Saturday, December 20, 2014

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Old blockprinted yazma in Tokat
March 02, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

Anatolia in the 19th-century was a land of few and poor quality roads, a situation that encouraged communities to grow up in virtual isolation from one another.

The great geographical diversity of the land also gave rise to a wide variety of local architectural styles that evolved to make use of the materials that lay at hand. At the same time, local communities developed their own mouth-watering culinary traditions.

But one of the most conspicuous ways in which Anatolian communities used to express allegiance to their locality was in the way that they -- and the women in particular -- dressed. Sadly, except in the far east of the country, that is the aspect of regionalism that is most under threat today, as younger women abandon the old ways of dressing in favor of what could be described as modern Muslim style. Just occasionally, in places such as Erzurum, it is still possible to see three generations of the same family walking together, the grandmother clad in what was once the truly local style of clothing, the mother wearing the drab overcoat and scarf tied under the chin that was the look of the Turkey of the 1970s and 80s and the daughter wearing the colorful, neatly tailored long mackintosh and türban headscarf that is the preferred look today all the way from İstanbul to Artvin.

Today, the only places you'll usually see local costumes are museum showcases (not surprising in some cases such as when, for example, you spot the knee-exposing shorts once worn by the men of the Aegean), although markets, such as those at Ayvacık and Tire, sometimes drop a hint as to what has been lost. If you'd like to visit parts of Turkey where you might actually see people wearing regional dress, here are some suggestions. Most are in the east of the country.

Reinventing the Laz Keşan

The Laz lands

Of all the regional costumes that once brightened up Anatolia, one of the most striking had to be that of the Laz lands, technically the five small coastal towns to the east of Rize that were inhabited by the Laz-speaking people, although people in Laz dress were always visible as far west as Trabzon as well.

Traditionally Laz women wore a cotton keşan -- a wonderful black, white and maroon-patterned shawl that covered their heads and shoulders and that came paired with a wraparound apron of bold stripes called a dolaylık. According to Sevan and Müjde Nişanyan's guide to the Black Sea, the different colored stripes at one time defined where a woman came from, with the females of Sürmene opting for black and red stripes, those of Akçaabat preferring maroon and cream and those of Tonya favoring black and brown.

Sadly, these days you'll rarely see a woman younger than 40 wearing a keşan, let alone a dolaylık. Instead the race is on around Rize to find new uses for the old shawl, which now crops up in the form of everything from oven gloves to the lining for a baby's cradle.

The Hemşin lands

In the mountains inland from the eastern Black Sea coast, another minority people, the Hemşin, also developed a dress code all of their own. Here, the women twisted a flimsy scarf called a poşi around the tops of their heads, covering a plainer black scarf trimmed with white embroidery that hung down to their shoulders. The poşis usually came in black, patterned in red, orange or gold. Strangely, they were not made locally but imported from Syria.

Perhaps because it is neater and more practical, the poşi has proved more durable than the keşan, and in Ayder, Çamlıhemşin and the surrounding villages in the foothills of the Kaçkar Mountains you will still see plenty of women wearing one. Many locals have migrated to other parts of the country in search of work, particularly as bakers. When they return to their villages in the summer, one of the first things many of the women do is put on the poşis they feel unable to wear in resorts such as Bodrum.

The Hemşin people lived in a part of Turkey with an exceptionally harsh climate, so the other important feature of local dress for both men and women was thick woolen socks. This is still one of the best places in Turkey to pick up beautifully designed hand-knitted socks, although most of what is on sale in the shops aimed at tourists has been made in factories.

Bayburt and Erzurum

Twenty years ago, the back streets of Erzurum were full of women scuttling along the pavements wrapped in the closest thing Turkey had to a chador: A brown, woolen garment flecked with patterns in navy blue called an ehram. Today, the ehram has fallen from favor even faster than the keşan. When I last visited, Erzurum was down to its last shop selling the garments, and to see women wearing them you really need to travel north to Bayburt where, in the shadow of a vast medieval castle, women continue to wrap themselves tight in this garment. At the same time, in preparation for the inevitable day when the last woman will hang up her ehram, an EU-funded project has been started to come up with new uses for the hand-woven material used to make them.


In the lands of the Laz and the Hemşin, men long ago abandoned any attempt to dress with local flair. Further south, however, you will see men wearing the baggy pants called şalvar that usually come paired with waistcoats and worn with cummerbunds and flat caps. It's a look usually thought of as Kurdish, although you start to see it as soon as you reach Malatya (where they favor şalvar suits in a particularly fetching fern-green).

The men of Şanlıurfa (Urfa) wear their şalvar suits with a quirky local twist. Wander into the bazaar and you will be astonished to see these most manly of men topping off their outfits with headscarves that run the gamut of colors from the palest lilac to the deepest purple. Oddly enough, their women wear the exact same scarves, a unisex look unknown elsewhere.

Unlike most sartorial specialities of Anatolia, these scarves are a relatively recent innovation. As recently as 2003, most Urfalıs covered their heads with white scarves. Then someone introduced the lilac versions from Syria and the rest, as they say, was history.

In Urfa, too, you'll see women wearing unbelievably vibrant, colorful outfits that anywhere else would be saved for special occasions. These outfits consist of a dress called a fistan that is worn over a T-shirt and leggings in summer or trousers and a jumper in winter. Over the fistan goes an apron called a peştemal and then over that goes a long coat called a zibin, the ends of which get tied up in the peştemal to stop them trailing in the mud. Traditionally, all this was topped off with a kofi, a fez-like cap that was covered with a scarf, although these days most women wear normal scarves. In the bazaars of Urfa (and Van, Hakkari and Diyrabakır), the wonderful materials needed to create these outfits are enough to set a thousand cameras clicking.

Alanya cummerbund


Hard though it might be to believe, the seaside resort of Alanya once boasted its own particular look for men, consisting of black şalvar with a waistband of deepest maroon. Still worn by a few elderly locals, these Alanya şalvarı were worn with brightly colored striped silk cummerbunds, examples of which are on display in the Kültur Evi (Cultural House) at Ehmedek on the hill leading up to the Selçuk castle.


Visitors to the Monday morning market at Göynük, east of Adapazarı, will be thrilled to step into its undercover dairy section and find the local women wearing a delightful local style of şalvar in a variety of tartans. At one time the pattern would have made it possible to identify the village each woman came from, although today most of them wear machine-made tartans picked for a preferred pattern. The scarves are topped off with cotton shawls printed in a pattern similar to those worn by the women in Beypazarı, further east along the road to Ankara. Locals will point out the crucial minor details that distinguish their shawls from a Beypazarlı's.


On the streets of modern Tokat most women dress much as their fellows in İstanbul. This, though, is a town that once played a particularly important role in Turkey's sartorial history as the only place permitted to make the yazmas, the gauzy square headscarves that were the standard head covering of Central Anatolia. It was a monopoly industry, the proceeds of which went to support the queen mothers back in İstanbul. Today, the old Yazmahane where the work used to be carried out stands forlorn in the back streets, despite supposed plans to restore it. Meanwhile, in the surrounding streets, yazmacıs compete to sell machine-made versions of the product to a declining market. Just a few men still blockprint the cloths. One or two even keep examples of old yazmas to show their customers. As ever, the difference between the original hand-made versions and the new machine-made ones is staggering.

Examples of local dresses at Söğüt Museum


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Turkey of the regions 9: The taste of the local

Uzun pide, Kayseri & Konya
February 23, 2014, Sunday
These days no matter where you go in Turkey you can be sure of being able to tuck into a tasty lunch of Bursa (İskender) kebab or a supper of spicy Adana kebab.

 There may be a particular thrill to be had in trying out İnegöl köfte in the town where it was introduced to Turkey, or in eating a plate of Akçaabat köfte in the town where it was created, but the truth is that these days you'll be able to find meatballs of the same names elsewhere in the country, too.

Turks may still swear by the baklava of Gaziantep, but you'll be able to find versions just as finger-licking and delicious wherever you go. Thick-enough-to-cut Kahramanmaraş (Maraş) dondurması (ice cream) is now available in branches of Mado, and the famous Van kahvaltısı (Van breakfast) is cropping up on every street corner. Even ciğ köfte, the uncooked kebab that was once known only to the natives of southeastern Turkey, is now a fixture on most city high streets as popular local taste sensations work their way around the country on the back of mass internal migration combined with chain-store expansion.

Luckily, there are also dishes that haven't traveled quite as well, usually because they require special ovens or other equipment and/or involve lengthy cooking procedures. This is great news for travelers since it means that they can sample a variety of local dishes along their way.
Afiyet olsun!


