Inside story: Çamlıhemşin

A journey through Turkish homes

By Lynn Gilbert | February 20, 2015


In this blog series, the photographer Lynn Gilbert takes us on a journey through Turkish homes.

There are a couple of thousand people living in Çamlıhemşin, a small town on a plateau in the mountainous area of Rize, in the Eastern Black Sea region.

Looking up from the base of the rolling mountains, covered with a dense mix of dark green trees, you can spot houses here and there, but there is no way of getting to them without a local guide. You drive on dirt roads with hairpin turns, with the wheels of your vehicle only a millimetre from the edge. And then there are the many forks in the road: miss the right one and you might never find your way back through the labyrinth.

Once you and your guide arrive at a parking area, there are no more roads. Then you climb – you really climb. The rocky pathways to many of the houses are lightly trod, slippery and treacherous. When the path is at the edge of the mountain, you dare not look down to admire the breathtaking scenery for fear you just might end up falling into the forest.

Some of the houses are more recently built; others seem to be out of a storybook, transporting you back in time. There are single homes, spaced far apart, and there are houses that appear to be so closely linked that as you cross the stone paths it feels as though you are going down a hallway.

It’s the really old dwellings that create the magic in this area. Each has its own character. Built a couple of hundred years ago, they sit on the edge of the mountain, weathered from age and seemingly small and fragile, with their fronts resting on stilts. Looking at them you feel that if you stepped inside the floor might cave in. These houses, though, are rock solid and substantially larger than they appear. Passed down from generation to generation, their value is incalculable and they are never for sale.

In the photograph above, the coarsely wood-framed window is the beating heart of the room, drawing the eye from one spectacular mountain range to the next. The mathematically partitioned windowpanes reinforce the drama of the view by breaking it into parts. The tiny patch of houses in a meadow in the far distance anchors you to the real world, confirming that what you are seeing is not a fantasy.

Faded rust-coloured fabric covers the seat of the wide, hard divan, and a deep skirt of the same fabric, roughly stitched along the edge, falls to the floor. Scattered on the divan are pillows in a deep unfaded rust of the same pattern, casually mixed with bright pink cotton pillows. Narrow panels painted the same rust colour are framed by unpainted wood.

This is a quietly thought-out room. It is also lived in. The pillows are left unplumped. The table, covered in a plastic cloth, is used for cleaning vegetables, which the lady of the house did as she sat facing me while I photographed her and the room.

What gives this room that final ‘snap’ are the plain white fabric curtains – one nailed to the corner of the side window and casually falling in clumps onto a pillow, the other nailed by its two corners to the right-hand frame of the centre window and then unceremoniously draped over a lower divider.

Here in this calm and vibrant mountain room, you feel at peace and at one with the world. And what a gorgeous world it is.

Lynn Gilbert, an established photographer, has been fascinated with people’s living environments since her early teens. Visiting 60 countries in six decades, she has seen more than 3,000 houses and 20,000 rooms. In her nine extended trips to Turkey, Gilbert became fascinated with the unique quality of the Turkish home. Her photographic study documents – for the first time – the beautiful old houses, both humble and affluent, that form part of Turkey’s cultural heritage. Please visit her website for more photographs.

Copyright Lynn Gilbert. 

Posted in Architecture, Design, Photography, Travel
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