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.


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