Pressed to name my favorite of Turkey's many kebabs, I would have to plump for the Tokat kebab, a wonderful amalgam of thick chunks of lamb with equally thick chunks of potato, aubergine and juicy tomatoes basted in meat juices as they hang to cook in an oven especially designed for the purpose. Both the special oven and the preparation time have militated against the Tokat kebab venturing far from its northern Anatolian home base. Even there, town-center restaurants stop serving it by five o'clock in the afternoon.


Hidden away in southeastern Turkey, Siirt is one of the best places in the country to try out büryan kebabı, one of several kebabs prepared in pit ovens that also remain largely local pleasures. At dawn, the ovens are fired up and entire lambs hung to bake beneath sealed lids with the juice collecting at the bottom of the pit. Once cooked, the lamb is removed and chopped up, individual portions being reheated to order and served on a bed of squidgy pide bread.

Büryan kebab is also prepared in Bitlis and Tatvan near Lake Van. It is more readily accessible in “Little Siirt,” the market area of Fatih in İstanbul, almost the only place where you should expect to be able to eat it after dark - - in the east they prefer to tuck into it for breakfast or lunch.


“Little Siirt” is also a good place to try out perde pilav (“curtained rice”), another taste treat that comes to us courtesy of the southeast. Perde pilav is a risotto cooked with shreds of chicken, raisins and almonds inside a case of crispy pastry for which a copper pot shaped like an upside-down fez is used. You can eat it in Midyat provided you order it at lunchtime.

Beyran çorbası, Gaziantep


Over recent years, Gaziantep in the east has turned itself into a veritable shrine to the culinary arts and people pour into the famous İmam Çagdaş restaurant to feast on its Adana kebabs and baklava. On the quiet, though, Antep has a few more tricks up its sleeve. One is the garlicky beyran çorbası, a rust-colored meal-in-a-bowl soup based on meat cut from the rump of a sheep. It's on sale at lunchtime in lokantas in the market where you may also bump into men in gaudy costumes with drinks containers strapped to their backs. They turn out to be dispensing meyankökü şerbeti, a cold licorice drink that is a distinctly acquired taste.


Malatya is well known all over Turkey for its dried apricots, and a whole section of its sprawling market is devoted to selling them. But Malatya is also the best place in the country to try out kağıt kebabı (paper kebab), a lamb kebab cooked and served in packets of greaseproof paper that allow the meat to stew in its own juices with the vegetables. It's a favorite of the market traders, which means that there are many lunchtime-only lokantas serving it amid the stalls.

Mıhlama, Eastern Black Sea

East of Rize

While many of Turkey's more exotic local dishes are to be found in the towns of the Southeast, the northeastern corner of the country also has a food tradition all of its own. Mention Black Sea food, and people tend to think of hamsi, the Black Sea anchovy that is a particular winter treat, but there's much more to Black Sea cooking than fish, especially once you travel beyond Trabzon.

Up in Ayder, for example, you will be able to sample mıhlama, a thick and filling cheese fondue best eaten with a helping of cornbread. This is also a part of the world where cabbage (lahana) really comes into its own. You might not have thought you would enjoy a bowl of lahana çorbası (cabbage soup), but once you've tried the Black Sea version you may well change your mind.


Trabzon ekmeği (bread) is sold in huge heavy roundels, so popular that local bus companies factor bakery visits into their itineraries. But the best Black Sea bread of all comes from the small town of Vakfıkabir, just west of Trabzon where baked loaves sometimes reach the size of small wheels.


In northeastern Turkey Kars is home not only to a distinctive style of “Baltic” architecture but also to several local culinary traditions. Visit in winter and you will be able to gorge yourself on roast goose (kaz), but at any time of year you won't be able to miss the many shops selling tangy local kaşar and holey gravyer cheese in roundels as big as those of Trabzon ekmeği. The same shops also sell locally made honey. A breakfast feast of Kars cheese and honey is not one to forget in a hurry.


Is the testi kebabı (pottery kebab) that crops up on many Cappadocian menus a real local dish or not? The answer seems to be that it is and it isn't. Traditionally, locals certainly did prepare meat stews inside small clay pots, placing them to cook in the embers of fires set up to boil such things as pekmez (molasses) and salça (sauce). What tourism has done is to take that basic recipe and add a twist to it rather like the show put on by the sellers of Maraş dondurması with their clanging bells and colorful costumes. You can be sure that the locals didn't break their testis open at the table with a flourish although their flourish-free meals probably tasted much the same as today's tourist ones.


In Central Anatolia, Kayseri is home to mantı, miniature pockets of pasta filled with nuggets of meat. Mantı is sometimes available elsewhere in the country with many restaurants offering it as a featured dish on one specific day in the week. In Kayseri itself mantı is usually served with tomato sauce and/or garlic-flavored yoghurt as well as with chickpeas, a specifically local twist.
While in Kayseri, you might also spot some of the elongated local pides designed to be shared between several diners. Occasionally, you will see special long, thin raised benches to make the sharing of such an unwieldy dish a tad easier. Not surprisingly, the strung-out pide is not an idea that has traveled well (ditto the sugared pides that are a specialty of Eğirdir in the Lake District).

Islama köfte, Adapazarı


You will need a particularly discerning palate to be able to tell the difference between some of the köftes (meatballs) that carry the names of towns such as Tekirdağ and Sivas. Much easier to distinguish is the ıslama köfte of Adapazarı which is served on a bed of toast temptingly marinaded in the meat juices.

Pastırmalı humus, Tarsus


At the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Antakya wins culinary accolades not least for its delicious künefe, a scrumptious cheese-filled pastry made on rotating metal plates. But Tarsus to the west offers just as many unexpected delights, among them pastırmalı hummus that is served with pieces of pastrami sprinkled on top, then heated up. Here, too, you can try out cezerye, a chewy sweet made from carrot and walnut paste, honey and 40 different spices. Wash it down with şalgam, the cold turnip drink that is now fairly widely available, with prickly-pear juice, or with yayla karsambaç, a flavored-ice drink that is a lifesaver in the summer humidity.

Merzifon keşkeği


Made from wheat and meat pounded together with onions and spices, keşkek is not so much a regional dish as one that is increasingly hard to find despite being UNESCO-listed as part of Turkey's intangible cultural heritage. Like mantı, it sometimes appears on menus as a once-weekly treat especially around the middle Aegean. Alternatively, you can eat it whenever you like in the restaurant of the restored bedesten in Merzifon, near Amasya.

Mardin and Urfa

Turkish coffee also features on the intangible cultural heritage list. The standard variety can be found all over the country, but in Mardin and Urfa you should certainly round off your meal with a demitasse of bitter, grainy mırra kahvesi sometimes flavored with cardamon. Be careful to hand your cup straight back to the server - - according to tradition if instead you put it down on the table, you will have to marry him or pay for his dowry.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Turkey of the regions 7: From İnebolu to Antakya

Turkey of the regions 7: From İnebolu to Antakya

Levantine quarter of Antakya
February 16, 2014, Sunday
So far in this series on the old and varied architectural styles of Anatolia we've looked at the stereotypical Turkish house that still exists in large numbers in the heart of many old towns.

 We've looked at the cave dwellings that are dotted about the country, and we've looked at the specific styles to be found in the southeastern and northeastern corners of the country as well as along the Aegean coast.

But there are a few other areas of the country with distinctive styles of architecture that defy being slotted into easy categories. There are, for example, the pretty red and white houses of İnebolu on the Black Sea. There are the “button houses” to be found around Akseki, near Alanya. There are the adobe houses that live on near Malatya. There are the Levantine-style houses of Tarsus and Antakya. There are the houses with lovely stained glass windows in Fethiye. And there are the houses with delicate wooden balconies that do so much to beautify Kalkan.

İnebolu houses and model of one



The small town of İnebolu, midway between Amasra and Sinop on the western side of the Black Sea coast, is best known for its role in the Turkish War of Independence. So visitors may be surprised to arrive and find that it's also home to a distinctive and lovely style of architecture somewhat reminiscent of the wooden yalıs (waterside mansions) of İstanbul.
The İnebolu houses are mainly standalone mansions built on two or three stories in their own gardens. But all of them were once painted in the distinctive rusty red once known as Ottoman rose that was such a feature of the Bosporus in İstanbul. Here, though, the window frames are prettily picked out in white, giving the houses a truly distinctive look.
Most survive on the hills inland from the sea although one or two can be seen as you drive through on the coast road. The houses form so much a part of the town's identity that souvenir stands here sell as many models of İnebolu houses as those of Safranbolu do of their better known homes.

