Safranbolu, a fairytale town from the Ottoman era
I arrived in Safranbolu on Christmas Eve. When I asked for a place to stay for the night, they suggested Sister Zeyno’s. She was already at the front door downstairs waiting for me. She is the owner of a tiny three-story mansion, a typical Safranbolu house. She converted it into a hostel when her husband passed away years ago. She runs the hostel by herself, and does not hire a helper because she cannot trust anyone. Room rates are much more affordable than other hip tourist hostels.
Bazaars within bazaars
Safranbolu is packed with some of the finest examples of Ottoman Turkish architecture and is featured on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The district, reminiscent of an open-air museum, is made up of two main areas set along the slopes of a deep valley: The Town (Şehir) and the Fields (Bağlar). For a bird’s eye view, from which to see the town below, Hıdırlık Hill is the perfect spot. After a number of hours in pursuit of local culture in the old quarter, I headed to Safranbolu’s Historic Bazaar. The restaurants easily found along the town’s historic, narrow streets are a favorite spot for tourists. These authentic restaurants that give the feeling of an Ottoman banquet use the spice in everything from soup to rice, desserts, and pastry. Saffron, which can also be used in tea and sherbet, also adds flavor to chicken and fish sauces – and adds wonders to the local Turkish delight. My next stop was the Yemeniciler Arastası (Yemeniciler Bazaar) –formerly known as Lonca Bazaar. The bazaar, made up of 48 stalls and built in 1661 by Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmet Pacha in order to fund the foundation which formed a part of his namesake mosque, is one of the most characteristic parts of the town. The bazaar lays testament to the local guild associations that haven’t been in Safranbolu since the 1940s and has been open to visitors since restoration efforts by the Culture Ministry were completed in 1989. Today, the market is full of small workshops producing leather shoes known as “yemeni” and souvenir shops aimed at tourists.
Codes of the old houses
As you continue to explore the town’s narrow streets, you ultimately feel something of its spirit. The houses that line these streets possess even larger gardens. The tiny bridges that unite the banks of the Akarsu River are reminiscent of the buttons of a shirt. Aside from historical attractions such as the Governor’s House (Kaymakamlar Evi), St. Stefan Church (Ulu Mosque), the Old Mosque (Gazi Süleyman Paşa Mosque), Köprülü Mehmet Paşa Mosque, the Historical Washhouse (Tarihî Çamaşırhane) and Safranbolu homes themselves make us feel as though time has stopped. I’d especially like to draw attention to the Asmazlar Pool Mansion. This is one mansion in Safranbolu that is fitted with its own pool. The pools here are unusually located inside the actual building. The pool room, which can be seen in the town’s lavish stately homes, would once have been used as a place for gentlemen to relax. The houses of the area are built in harmony with the shape of the streets. Their ground floors are made of stones built strictly in line with the natural bounds of the street. The secret of the top floors of these expansive structures is quite simple, however, the supporting beams are built towards the street. Thanks to this technique, the rooms of the top floor represent living spaces. The halls of all these homes had an important use as communal areas with people being seated on hall lay on the floors. The room with the best view in the house was reserved for guests of the newly-weds. These rooms were decorated with the most beautiful bay windows. The main way a homeowner could show off their wealth was in the amount and quality of wooden furnishing they possessed.
You can trace Safranbolu traditions both in social relations and architectural details. Most architectural details originate from social issues. For example, when a wealthy family had a fountain built on the inner wall of their courtyard, they would also have a fountain built on the outer wall for public use. The courtyard and bay window are built in search for privacy. Far from prying eyes, safely living inside… Or closet-baths in mansion rooms, there is a fireplace-stove in every bedroom and a shower in the closet next to the stove called the bathing closet. Like en-suite bathrooms today... Most of those who lived in Safranbolu during Ottoman times owned second homes nearer the Bağlar area. Despite being located only three kilometers from the main town, most of the homes in this area were generally much more serene, with vast, well-kept gardens. In order to really get a feel for the area, simply stroll round the streets surrounded by idyllic countryside before sitting in the shade of a plane tree to enjoy a glass of tea. The most exceptional woodwork in the area adorns one of its loveliest homes, the Emirhocazade Ahmet Beyler House. One of the rooms of this fourth-century-old home has survived almost perfectly intact to this day. The wood carvings which cover the walls and ceiling of the room have preserved their beauty throughout the ages are formed of 16 smaller parts bound together with wooden nails. According to homeowners who have passed the story on throughout the ages, the ceiling alone required the work of nine craftsmen working for over 45 days. My last pit-stop before leaving Bağlar was the Kavuşturucular House, one of the oldest homes in the town, which has since been turned into a hotel, having accommodated a number of famous guests. A visual wonder, Safranbolu protected by UNESCO, is very rich with its long-standing traditions, social life and the stories that surround it. For those who are curious, chat with tradesmen and local families, eavesdrop on the tables around, sit in a corner, and observe. That will suffice, right?