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.



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