Düğmeli Evleri, Ormana


Ormana and around

If you take the road heading inland from Manavgat on the eastern Mediterranean coast to Beyşehir in the Lake District you will pass Akseki, a small town that makes a possible base for exploring villages that sport one of Turkey's most unlikely styles of architecture. West of Akseki near İbradi is the lovely small village of Ormana which is full of what are called “düğmeli evleri” (button houses), houses that come in a variety of sizes but that share one common feature, which is that the wooden beams used to provide their frames jut out from the walls. Looked at side on they resemble spears sticking out defensively; looked at from a distance they resemble studs, hence, presumably, the nickname.
Most of the adjoining villages boast examples of düğmeli evleri, although you might want to make a special point of heading for Ürünlü Köy, which is also home to the wonderful Altın Beşik Mağarası, a cavern with a small lake inside it.


Balaban, Darende and Battalgazi

Most local architecture developed according to the materials close to hand, which means that in the dry center of the country mud-brick (kerpiç) was once a popular building material. That adobe houses were once widespread is evidenced by the fact that even on the outskirts of troglodytic Cappadocia, in the town of Hacıbektaş, you can still see the odd crumbling example in the backstreets.

But this was a style of architecture with little staying power. Once residents found more durable materials from which to build their homes they speedily abandoned adobe whereupon most of the houses crumbled straight back into the dust.

West of Malatya, however, on the road leading to Kayseri there are two settlements that still retain enough adobe houses to give you a good idea of what was possible. Today Darende is a fast modernizing town best known for its shrine to Somuncu Baba (Loaf Father). The old houses that the authorities have chosen to restore recently fit into the mold of the traditional Turkish house as exemplified in towns such as Tokat and Divriği. However, if you poke about in the back streets you will quickly realize that they were always the exception in a town whose high-walled adobe houses might once have evoked the kasbahs of southern Morocco.

Most people whisk straight past Balaban on their way from Malatya to Darende. If, instead, you pause here and take a walk around the village you will get the best idea of what an entire village of adobe houses would have looked like. Narrow streets are lined with two and three-story houses, some of them whitewashed, some of them still the color of sand. But it's not just the building material that is striking. This is a part of Turkey with particularly harsh winters. Locals needed plenty of space to store not just wood for their fires but also food made in autumn to see families through the winter. So the roofs of many of these adobe houses also feature towering, open-fronted lofts, perfect for storage.
Even more striking examples of these lofts can be seen atop the older houses of Battalgazi (Eski Malatya). You need only take a turn down the newly restored Sanat Sokağı to admire the seemingly never-ending potential of a loft.

Levantine quarter of Tarsus


Tarsus and Antakya

The road that skirts the coast of Mediterranean Turkey is a relative newcomer. Even in the 1950s the mountains that rose up beyond the sea served as a powerful barrier to reaching the coast. Settlements were few and far between, which explains why, with the rare exception of Antalya, so few of its modern holiday resorts boast much in the way of interesting architecture.

At the far eastern end of the Mediterranean a rare exception is Tarsus, the town best known as the birthplace of Saul who went on to become the great Christina missionary, St. Paul. These days Tarsus is lost amid the sprawl of Greater Adana but at its heart it retains a fascinating little quarter full of sturdy quarried-stone houses with a distinctly Levantine feel typified by their shuttered windows and wrought-iron decorations. The lovely Konak Efsus (Tel: 0324-614 0807) sits right in the heart of this peaceful pedestrianized part of town and lets you fantasize that you're actually sleeping as far afield perhaps as Beirut.

The Levantine feel of Tarsus is multiplied many times in Antakya, the provincial capital of the Hatay, the little tongue of Turkey that hangs down towards Syria. Once you're past the deceptively modern outskirts and into the historic heart of the city around the bazaar you will find once again that coming together of quarried-stone houses with shutters and wrought-iron balconies that feels both Parisian and Middle Eastern and acts as a reminder of the French influence on this part of the world right into the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Antakya has come under enormous pressure as a result of the Syrian conflict. If you do want to visit there are two splendid hotels -- the Antik Beyazıt (Tel: 0326-216 2900) and the Liwan (Tel: 0326-215 7777) -- right in the Levantine part of town where you will also notice a distinctive local style of mosque design. Here, many minarets come topped off with witch's-hat roofs, a style that also feels very Levantine and which rolls out as far as Kahramanmaraş and Elbistan too.


Western Mediterranean

Towards the western end of the Mediterranean modern Fethiye has rid itself of most of its old houses over the years. However, there are still a few attractive examples of a local style of townhouse in which two-story homes were adorned with jutting cumbas (bay windows) rather like those to be seen in houses along the Aegean. Here, though, the windows were filled with panels of tinted glass, the better presumably to shade inhabitants from the blazing sun.

Today the popular resort of Kalkan, between Fethiye and Kaş, is spreading its tentacles in all directions, but at its heart it still retains the very picturesque waterside quarter that was once a fishing village. Here whitewashed cottages come with rickety wooden balconies, these days uniformly draped in bougainvillea. Few were big enough to survive as hotels although many now serve as chi-chi restaurants and cafes catering to the yachting fraternity.

Inland from Fethiye the village of Üzümlü is best known as a place in which to buy a type of woven fabric called dastar, but it's also home to pretty whitewashed houses with wooden cumbas. Even finer examples can be seen in Kaş where Uzun Çarşı is a hillside street lined with upscale shops. Its lattice-fronted, bougainvillea-draped cumbas make for as postcard pretty a vista as can be found in all of Turkey.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Turkey of the regions (6): cave dwellings

Turkey of the regions (6): cave dwellings

Slated to become a cave museum - Uçhisar fairy chimney
February 09, 2014, Sunday
Turkey may once have been a land of extremely varied architecture, but some of the most extraordinary was to be found right in the heart of the country in the area now called Cappadocia. Here, the locals carved their homes straight out of the soft local rock thrown across the landscape by volcanic eruptions in prehistory. These cave dwellings became steadily more elaborate over the centuries. Nowadays, many have been turned into boutique hotels of great originality.

Of course, cave dwelling was a feature of life for early man all over the world and, in Turkey, the cave at Karain near Antalya showcases the sort of natural cavity that served as a shelter for prehistoric man. Where the cave dwellings of Cappadocia are different is that they are largely man-made rather than natural. This makes them all the more interesting, especially since the same techniques that were used to carve out the houses were also used to create entire living environments complete with churches, underground “cities” and even the occasional mosque.

Cappadocia hosts the best-known collection of cave dwellings. However, there were other cave settlements in Anatolia reaching from as far west as the Phrygian Valley near Afyon to as far east as Ahlat on Lake Van, with another little offshoot up north at Seben, near Bolu.



Covering what is basically an inverted triangle stretching from Aksaray in the west to Kayseri in the east, and then down to Niğde in the south, Cappadocia is one of Turkey's biggest tourism draw cards.
For cultural tourists, the biggest attraction tends to be the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of fantastic frescoed rock-cut churches and chapels in the outskirts of Göreme village. Strangely, not so much attention is generally paid to the extraordinary troglodytic lifestyle that used to be characteristic of this area and that left its mark on the landscape in the form of thousands of half-cave, half-stone-built houses.

Although there is some evidence to suggest that people were already living inside the caves in the early Christian era, the “houses” they lived in then would almost certainly have been very basic -- little more than holes burrowed into the rocks and fairy chimneys that are such a feature of the region. Only later did people start to tack more conventional houses onto the front of these caves. Once they did that, the tendency was to move forward to live in the stone-built parts of the houses, leaving the caves at the back to serve as storage.

By the 19th century, the cave houses of Cappadocia had evolved into often beautiful structures with elaborately carved gateways and paired windows topped off with pretty stone patterns. The larger houses of the more prosperous came with separate selamlık rooms for visitors and haremlik rooms for the family, sometimes separated by graceful divanhanes, arched upstairs terraces where the family could take in air in the heat of summer. In the wealthier settlements of Avanos, Ürgüp and Mustafapaşa, the external decoration of the houses grew extraordinarily flamboyant, with layer upon layer of deep carvings.

As in southeastern Turkey, the houses were sometimes hidden from public gaze behind high walls. Behind the walls, however, they were perfectly designed to cope with a lifestyle that modernization has more or less killed off. Some features of the cave houses mimicked those of the more familiar Turkish houses of wood and stone with built-in sedirs (bench seats) running around the walls, with niches carved into them to store bedding and floor-level tables. Sometime, these niches came with carved wooden doors; often they were merely curtained from view. Simple bathrooms were also hidden in cupboards inside the walls.

But the soft natural rock that formed the basis of these houses was also carved out to serve a multitude of other uses. Tandır ovens were carved into the floor, for example, with air being pumped along channels from outside with bellows to fan flames that were then used for cooking. On winter evenings, families would erect frames around their tandırs, cover them with quilts, and sleep with their feet pointed towards them for warmth.

