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Satellite image of İmrali island in Turkey.
Imrali location.jpg
LocationSea of Marmara
Coordinates40°32′15″N 28°32′06″E / 40.53750°N 28.53500°E / 40.53750; 28.53500Coordinates: 40°32′15″N 28°32′06″E / 40.53750°N 28.53500°E / 40.53750; 28.53500
Area9.98 km2 (3.85 sq mi)
Coastline19.4 km (12.05 mi)
Highest elevation217 m (712 ft)
Highest pointTürk Tepesi
RegionMarmara Region
ProvinceBursa Province

İmralı is a small Turkish prison island in the south of the Sea of Marmara, west of the Armutlu-Bozburun peninsula within Bursa Province. It measures 8 kilometres (5 miles) in the north–south direction with a width of 3 kilometres (2 miles), and has an area of 9.98 square kilometres (3.85 sq mi). The highest peak is Türk Tepesi at an altitude of 217 metres (712 feet) above sea level. It is prohibited to fly over it or fish near its shores.


The Roman authors Pliny the Elder and Strabo called the island Besbicus (Ancient Greek: Βέσβικος).[1] It was later known as Kalonymos (Greek: Καλώνυμος) and Kalolimnos (Greek: Καλόλιμνος). In antiquity, it was a member of the Delian League since it appears in tribute records of Athens between 434/3 and 418/7 BCE.[2]

The Turkish name İmralı derives from the name of the island's conqueror, Emir Ali, one of the first Ottoman admirals. In 1308 İmralı became the first island to be conquered by the newly established Ottoman Navy. Its strategic location enabled the Ottomans to control the movement of ships in the Sea of Marmara with a naval base established on it, cutting the Byzantine Empire's connection to Bursa.

In 1913, the island had 250 houses, a school, three monasteries, and 1,200 residents, all of whom were Greeks. The economic activity of the island's residents consisted mainly of fishing and farming onions, with most of the grown onions sold to Istanbul. There were three Greek villages on the island, engaged mostly in growing grapes, winemaking, silk production and fishing, until the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1923). The island was uninhabited after the 1923 forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey until 1936, when prisoners entered a newly founded semi-open prison facility.[3] The prisoners earned money by working in agriculture and fishing.

One well-known islander was Kimon Friar who emigrated to the United States and became a scholar and translator of Greek language poetry.[4]

There is a military base on the island, and the area around the island is a forbidden zone. It served from 1999 until 2009 as a maximum-security prison island for its only inmate, Abdullah Öcalan the leader of the PKK.[5] The other prisoners on the island were transferred elsewhere on mainland Turkey so that Öcalan was the island's sole prisoner.[6] In November 2009, several other prisoners were transferred to a newly constructed building on the island, where Öcalan is incarcerated.


  1. ^ Sir William Smith, ed. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1872) p. 395.
  2. ^ Mogens Herman Hansen & Thomas Heine Nielsen (2004). An inventory of archaic and classical poleis. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 978. ISBN 0-19-814099-1.
  3. ^ Sipahi, Ali (2016). "Convict Labor in Turkey, 1936-1953: A Capitalist Corporation in the State?". International Labor and Working-Class History (90): 246. ISSN 0147-5479 – via JSTOR.
  4. ^ American College of Greece Archived 13 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "PKK leader Ocalan gets company in prison". United Press International. 17 November 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ King, Laura (1 March 1999). "Ocalan Affecting Turkish Town". Associated Press. Retrieved 9 June 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)