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.


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