Huge niches were also carved out of the walls for treading the grapes that grew so well in the volcanic soil. Local Christians used the grapes for making wine, with the liquid draining into ceramic storage pots through a hole cut into the side of the niche. Even today, a few locals still tread grapes in these niches and use the liquid to make pekmez, the much-loved local sweetener.
Most of the cave houses were also designed with an open-fronted çardak (shelter) where in autumn local women would sit at low tables to make enough yufka (flat bread) to see them through the winter. The paper-thin products were then passed to a matron sitting beside another tandır oven to be baked.

Most cave houses lacked much in the way of internal decoration, although the built-on sections often featured either fine stone kemer (arch) ceilings or flat wooden ceilings supported by hezens (hewn tree trunks). In the finest houses of Ürgüp, Avanos and Mustafapaşa, however, secular frescoes were painted on the walls. In Christian homes, these often featured people, while in Muslim homes landscapes and still-lifes were preferred.

Many cave house features are also on display in the underground cities, a network of tunnels and rooms cut deep into the soil and probably dating back in part to Hittite times. Some of these “cities” feature the same sort of rock-cut tables and benches as can be seen in the many rock-cut monasteries, as well as rock-cut mangers for animals -- of the sort that can be seen in the cave houses too. Such claustrophobia-inducing settlements would only ever have been occupied for short periods at a time, mainly as refuges in the period when the Arabs came rampaging across Cappadocia in the early Middle Ages.

The troglodytic lifestyle is no longer attractive to locals, not least because of the cost of converting a cave house for modern living. The abandoned settlement of Zelve is now an open-air museum, but there are many other villages such as Akköy, Sulusaray and Sofular that are either ghost settlements or sit beside replacement modern villages.

Cappadocia now has so many rock-cut boutique hotels that it's hard to know which to recommend. However, two particularly interesting recent projects involve efforts to effectively rebuild entire troglodytic mahalles (neighborhoods), complete with communal fountains, etc. In Uçhisar, Argos in Cappadocia (tel: 0384-219 3130) is one such project. In Ürgüp, the brand-new Kapakapı Premium Caves (tel: 0384-341 8877) is another. None of the cave houses are formally open to the public at the moment, although a fairy chimney is slated to be turned into a museum as part of the Argos project.

Beautiful doorways of Mustafapaşa

Frescoed Mehmet Paşa Konağı in Göreme

Frescoes in Old Greek House, Musafapaşa



Anyone arriving in the small village of Ayazini, in the Phrygian Valley north of Afyon, could be forgiven for thinking that they had somehow strayed into Cappadocia. Here too, fairy chimneys and other rock formations have been adapted to serve as houses and storage areas, although here there are none of the fine, carved door and window frames. Instead, you will notice a distinctive style of wooden gate presumably carved by a single firm of local carpenters.



The lovely small town of Hasankeyf on the banks of the Tigris River east of Diyarbakır has become a cause célèbre as the Ilısu Dam threatens to drown not just a local beauty spot but also a collection of superb medieval monuments. But this too was once a place of cave-dwellers, with the plug of rock above the river hollowed out with caves and Göreme-style cave houses clustered together around the Ulu Cami on the summit. Today, only one man continues to live in the caves but, even after the water levels rise, most of the cave houses will probably survive.



On the northern shore of Lake Van, Ahlat is best known for a so-called Selçuk cemetery of lichen-spattered tombstones and for a fine local stone that is being used to build new houses in a development that deserves to be much better known. On the quiet, though, medieval Ahlat was also a settlement of cave-dwellers, and if you cross the cemetery and walk downhill behind it you will come to another wall of rock carved out with cave homes, none of them currently lived in.



In Karaman province and just beyond the boundaries of Cappadocia, the small settlement of Taşkale was also created with its back against a solid wall of rock into which even the mosque was cut (it's still in use today). Simple houses hover beneath the rock overhang, which is completely carved out with very picturesque rock-cut storage units, each with a neat wooden door.



Near Seben, south of Bolu, the Phrygians also carved cave houses out of steep-sided rock faces that are not at all easy to approach. Look out for signs to the Muslar Kaya Evleri and make sure you wear sturdy shoes when you visit.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Turkey of the regions 5: The styles of the Aegean

Turkey of the regions 5: The styles of the Aegean

Yukarı Kaleköy, Gökçeada (Photo: Pat Yale)
February 02, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

During the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, settlements along the Aegean coast lived in close relationship with those on the Greek islands just offshore.

Not surprisingly, that closeness is reflected in the architectural styles of the Turkish coastline, especially north of İzmir, where many of the towns and villages still retain street upon street of neat townhouses very much like those to be seen on the neighboring islands. The prime examples are Bozcaada, Ayvalık, Yeni Foça and Alaçatı.

South of İzmir, the architecture changes quite dramatically. With its neat little whitewashed houses, Bodrum could easily have strayed from Rhodes, for example. Ditto with the Saburhane district of Muğla.

Then, there is the special case of Akyaka, where the self-taught architect Nail Çakırhan created an attractive new vernacular of whitewashed houses with wood trims loosely based on the old houses of Ula.



There are many reasons why the island of Bozcaada, near Ezine, is so attractive. There's the Bodrum-style giant castle. There are the lovely sandy beaches. There are the boutique wineries. But above all there is the architecture.

Against all the odds, Bozcaada town has so far managed to retain its late Ottoman townscape almost intact. Step off the ferry and within minutes you're wandering in narrow streets lined with elegant small townhouses. To the right around the church are the homes once lived in by Greeks, to the left around the mosque those occupied by Turks.

Perhaps predictably, the houses of Bozcaada are being converted into boutique hotels at great speed. Some, such as Rengigül Konukevi (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 81 71), are absolute classics, their owners' personalities written right through them; others, such as the Katina Hotel (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 02 42), depend more on the vision of a professional designer.



The second of Turkey's two occupied Aegean islands, Gökçeada is more secretive than Bozcaada, with most of its older settlements hidden in the hills. Both Tepeköy and Zeytinli feel like villages that have somehow managed to fly across the water from the Greek islands, but potentially the most attractive is Yukarı Kaleköy, which hovered, largely ignored, above the small resort of Kaleköy until recently when renovators moved in and started a meticulous restoration of its old stone houses. In the foreseeable future this will be a gem of a place to stay where no doubt boutique pensions will sprout at a furious pace.


Ayvalık and Cunda

Whisking through the olive oil-producing town of Ayvalık on the coast road you could be forgiven for failing to notice what makes it tick. But the endless rows of lovely stone townhouses that fill its back streets are a reflection of the town's very particular history.

In 1770 after a battle between the Ottoman and Russian navies, the Greek residents of Ayvalık gave refuge to Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Paşa, the defeated Ottoman admiral. In gratitude he saw that the town was granted virtual autonomy in 1773, and it went on to become a wholly Greek settlement. What this meant was that in 1923 when all the “Greeks” were required to leave the country the town completely emptied. Even today many old houses still stand empty in the heart of the modern town that grew up around them. The same is also true on Cunda, the island across the bay that is now connected to it by a causeway.

As in Bozcaada, several of Ayvalık's fine old townhouses have been converted into pensions, with even more of them on Cunda. Stay at the Bonjour Pansiyon (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 80 85) for a peek at the sort of décor and furnishing that used to go with these houses, or at the rambling Taksiyarhis Pension (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 14 94), where you'll be bedding down just meters from one of the town's huge 19th-century churches.


Yeni Foça

The small beach resort of Yeni Foça, north of İzmir, has also managed to hang onto a virtually unspoiled townscape of small one and two-story stone-built townhouses, often with shuttered windows. One of the most atmospheric streets is the narrow one beside the Griffon Boutique Hotel (Tel.: 0 [232] 814 78 28), housed in what was once an old olive oil factory. Here the houses are reminiscent of those in one of the old mill towns of northern England with crosses etched above the doorframes to indicate the religion of the workers who used to live in them.



Near Çeşme, Alaçatı's intact core of neat little stone townhouses with jutting wooden cumbas (bay windows) has been both its fortune and its downfall. Come here in shoulder season and you will no doubt fall in love with these elegant houses and with the lovely hotels created out of them, including the mother of them all, the Alaçatı Taş Otel (Tel.: 0 [232] 716 77 72). Come in July or August, however, and it will be much harder to appreciate them because of the sheer quantity of visitors, mainly from İstanbul, crowding into narrow streets never intended for such numbers. The answer would be to come in low season -- except that Alaçatı more or less closes down out of season. The lovely Bey Evi (Tel.: 0 [232] 716 80 85) should be open all year round.


Alsancak, İzmir

For many visitors, İzmir is a scarily large town with a lot of very ugly architecture. Give it a try, though, and you may stumble upon Alsancak, the neighborhood to the north of the bay where, in streets of tiny houses, each with their jutting cumba, you will get some impression of what the town must have looked like before the terrible fire of 1922 that destroyed most of the old buildings. The Alsancak houses have mainly been turned into bars and restaurants, which means that you can visit to admire them but not, for the time being, stay in any of them.


