Inside story: Safranbolu

A journey through Turkish homes

By Lynn Gilbert | January 16, 2015


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

I took the above image inside a house in Safranbolu, a glorious old city that has fortunately been preserved as a World Heritage Site. The houses here are solid and substantial and look as though they will be here for many generations to come. Of three or four storeys, they are generally white with black-framed windows, randomly placed amongst pockets of trees on a hillside. They have an air of the old Tudor style of architecture, except for their roofs, which are quite distinctive: red tiles, a sizeable overhang, pointing upwards in the middle, in the shape of a table napkin that has been gently pulled up in the centre. I’m not sure what culture this is inspired by – possibly Spanish – but wherever it originated, from the vantage point of a true-blue New Yorker, the whole town appears to have come right out of a storybook.

The house I visited has been in the same family for 200 years. The three sons of a carpenter wanted to sell it but, due to its location in a World Heritage Site, it could not be sold to foreigners. Apparently, it is now in the public domain.

Arriving at the door, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. What I saw from the outside was a house that looked no different from any of the other large and imposing homes in the neighbourhood. An enclosed stone courtyard, the size of a large room, was covered with luxurious vines and foliage and filled with well-maintained pots of greenery and flowers. 

The entryway inside the house was a shock. What from the outside appeared immaculate was dingy, dark and dusty inside. The light from a small window lit huge terracotta urns covered with dust, huge old wooden wheels leaning against a stone wall, children’s playthings and a scattering of shoes. My heart sank.

But when you've gone into someone’s house, you can’t just turn on your heels and run. And taking pictures takes time, so I went in. I’ve since learned at times like this just to take a few shots and leave, which I’ve now done on hundreds of occasions.

Entering the living room, my eyes nearly popped out of my head and my heart started pounding. In the middle of this huge room was a pool! I later found out that it was filled with about two tonnes of water. The room explodes with character. The extraordinary bones: the pool, the carved-wood ceiling, the cream-coloured walls, the blue-painted pool, the placement of long, red-covered banquettes along the walls and the exquisite placement of tasselled pillows at strategic points. Centred between the windows is the one image common to almost every home in Turkey: a portrait of Atatürk.

I don’t remember seeing any other home in Turkey with the typical European-style window treatment of a valance and curtains pulled back with ties. Ninety-nine percent of the hundreds and hundreds of the old homes I’ve seen have sheer, white curtains, most with a delicate pattern. 

On the walls and the table in front of the pool, the treasures accumulated by the family in their 200 years here, and the extraordinary care they have taken in maintaining this house, reveal roots deeply entrenched not just in their home, but also in the community.

For more on this house, the Mümtazlar Konağı, see Cornucopia 19.

Lynn Gilbert has been fascinated with people’s living environments since she was 16 years old. She has travelled the world photographing houses for most of her career. In nine trips to Turkey, Gilbert has photographed hundreds of homes in an effort to capture the living conditions of Turkish people, both affluent and modest, and to document the beautiful old houses 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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