Have you also sometimes visited the streets of Kaleici in Antalya or another Turkish city, and noticed the beautiful old traditional historic houses? They look quite different from the houses here in Denmark with their woodwork, small bay windows, massive doors, small windows and a 1st (and sometimes 2nd) floor that “hangs” a little over the street. Many of the Ottoman houses are completely dilapidated, but more and more are fortunately restored beautifully. And after extremely tight regulations, the buildings remain as original as possible.
Now, I don’t think it’s just me who is interested in these special buildings. But if there’s anything, I’ve been interested in and fascinated by over time, it’s architecture and how things are designed. And especially buildings. But the old, traditional Turkish townhouses, I am really, really fascinated by. Maybe because they are so different. But surely because they represent an exciting and very different story and culture, which can be seen in the houses’ design.
So I should of course just read a little about them. And it turned out not just to be “a little”. It was more comprehensive, than I thought (so prepare for a slightly longer article).
Nomads, tents and building materials:
One must remember, that the Turks were originally nomads and in their time lived in tents. It means a lot for the buildings, because all the rooms in the old houses are built, so that you can eat, sleep, bathe, cook etc in each room. Ie just like you did in the tents. The building materials were also not the best or suitable for having to pass for centuries, as it was just used to quickly move on.
All Ottoman houses have the same characteristics regardless of whether they belonged to rich or poor. The only difference was just that the rich had considerably more rooms and had the opportunity to use some other materials.
The houses were all the same, but changed a little from area to area. Where you most used wood up north, elsewhere – especially in Antalya and further south – stone, brick and wood was popular. The houses in Kaleici usually has the ground floor built of stone and the 1st floor built of wood. The design itself was influenced by, for example, lifestyle, use (livestock, trade, etc.), building materials, wealth and distance to the big cities eg Istanbul, Edirne, Bursa etc. As so much else, many ideas, changes, fashion etc start from the big cities and spreads out to the country from there. And it was the same with the historic houses.
3 types of historic houses:
There are three popular types of Ottoman houses, that you can easily find in Antalya. It is actually quite nice to walk around the streets and “house-spot”.
A) Houses that have an outer hall or open space (called “sofa” or “Eyvan“) facing other houses, without a wall to hide the seatings etc .. It’s almost a kind of covered terrace or porch, where they lived a part of the family life, could keep up with the life on the street outside the house and others could also keep up with what happened inside the house. These types of houses belong to some of the oldest houses and are very typically Turkish. Later, when glass became more widespread, the outer corridor was shielded with large, simple glass sections. The most wealthy citizens had curved windows.
b + c) The second and third type of houses are most similar to each other and were built in the 19th century, but most widely used in the 20th century. Here the open spaces (ie the “sofas”) inside the houses are shielded from the outside world. You wanted a more comfortable and private life, and that means, that the floor plan is more inward-looking. As there was also an increasing influx to the cities, this meant that the grounds became smaller, the houses were build closer to eachother and prices rose. It also changed the design of the houses, so that you could use the open spaces all year round, shielded from dust, cold and curious eyes.
Islam and traditional building style
Gradually islamic and Turkish traditions and customs veri visible in the design of the Ottoman houses. The houses increasingly reflected the private family life, where the women were excluded from public life. Their lives were defined by the house walls. This is fortunately not the case today, but many places in Turkey one says, that the real master of the house is the woman. She decides at home and often controls, what should happen within the home walls.
The various household duties required organizing around open indoor spaces, so that you could still be private without, for example, wearing veil. The front of the house towards the street, was often completely without or with very few windows. The first floor rooms had windows, but covered with elaborately carved woodwork, so that the women could look out undisturbed.
I’m not that good speaking or reading Turkish, so it’s hard to find literature on the traditional Ottoman houses in Antalya. I think they might be called “Cumalikizik” and reminded a little about the iconic houses of northern Bursa. They were often on two or three floors and consisted of 2 types: those where the houses were surrounded by gardens and a wall facing the road, and those where there was a direct entrance to the house from the street. This type of house often had an inner courtyard.
In many of the houses there was a large reception room (“selamlik“) on the ground floor for the men, where one welcomed the guests, held weddings, etc. And other rooms for the women (“haremlik“). On the first floor were the bedrooms, sitting rooms, baths, etc. The 2. floor rooms and sofas were often only used during the summer.
Common to the traditional Ottoman houses was, that the furniture was packed away in small rooms, cabinets, etc., so that the room could be completely opened. Most of the rooms were heated by stoves, where you also cooked and heated water for bathing. Seating areas (“divan”) were very important and functioned as large built-in sofas, that one could also use as a bed.
If you now think, that you have seen this type of house elsewhere than in Turkey, then it is quite correct. The Ottoman Empire stretched all over the Mediterranean, so countries like Greece, the entire Balkan Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East still have many houses reminiscent of those you find in Turkey.
Many of the houses are built in wood. And although you can think yours, there was a good reason for it. Turkey is in the earthquake zone and even after several 100 years, the houses still stands. Wood survives earthquakes, as you say down there. At the same time they burn more slowly compared to houses with steel construction, if they are not built too tight.
If you want to go hunting in Kaleici, I can especially recommend looking at the many hotels and guesthouses located in the district. Some of them are remodeled old Ottoman houses of various types. I can especially recommend Tekeli Hotel (where you can also eat a really good and cozy dinner), Minyon, Char Me (which probably has the city’s best breakfast), Villa Perla, Mediterra Art, Tuvana and many, many more. They do not stand as in that time, but you can get a very clear sense of the building styles.
Especially the local city museum has some very nice descriptions, pictures and rooms that explain the daily life and decor of the houses, so it’s really worth a visit.
See this article in Danish/ Læs artiklen på dansk her