Bodrum and the Bodrum Peninsula

Before Alaçatı started to steal some of its thunder Bodrum was the holiday destination of choice for Turkey's rich and famous who loved the cute little white houses that rambled round the ruins of the Mausoleum and tumbled down the hillside to the sea, their gables flipped up at the end in very Greek style. Those houses are still there, although planning rules are slowly being stretched to allow more and more building and more and more idiosyncrasies that detract from a town that was once mainly lovely because of its homogeneity.

Out on the adjoining peninsula the story is also of encroaching sprawl although there are still pockets of architectural interest. Take the abandoned settlement of Sandıma, near Yalıkavak, for example, where you can still see oh-so-Greek-looking village architecture, albeit in ruins. Or Eski Karakaya, near Gümüşlük where similar houses have been restored and re-inhabited. Then there's the inland town of Ortakent, which still sports a couple of the sort of defensive tower-houses that are common on the Mani Peninsula in Greece.



Inland from Bodrum, the provincial capital Muğla is a thoroughly delightful small town, with one quarter, the Saburhane, full of whitewashed stone houses not unlike those of old Bodrum but without the visitors. But Muğla is also home to several distinctive architectural quirks that are particularly regional. There are, for example, the lovely wooden gates into which are set two small doors with ogival flourishes. “Kuzu kapıları [lamb gates],” they're called, and you can see a fine example in the Konakaltı İskender Alper Cultural Center.

Then there are the low-slung local villas with sweeping ground floor bay windows designed to look out onto an enclosed garden. One of them, the Hacıkadı Evi, is open to the public.
Finally, there are the chimneys. This part of Turkey favors tall brick chimneys capped with red tiles. You can see them, too, in the old parts of Milas and Yatağan, and in Çomakdağ, but they are so much a feature of Muğla that they are actually incorporated into the town's emblem.



The small village of Çomakdağ, near Milas, is a curiosity, its houses hunkered down amid huge boulders rather like those of Kapıkırı (Herakleia ad Latmos). Here, though, the oldest of them are accessible not via a ground-level street door but via a wooden ladder leading directly to the first floor. Inside, the rooms are full of carved wooden beams painted in bright colors. As far as I know, it's a one-off.



The small seaside resort of Akyaka, north of Marmaris, is also a one-off, saved from any more of the sort of brutalist modern development that mars one side of it by the vision of the architect, Nail Çakırhan (1910-2008), who took the architecture of his home village of Ula and played about with it to come up with pretty two-story houses with tiled roofs, wooden balconies and kuzu kapıları. Inside properties such as the Uğur Apart (Tel.: 0 [252] 243 40 45) and the Otel Yücelen (Tel.: 0 [252] 243 51 08) you will be able to admire the magnificent wooden ceilings that were a Çakırhan trademark. In 1983 he won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his work in Akyaka.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Turkey of the regions 4: the styles of the Northeast

Turkey of the regions 4: the styles of the Northeast

Akçaabat Houses
January 26, 2014, Sunday GALLERY 
 Travelers speeding along the Black Sea Highway from Samsun to Rize and then heading inland for Artvin are likely to be disappointed to see serried ranks of concrete high-rises disfiguring an area of Turkey usually talked of glowingly in terms of its natural beauty.

Only recently have the authorities woken up to the damage done to the built environment with belated attempts to create a new vernacular architecture featuring half-timbering for the official buildings of coastal towns such as Çayeli.

Behind the scenes, though, there is lovely regional architecture to be found even in this part of the country. The best place to start is probably Kars, whose back streets are full of unlikely “Baltic architecture,” a legacy of Russian occupation. There are also several places where more predictable wooden chalet architecture survives, such as around Şavşat and Ardanuç. Occasionally, you will also stumble upon some of the magnificent mansions, not unlike the traditional Turkish houses of Central Anatolia, that were built by the wealthy in places such as Rize and Çamlıhemşin. Trabzon retains one quirky building that looks to have strayed from the Crimea. Surprisingly, it is in the small town of Akçaabat that you get the best idea of what housing might have looked like had concrete never been invented.



During the 19th century the northeastern town of Kars, best known to visitors for its proximity to the ruins of the old Armenian capital of Ani, was frequently at war with Tsarist Russia. Under the terms of the Treaty of San Stefano at the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 Kars became the capital of a new Russian province named Kars Oblast that survived right through until 1918. It was during this period that the extraordinary architecture of the streets running down to the river north of Faik Bey Caddesi came into being.

Nowhere else in Turkey is there anything like this. The Yusufpaşa, Cumhuriyet and Ortakapı mahalles (neighborhoods) are all laid out in a neat and very un-Turkish grid pattern. Street after wide, tree-lined street is lined with pastel-colored, one-story stone-built houses adorned with stucco pilasters and swags of flowers. In between them stand grander edifices housing government offices that look as if they would be more at home in Saint Petersburg. In a reminder of the days of horses and carriages most of the private houses came with side arches wide enough to allow them to pass to the backyard. Other houses are of bare basalt with a trim of white wood that stands in sharp contrast. The buildings are routinely dubbed “Baltic” (a more comfortably neutral term than “Russian”) although the designers responsible were apparently Dutch.

Belatedly, these streets are being spruced up in an effort to encourage tourists to linger, and already one hotel has taken up residence in a restored basalt building. The minimalist design of the rooms in the Kar's Otel (tel: 0474-212 1616) may strike some as unduly austere but in the lobby visitors get the chance to inspect a pec, a local variation on the sort of standard tiled stove that was once fashionable across country in Constantinople (İstanbul) and that provided central heating to the entire building.
The Russian occupation has left two other conspicuous monuments in the form of the train station and what was once the 19th-century Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Church and is now the Fethiye Cami, both to the south off Cumhuriyet Caddesi.


Around Şavşat

The road from Artvin to Ardahan passes through the settlement of Şavşat where concrete rules the roost. In the surrounding villages, however, elegant wooden chalets with pitched roofs still linger on although their owners are almost without exception elderly. The chalets are usually built on two stories with the ground floor used for storage and the upper one for living. Verandahs often run the entire length of the front side while wooden versions of the cumbas (bay windows) of townhouses jut out from the façade.

The best of these houses survive in the village of Meydancık, but this is hard to get to without your own car. Within taxi distance of Şavşat there are also lovely wooden chalets across the road from the ruined Georgian Tbeti church at Cevizli and in the village of Veliköy, where in February wrestlers from all over Turkey and Georgia gather to take part in the country's only kar güreşi (snow-wrestling) tournament.

These days most yayla (upland pasture) settlements are as likely to be full of concrete as the towns, but if you look out of the bus on the right as it climbs from Şavsat towards the Çamlibel Pass and Ardahan, you will spot Yukarı Kocabey Yaylası where neat, simple log cabins still provide summer accommodation for local herders.


Around Ardanuç

In the past it obviously made sense to build in wood in this northeastern area where there was so much native forest, but that didn't mean that everyone opted for the same design. Around Ardanuç, for example, in the village of Bulanık you will see a completely different take on the idea of the wooden chalet, while in nearby Aydınköy some wooden houses even try on the odd Art Nouveau flourish.



For most visitors to the Kaçkar Mountains Çamlıhemşin is a little more than a bottleneck village that they must pass through on the way to the uplands at Ayder. If, however, instead of turning right for Ayder you keep following the Fırtına river straight ahead towards Zilkale, you will come to a suburb named Konaklar where, so high up on the hillside that it's almost impossible to imagine how anyone got there, you will see some of the last remaining mansions whose stone and half-timbered architecture supplied the model for the new look of places like Çayeli.

Two-storied once again, these mansions are a mountain take on the traditional Turkish house of Central Anatolia but without the jutting upper stories and sometimes erratic floor plans designed to fit chaotic urban street plans. Instead, these are solid rectangular edifices with more windows than one might have expected in such a cold part of the world built flush into the stone walls.
In a reminder of the geopolitics of this part of the world in the 19th century, many of the mansions were built for men who had made fortunes in Russia, then repatriated the profits to create dream homes back in their birthplaces. Needless to say, many stand empty today.


Rize and Şürmene

The houses of Çamlıhemşin are lovely but not readily accessible except by car. To get some idea of what they look like you could instead pause briefly in Rize, where a group of imposing Ottoman mansions of simpler design are grouped picturesquely together in the town center; two house museums, one a restaurant.

Better still, you could hop out of the bus between Rize and Trabzon in Sürmene, where, on a bluff right beside the Black Sea Highway, the superb half-timbered early 19th-century Memişağa Konağı (AKA the Kastel) not only exhibits a slightly more elaborate take on the Çamlıhemşin style complete with cumbas, but is also open to the public. Pop in to take a look at another complex system for centrally heating a house and firing up a private hamam at the same time.



