularly in the hot summer month was quite dreadful. Little wonder then that the automobile was proclaimed to be “an environmental savior.”

Horse highway Kızıl Adalar, TurkeyAs you race around Büyükada, you are also reminded a horse and carriage can be. Theoretically, the carriage just produces “2 horse power” but when these contraptions whizz past you, you realise that you do not want to stand in their way, particularly as they are very difficult to stop on a downhill stretch. Taking an economic perspective Levitt and Dubner note the dangers horses presented in the past:

“In 1900, horse accidents claimed the lives of 200 New Yorkers, or 1 of every 17,000 residents. In 2007, meanwhile, 274 New Yorkers died in auto accidents, or 1 of every 30,000 residents.”

In other words a New Yorker in 1900 was nearly twice as likely to die from a horse related accident than he is from a car related accident today.

So, a one-hour horse ride around a charming Turkish island is a lot of fun but it is then back to the old car for all its failings. Perhaps future generations of tourists will go for rides in that strange museum item, “the automobile.” Sounds crazy? Well, so did the idea of a horse being replaced by a metal box with wheels 150 years ago. The idea might even be worth having a bet on.

See also:

Didim. Did it. But I didn’t do my research.

Didim beach, TurkeyOne of the things professors are constantly telling students is to make sure they read the entire exam paper before starting and never sign an employment contract before they have studied it several times. The same logic works for a holiday destination and this professor might think about taking his own well meant advice.

Gallipoli: Drawing different lessons from history.

Gallipoli: Drawing different lessons from history. 300 kilometres south west of Istanbul lies the small seaside town of Gelibulo. With a population of 30 000, this friendly little town has the makings of the perfect place to get away from the noise and the bustle of Istanbul. The sun never stops shining and the temperature is a near perfect 30°C. Only the incessant wind prevents it from being the ideal tourist location.


Studying in TurkeyTurkey is relatively young and dynamically emerging country.  It is amazing to witness the refinement of Istanbul, which once was the cultural and political center of the most powerful empires. In this city which never sleeps, and connects two continents Europe and Asia, it is hard to believe that you won’t be enjoying amazing moments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Countries, Culture, Economics, Technology, Travel, Turkey, Vacation / Holidays

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s