Üzümlü village defines era of modern houses

Üzümlü village defines era of modern houses

Wilco Van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Üzümlü village defines era of modern houses

In 1985 to 1986 the people of Bilecik’s Üzümlü village moved from the old village to the new village. The reason: There was a danger of a landslide.

It was already late in the afternoon when I finally arrived in Üzümlü, 75 kilometers away from Bilecik. In a house just next to the main road a group of women are cooking something in the garden. Smoke slowly rises up and when I approach them I see they are making yufka (a thin kind of bread that is baked on a hot stone until the dough is dry. This is a typical Yörük (nomad) way of preparing bread. This way the bread weighs less and will not spoil. When you want to use it you wet the bread a bit, heat it up and you have fresh bread) and gözleme (a kind of pancake filled with potato, spinach, cheese or minced meat). A young woman carries a two-meter-long wooden “shelf” with some pieces of dough on it. She slowly walks to the oven that is in the backyard. The oven is an old-fashioned cob oven; I think probably the best kind of oven you can find in the whole world. Throughout the ages in many different countries people used to use this kind of oven to prepare their food. 

Strange village

The village is four kilometers further and from this point it looks strange. This is not a Turkish village. I ask the woman why the village looks so planned. The streets are straight with blocks of houses filling up the area. I cannot think of another place in Turkey that has such a layout and this is just a small village. According to statistics 556 people were living in Üzümlü. In 2009 this number decreased to 247. All I see are older people, but I cannot see any old houses. Generally when I visit a village I see a lot of new houses. It is as if Turkish people hate to live in old houses while, in my opinion, the older houses have charm, character and are healthier. Here in this village I did not see one old house. I was surprised. What happened to the old village, is there an old village, where is the old village? Question after question I fired at the women and they were a bit surprised by it. “Don’t you like our village?” Emine asked me. I told her that I was surprised by the lack of old houses. I could not believe what I heard when she told me what happened. 

In 1985 to 1986 the people of Üzümlü moved from the old village to the new village. The reason: There was a danger of a landslide and to minimize the risk the government decided that the village had to be evacuated. From that moment on the people of Üzümlü have lived in their new “modern” houses. No character, same design, same amount of square meters. 

The old village is three kilometers away from the new place. It took me just a couple of minutes to drive there and after taking a last turn I saw what I was looking for. To make my trip a bit more interesting I invited two women to come along with me, Mazlume and Emine. Why did I do that? Because since 1986 they had never gone to their houses again. This would be the first time they saw their houses. 

Conditions of houses

Mazlume gave me the directions and in front of an old house she told me to stop. This house was still in fairly good condition compared to some of the other houses I saw while driving through the old streets of Üzümlü. Mazlume walked to her house, got a set of keys out of her pocket and tried to unlock the door. Meanwhile Emine looked around. It was as if she was in a state of shock; with empty eyes she was staring around. Mazlume opened the door and invited me in. I look around; it is as if they left the place last week. There is just a thick layer of dust and spider webs in every corner of the house that show this place was abandoned years ago. It must be strange to visit your house after so many years; I cannot believe that this woman has never been to her house again. I thank her for sharing this experience and walk around in the village. Of the 50 houses that were once there about 10 of them have collapsed completely. In spite of the risk there are still a couple of people who did not want to abandon their houses. It must be strange to live in a ghost village. 

Once upon a time this must have been a cute little place. The houses I see (and that still are in reasonable condition) are beautiful and of course, my favorite, made of cob. It gives me the feeling of Safranbolu, Şirince or Cumalıkızık but then a raw and abandoned version. It is a pity that they cannot do anything about this landslide danger, because this would definitely be one of those picturesque nostalgic places Turkey needs. Maybe some engineer will read this and decide to try to save this village and restore all the buildings, which now has to deal with a big problem: The extinction of the new village.