The big port city of Trabzon is hardly renowned for splendid architecture, although it is worth seeking out the hilltop Atatürk Köşkü, a magnificent whitewashed wooden mansion in a splendid garden that was built in 1903 for a local banker, Constantine Kapagiannidis, in imitation of the style of houses to be seen across the Black Sea in the Crimea. In the town center the museum is housed in another building designed for a wealthy 20th-century banker, this time in hybrid Franco-Italian style.



High on the hillside at Şimşirli in the İkizdere valley south of Rize a rare wooden mosque built in the mid-19th century still survives, robbed of its doors but with all its lovely internal woodwork intact. Viewing this, it's hard to understand why concrete ever caught on as a building material for mosques.



Not far west of Trabzon Akçaabat is the sort of small town most people whisk straight through, stopping, if at all, just to lunch on the köfte for which it is famed. But those with the energy to strike up the steep hill at the back of town will be in for a pleasant surprise. In the old Orta Mahalle encircling the late Byzantine church of St Michael the Archangel lovely wood-framed townhouses with jutting cumbas face out to sea, a sobering reminder of what might have been in all the Black Sea towns. They are finally being given a facelift, not a moment too soon.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Turkey of the regions 2: the Ottoman houses of Western and Central Anatolia

Turkey of the regions 2: the Ottoman houses of Western and Central Anatolia

The Ottoman houses of Western and Central Anatolia
January 12, 2014, Sunday
For visitors who love architecture and sometimes despair at the serried ranks of concrete skyscrapers that appear to define most modern Turkish towns, the good news is that regional architecture is still alive and kicking, albeit mainly in historic forms. Nor, interestingly, do you have to travel to the furthest reaches of the country to find it.

Most tourist itineraries tend to stick closely to a route that runs down the Aegean coast from İstanbul, then skirts the Mediterranean to Antalya, before cutting inland to Cappadocia and circling back to İstanbul. But in the hinterlands of Western and Central Anatolia lie many towns whose centers are full of the graceful wood-and-stone structures thought of as the quintessential Turkish house.
Safranbolu may have the lion's share but here are some other places well worth visiting.



These days it's in the small hillside settlement of Şirince near Selçuk that most visitors come face to face with the Turkish house in the form of neat terraces of elegant homes inhabited until 1924 by Ottoman Greeks. None of these houses is open to the public although several serve as hotels enabling visitors to see their lovely interiors as well as the exteriors. Unfortunately, Şirince's proximity to Ephesus means that it is mobbed with day-trippers. To appreciate its peerless beauty you need to stay overnight and wait for the daytime madness to calm down.



Northeast of Ankara, Amasya is one of Turkey's loveliest cities in part because of its location on the banks of the Yeşilırmak river beneath a rock face pitted with ancient tombs, but mainly because, in the Hatuniye Mahallesi squeezed in between the rock and the river, it retains a rich stock of lovely Ottoman houses, some of them jutting picturesquely out over the river. The graceful Hazeranlar Konağı is open to the public and you can stay in several hotels housed in original Ottoman buildings, including the İlk Pansiyon (0538-218 1869) and the Emin Efendi Konagı (tel: 0358-213 0033).



Antalya's popularity as a package-holiday destination may be based mainly on its beaches but this is the one Turkish mega-resort where visitors can also wander amid fine Ottoman houses in the quiet streets of the ancient Kaleiçi neighborhood above the harbor. Some of the houses are restored originals, some are careful rebuilds, some languish in a sad state of decay. None is open to the public but several function as hotels offering varying degrees of Ottoman charm.



West of Ankara, the small market town of Beypazarı was one of the first whose authorities looked at the touristic success of Ottoman Safranbolu and thought, “We could do that too.” Today Beypazarı has two museums created out of restored Ottoman houses where you can admire the same sort of purpose-designed niches and alcoves as in Safranbolu. Here, too, a handful of houses have been converted into hotels including the lovely Me'vaların Konağı (tel: 0312-762 3698) that sticks as close as it dares to true Ottoman style.



At the heart of the Western Anatolian poppy-growing region, Afyon is a fantastic small town at the foot of a huge rock topped with an unlikely castle. At the foot of the rock close to the beautiful Ulu Cami street after lovely street of pastel-colored Ottoman houses lives on. Unusually, most of them are still home to local families, giving the area a particularly authentic feel. The Şehitoğlu Konağı (tel: 0272-214 1313) is one of my favorite Ottoman-house hotels with its exposed wooden floorboards and the bathrooms still hidden in the cupboards, as in the 19th century.

Tokat/Latifoğlu Konağı



At first glance Tokat, northeast of Ankara, epitomizes the dull uniformity of modern Turkish urban architecture since its high street is mainly a long run of off-the-peg high-rises. But behind that façade it retains a wealth of Ottoman housing with one particular beauty, the Latifoğlu Konağı, open to the public. Come here to admire the gorgeous Paşa Oadası, where visitors would have been received beneath a spectacular wooden ceiling in a room adorned with a truly magnificent fireplace.



Over the last 10 years, Eskişehir has turned itself into a poster boy for big-city urban regeneration with the restored town-center Odunpazarı neighborhood a particularly striking example of what can be done. Here, many erstwhile ruinous Ottoman houses have either been renovated or rebuilt, and while the newness of the work can sometimes give the streets a Toytown look, this will soon rub off. In a particularly imaginative gesture the Babüssaade Konağı (tel: 0222-233 7877) hotel is a recreation of an Ottoman mahalle complete with “communal” çeşme (fountain). It's by far the nicest place to stay in the center. 



Most foreign visitors who divert to Kütahya, southeast of İstanbul, do so to visit its famous pottery shops. But in recent years sterling work has been done on reviving the old central Germiyan neighborhood, where many lovely old Ottoman houses have been restored and found new uses. One houses the Kent Müzesi (City Museum), another the delightful Ispartalılar Konagı (tel: 0274-216 1975), where bathrooms are hidden inside the cupboards in authentic Ottoman style.



If you'd like a glimpse of what all the Ottoman-house fuss is about without having to travel too far from İstanbul, then the small town of Osmaneli, south of Sakarya (Adapazarı) might just fit the bill. Here, too, the local authorities have been hard at work renovating a vast stock of crumbling Ottoman housing -- when I visited I was shown one house with a wooden ceiling to match in splendor that of Tokat's Latifoğlu Konağı except that at some stage someone had installed a dividing wall that had sliced right across it. It's unlikely that such a thing would happen today.



South of Bolu and close to pretty Lake Abant, Mudurnu is a lovely little Safranbolu in miniature with a lively handicrafts market and a Selçuk hamam to go with its wonderful Ottoman houses. Here, too, a few houses have been converted into hotels, the loveliest and most authentic being the Hacı Şakirler Konağı (tel: 0374-421 3856; only open at weekends) where shared corridor bathrooms have proved the only realistic alternative to tiny originals in the cupboards. In an area surrounded by woodlands, the most magnificent house in town is the wood-faced Armutcular Konağı. Oddly, it is yet to be restored.



As far across Turkey as remote Divriği, east of Sivas, the wood-and-stone Ottoman house still held sway into the mid-20th century. In a terrible state of neglect until recently, the Divriği houses, across town from the Darüşşifa mosque and hospital complex that draws travelers here, are now being renovated en masse, with residents being re-housed temporarily while the wooden doors, windows and ceilings of their homes are renewed. The magnificent Abdullah Paşa Konağı is open to the public, who can admire the rough-hewn tree trunks used as support columns on the ground floor. As yet, none of the houses has been converted into a hotel despite the urgent need to do this in a town that is almost bereft of places to stay.



En route from Safranbolu to Amasya travelers pass through Kastamonu, a fascinating town with countless minor historic monuments up its sleeve. This is a particularly good place for those who want to stay in a restored Ottoman house with the Toprakçılar Konaği (tel: 0366-212 1812) and the Uğurlu Konağı (tel: 0366-212 8202) both offering modern comforts in fine old properties.




Taraklı and Göynük

For those wanting to drive slowly from İstanbul to Ankara, one option is to divert south from Sakarya (Adapazarı) and then head slightly off the road to visit Taraklı, a lovely small town that retains much of its old Ottoman housing stock and is in the throes of extensive regeneration. Even better is Göynük, whose Monday market is a colorful treat and where the Akşemsettinoğlu Konağı (tel: 0374-451 6278) offers beds for the night in an Ottoman mansion whose top-floor lounge equals in beauty that of the Selvili Koşk in Safranbolu.




It's a rare foreigner who makes it to Akşehir, midway between Afyon and Konya, and the last resting place of Middle Eastern funnyman, Nasrettin Hoca. You can't stay in any Ottoman houses here but the local archeology museum is housed inside the beautiful Rüstü Bey Konağı and there's a great café in the Akşehir Evi, just two of the lovely old buildings recently found new uses.
Also worth a look: Alanya (beyond the Red Tower), Ankara (Ulus to Hamamönü neighborhoods), Bartın, Burdur, Çorum, Isparta, Kemaliye, Konya (around the shrine of the Mevlana), Sivrihisar, and Zile.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

İzmir is a turn for the best in western Turkey

İzmir is a turn for the best in western Turkey

Pedestrians stroll along İzmir's famous waterfront. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
March 12, 2014, Wednesday/ 14:54:00

We were lost the moment we left the parking lot at the İzmir Adnan Menderes Airport. The rental car company had provided only a map of the entire country, I'd forgotten to download directions to the hotel on my phone, and I hadn't paid for international data before heading overseas for a three-week trip to Anatolia and Cyprus. Perhaps this car rental idea of mine would prove to be a terrible one.

Except, it didn't. And if you're up for a slightly harrowing series of road trips, the southwest Turkish coast is a fantastic place to explore by automobile. Some of the stretches of roadway are straight out of a James Bond car chase, or a round of one of my favorite childhood video games: Cruis'n World. And some of the destinations, from the magical calcite travertines of a national park outside a tiny town called Pamukkale to the spectacular ruins atop the panoramic hillside village of Behramkale, were well worth the number of times my knuckles turned pasty at the wheel of that Ford diesel sedan.
First, though, my girlfriend and I had to get to the hotel in İzmir. It was way outside the town center, along a waterfront road to the west, and I had no idea how to get there or even where we were or which direction was north. So I drove, hoping to find someplace with obvious WiFi so that I could download a map. It was half an hour before we found a little cafe with Internet access north of İzmir, on the road back to Istanbul. But even after I'd connected, I couldn't get either Apple or Google Maps to locate the hotel and pull up a route.

I started asking the restaurant workers for help, with little result, until an older gentleman sitting at the table next to me told the guy who spoke the best English to tell me this:
"Follow me. I'll show you."

For the next half hour, I did my best to keep up as his white cargo van zipped in and out of traffic at a pretty consistent 70 mph. At one point, he pulled over on the highway shoulder, ran to my car window in the pouring rain and pointed in the direction of the exit. Helplessly, I showed him on my phone where my hotel was and did my best to pronounce the name in a Turkish accent. He looked at the phone, looked at me, and motioned for me to follow him again.
Ten minutes later, he pulled right up to the lobby of the Wyndham İzmir Ozdilek. That entire leg of the trip was completely out of his way. I leaped out of the car and thanked him profusely. He smiled and drove off.

The next day, undaunted, I charted a course in Apple Maps for Pamukkale, some three hours away. Google Maps doesn't maintain its turn-by-turn function once you disconnect from WiFi, but Apple Maps does. As long as you stay on the route you've chosen, the app will continue to tell you when to turn right and left, and which leg of the roundabout to veer into on your way out of a circle.
So the trip to the park would allow absolutely no room for side ventures, which was fine. We didn't have much time to get there and wander around before sunset, and that pressure gave me license to drive fast and furious, as if I were being chased.

Pamukkale is best explored in a circular fashion, beginning at the south gate and traipsing up the hill above those travertines, a series of saucers and cliffs formed over centuries by tooth-white calcite deposits, to the ruins of Heirapolis, an ancient Roman and Byzantine spa city. Paved pathways and wooden-bridge walkways lead from one relic to the next, allowing visitors to explore a tourist attraction that dates to 190 B.C.

A highlight is the Roman theater, built for 12,000 spectators and completely accessible today. From there, we sauntered past the Arch of Domitian to the Roman baths, imagining what it must have been like to take a dip here two millennia ago. At the park's north gate, you turn back in the other direction and look across the "Cotton Castle" (pamuk in English means cotton), discovering the first glimpses of calcite blanketing the hillside like snow and petrifying leaves and twigs that have fallen into its path over the years.

A path meanders atop the travertines back toward the entrance, where the best part awaits. Here, warm mineral-rich water flows over the cliffs and into pools cut perfectly into the rock. Visitors take off their shoes and step onto the calcite, which is a perfect texture for barefoot walking, soft but stable, and our bare feet clung to the tiny ridges in the travertines. Even underwater, it's nearly impossible to lose your footing.

This side of Pamukkale is the payoff, and as the sun set it cast a long, gorgeous light across the cliffs. You could theoretically lie all the way down in some of the bigger pools, but the water is only a few inches deep, and the substrate is a milky white mud. Swimmers head back toward the entrance, to the antique pool. I found that part a little commercialized, but in the summer, I'm sure that it would be a nice place to cool off.

The next day, after the Indy 500 drive back to the hotel, we headed north, to another mystical destination: Behramkale and Assos, at the southern end of Turkey's Biga Peninsula, 160 miles from Izmir. Like the trip to Pamukkale, most of the drive there had more interesting traffic-dodging than scenery, save for a worthwhile stop in Ayvalik, renowned for its "tost," which is the most overhyped delicacy I've ever experienced. The basic version is nothing more than a grilled cheese panini. Ask for "everything," and they slap a few canned meats, peppers and onions on top. Eat it because you're basically required to at some point, but don't expect anything amazing.

The last 10 miles or so of the drive is a beachfront stretch of narrow, potholed roadway that winds its way among olive trees and past seaside hotels with hammocks calling out to weary travelers. It's what I expected this entire length of the coast to be, but most of the road is a fast-moving highway, tucked inland and away from any sublime views.

In the former Greek settlement of Behramkale, narrow cobblestone streets wind their way up to the top of a perfect dome of a hill, where a kindly old man finds you a place to park. A short, steep walk to an entrance gate gets you into the Temple of Athena, a 6th-century B.C. Ionic temple, whose 360-degree vista is much more impressive than the ruins themselves. On the January day we were there, we had the place to ourselves. But for the wind, rolling up from the sea, it was the quietest place I've been in months.

There isn't much in the way of signage at Behramkale, so it's hard to tell when you're in the village and when you're not. The Lonely Planet guidebook described this as a place of "twin villages," not just Behramkale but also Assos. I assumed at first that the two were indistinguishable, that you skipped through one and then the next on the way up that hill.

I was, happily, wrong. On the way back down, a somewhat terrifying cliffside road drops like a meteor into the seaside village of Assos, founded by Mysians in the 8th century B.C. Today, its roads are barely an automobile wide. Aristotle lived here from 348 to 345 B.C. A nice place to write, surely.

Eager to begin the long drive home, we only cruised from one end of the village to the next, wishing that we'd rented a hotel room here so that we didn't have to haul all the way back to İzmir after only a couple of hours at our destination. Next time.

At the end of both of our long road trips from the busy seaport of İzmir, we dined at the same place: Sakiz, just off the main waterfront drag of Ataturk Caddesi. The first time, it was a deliberate choice, a restaurant that both Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor agreed was worth a stop. That night, we ate some of the most delicious and different food we'd had in Turkey, where restaurateurs don't typically veer far from the standard mezze options of grilled lamb and eggplant. Sakiz burst at the seams with creative dishes and fantastic seafood. We had baked octopus on a bed of eggplant and calamari.
Here, we got a real feel for İzmir's reputation as a more laid-back, progressive answer to Istanbul. A pair of local folk artists — a singer and her guitar accompanist — played an assortment of Turkish traditional hits, evidenced by the chorus of people in the restaurant who knew the words to every song and, at their favorite parts, belted them out loud.

After dinner, a professorial gent in a tweed blazer stood and invited the man at the table next to him — a stranger, as far as I could gather — to dance. The man smiled and got right out of his seat, and before long, half the people in the restaurant were spinning and twirling. This is not the kind of thing that you'd see in buttoned-down Istanbul, and it was delightful.

The second night, feeling adventurous, I asked Apple Maps to guide me to a restaurant called Gozlemicim, at the top of a monstrous hill in İzmir, that allegedly served the best gozleme in the city. It wasn't until we'd spent a frustrating hour hunting for the place that the proprietors of a small Internet cafe informed us that gozleme is a breakfast food (it's a Turkish pancake) and that Gozlemicim is a breakfast joint. We moped back down the hill and hoped that Sakiz was still open. It was, and we dined there on sea bass and seafood pasta.

The next day, we were supposed to go to the region's crown jewel: Ephesus, which Lonely Planet bills as the "best-preserved ruins in the Mediterranean." But we skipped that, a decision that has drawn some wide-eyed disbelief from travelers who've been there. We were suffering from ruin ennui by that point, and even after nearly two weeks in Turkey, our only bazaar experience had been a whirlwind trip through the spice bazaar in Istanbul. The Kemeralti Bazaar in İzmir was supposed to be a better deal than Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, and we'd finally gotten sick of driving. So, yes, we skipped the most touristy thing you can do in the region and never looked back.

The Kemeralti wasn't amazing or anything, but on the sleepy Monday we ventured there, it was easy to navigate and uncrowded. The only pushy shopkeepers were cafe proprietors, surprisingly enough, demanding that we have a Turkish coffee or smoke some shisha. Everyone else let us browse and keep walking, unmolested.

Except, that is, for a charming adolescent who spoke great English and struck up an easy conversation with me after I bought a $5 Nike knockoff duffle bag to cart home the unreasonable number of Turkish sweaters I'd picked up here and there. His name was Ahmed, and he promised to show me the best of what the bazaar had to offer — including, of course, his family's leather shop.
Normally, I'd say something polite and push off, but I liked Ahmed and didn't mind having him show us around. My girlfriend did buy a smart Burberry-style leather jacket from his brother. We haggled and got a good deal, after which Ahmed found us excellent Turkish coffee, a good barber and a place to buy stained-glass bulbous lamps, all at reasonable prices and all in enough time to make it back to the airport with ample time for our flight — even without a friendly old guide to show us the way.


Wyndham Izmir Ozdilek
Inciralti Street No. 67, Balcova
A good five-minute drive from the city center, but many of its 219 rooms have panoramic views of the water. Rooms from $100.

Key Hotel Izmir
Architect Kemalettin Street No. 1, Konak
In the heart of the city, close to Izmir's biggest bazaar and the upscale shopping center Konak Pier. Rooms from $171.


Martyr Nevresbey Boulevard 9, Alsancak
Scrumptious seafood, live traditional folk music, unpretentious and perfect. Entrees start at $18.

Sir Winston Tea House
Dr. Mustafa Bey Enver Caddesi 20
Pop in on a cold day for dozens of varieties of tea, coffee, salads, pasta and sandwiches. Entrees start at $15.


A three-hour-plus drive from Izmir, but well worth it for the moonscape of travertine cliffs. Open dawn to dusk. $9 admission fee.

Temple of Athena
Top of the hill in Behramkale village
The temple is the pinnacle of the charming twin villages of Behramkale and Assos. 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., $3.50.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day trip Cappadocia: Gülşehir, Hacıbektaş, Özkonak and Paşabağ

Day trip Cappadocia: Gülşehir, Hacıbektaş, Özkonak and Paşabağ

Shrine at Hacıbektaş
April 13, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

“One day Hacı Bektaş Veli was at a meeting with his followers, but although he seemed to be with them physically it also felt as if he was very far away from them at the same time. Eventually he seemed to come back again and some people asked him where he had been. ‘I went to the Black Sea to save two ships that were sinking,' he answered. Not surprisingly, they were reluctant to believe him, so to prove that he was telling the truth the hoca (teacher) shook the sleeves of his robe. When he did so two small fish fell out.”
We were standing in front of the grand entrance leading into the shrine of Hacı Bektaş Veli, an Islamic mystic who is particularly revered by the Alevis and the Bektaşı sect. As our guide Fırat talked to us so he pointed to the bottom of the doorframe and there, sure enough, amid the otherwise stereotypically geometric carvings I saw two tiny carved fish, symbolizing in stone this rather wonderful story.
Until recently Hacıbektaş has been something of a touristic also-ran, hunkered down on the northern outskirts of Cappadocia, rarely visited by foreign visitors except during the annual three-day festival in August when the town breaks out in song and dance and informal trips from Göreme are sometimes organized. Now all that is about to change with the introduction of a new day trip that takes visitors to the shrine. It's a particularly welcome development given that the museum associated with it has recently been given a complete make-over and now offers an intriguing insight into aspects of Turkish culture that rarely get a look-in in mainstream coverage.
Hacı Bektaş Veli was a mystic who is believed to have arrived in Central Anatolia from Horasan on the borders of what are now Iran and Afghanistan some time in the 13th century when this part of the world was under the control of the Selçuks, governing from Konya. In some versions of his life story he is said to have been carried here by pigeons and so on the insides of that same elaborate doorframe leading into his shrine the custodian pointed out small carvings that she insisted were stylized birds.
The Bektaşı order of dervishes was founded either by Veli or by Balım Sultan who is buried in a separate building across the garden from the main shrine. It became highly influential in Ottoman times mainly because most members of the powerful Janissary military corps signed up to its beliefs. That influence was largely lost in 1826 when Sultan Mahmud II overthrew the Janissaries. Such latent power as they retained was completely vanquished in 1925 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk abolished all Turkey's remaining dervish orders. Today, Hacı Bektaş Veli remains hugely important to the Alevis and is revered by many Sunni worshippers, too.
The tiny fish and stylized pigeons aside, the shrine is full of symbols, including lions and double-pointed swords that represent the fourth caliph Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. Much of the symbolism is hard for outsiders to understand although everyone will quickly grasp the significance of the number 12; like the Shiites, Alevis revere the 12 imams who are descended from Ali. Set into the walls of the shrine you will see small 12-pointed stones called teslimtası, while the museum showcases contain elaborately decorated palenktaşı, pennants that used to be worn by the dervishes. Most strikingly, in the museum you will see examples of the Hüseyin-i taç, a high 12-sided felt hat worn by the dervishes that is also reproduced in stone on the top of their tombstones in the graveyard outside.

The Açık Saray and St John's Church, Gülşehir

The new tour kicks off with a visit to another under-visited site just north of Nevşehir. The so-called Açık Saray (Open Palace) was not actually a palace at all. Instead, it was the setting for a series of what are thought to have been sixth or seventh-century rock-cut monasteries, all of them long since collapsed although their facades, inset with horseshoe-arch-shaped blind arcading, clearly reveal their locations.
The monasteries are set in a quiet valley full of silvery poplars that is also home to one of the more bizarre of the rock formations created over time by the wind and rain eating away at volcanic deposits. The Mantarkaya (Mushroom Rock) is indeed shaped like a giant frilly-edged toadstool from beside which you get a fine view out over the valley.
But the real gem of Gülşehir is the hidden church of St John (also known as the St Jean Church or the Karşı Kilise). Today modern housing on the road leading to the church somewhat detracts from its setting, but once you arrive you're in for a wonderful surprise. Externally there's nothing to suggest what you will find when you step across the threshold of a seemingly small and unexciting conical rock formation. Once inside, however, your eyes are drawn immediately to what was once the upper floor of a small church, its walls and ceiling completely covered with vividly colored frescoes.
These are some of the finest frescoes to be seen in Cappadocia, a region that is justly renowned for its medieval artworks. Our guide runs through the various Bible stories to be seen on the walls, and draws our attention to the image of St George, the patron saint of Cappadocia, battling his dragon above the window. But perhaps the single most interesting image he points out to us is the large one of the Last Judgment with angels weighing souls, then assigning the dead to heaven or hell that sits just beneath it. This is a common image in English churches, but in Cappadocia this is the only example that has ever been discovered.
Unusually, a surviving inscription means that the frescoes in the church can be dated with precision to the year 1212. The portrait of a female donor can be seen in all her Byzantine finery just to the right of the Last Judgment scene.


On the way back from Hacıbektaş our tour takes us to Özkonak, a dusty, small settlement near the pottery-making town of Avanos, which is home to one of the more than 30 “underground cities” currently open to the public across Cappadocia. The story of its discovery is worth recalling. Apparently an imam was out tending his garden when all of a sudden a hole opened up in the ground and he found himself staring down into an underground cave labyrinth complete with narrow tunnels and huge rolling stones that could be used to close them off from intruders.
Cappadocia's underground cities are one of its most attractive features as far as visitors of a non-claustrophobic disposition are concerned. Oddly, though, very little can be said about them with any certainty given the absence of written records. It's thought that some at least date back to Hittite times although all were probably expanded in the early Middle Ages during the years when the newly invigorated Arabs were riding north from their homeland and the early Christian residents of Cappadocia felt the need to hide underground for months at a time to protect themselves.
Özkonak is not as large a complex as the better known ones at Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı. Once underground, however, it's virtually impossible to get any sense of how far down into the earth you have gone, so for most people it will serve as a perfect introduction, not too cramped, not too crowded and not taking too long to visit so that there's still time left in the day to see other things, too.

Wild fairy chimneys, Paşabağ


From Özkonak our tour brought us home again across Turkey's longest river, the Kızılırmak, in Avanos before concluding with a quick look at Paşabağ, home to some of Cappadocia's most striking fairy-chimney rock formations including the three-headed ones that always remind me of bunches of asparagus spears. It was a scene that offered the perfect ending for a tour that had taken us just far enough off the beaten track to make us feel like real Cappadocian explorers.
Pat Yale's tour was sponsored by Heritage Travel in Göreme (; tel: 0384-271 2687)

Lion fountain at shrine of Hacıbektaş

Museum at Hacıbektaş

Museum at Hacıbektaş



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