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Land of a Thousand Mansions

Country houses of the Black Sea

In 2004, the photographer Ali Konyalı set out with his publisher, Ameli Edgü, to capture the magnificent houses of Turkey’s Eastern Black Sea Mountains. The resulting book, published this summer, is a unique record of the region. Cornucopia presents 38 pages of the book’s visual highlights, with accompanying text based on the detailed knowledge of Mustafa Reşat Sümerkan, an authority on the region’s vernacular architecture. But how did these houses come to be built? The anthropologist Michael Meeker investigates

‘Most visitors who venture east of Trabzon, the great port city of Turkey’s northeast, head up to the high mountains, to walk across hills of breathtaking beauty covered in wild rhododendron, campanulas and primulas.

But the valleys have their treasures too, which visitors rush past when they head for the heights. Tea gardens, orchards and forests of chestnut and alder envelop these remote valleys in a thick mantle of green. And rising from this lushness are magnificent mansions and farmhouses, many at least a century old. They are handsome buildings, lovingly constructed of timber and stone, and perfectly fitted to the landscape and climate.

In their search for the riches of the eastern Black Sea region, the editorial team – photographer, publisher and architectural historian – set off from Trabzon towards the east. They wandered through the tea gardens of Çaglayan, a broad valley with stately, almost Elizabethan houses. They visited Çamlıhemflin, where merchants who had made fortunes abroad built massive mansions just a few yards from each other, and Hemflin, with its solid, stone-built farmhouses. In the more easily reached valleys above the small port of Arhavi, they found houses whose façades are draped with scented grapevines in the gentle climate. At fiavflat, well inland, close to the border with Georgia, they entered a landscape of Alpine chalets. And in the rainforest surrounding the tea country of Rize they visited wooden mosques that look for all the world like houses.

But these buildings are vanishing fast. When Ali Konyalı captured them on camera, he was doing so in the nick of time. City life is luring away the descendants of the men and women who built them. Inheritance laws divide and divide again until properties have dozens of owners and no single individual can take on the responsibility of maintaining them. And there is little or no funding for restoration. Many houses are simply abandoned, left to the mercy of the elements. Unless laws are passed and funds are found, this unsung heritage could soon be lost for ever.’

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 34
  • In the spirit’s wake

    At last there need be nothing between you and the Bosphorus. Patricia Daunt tells the story of how two architects created Sumahan on the Water, breathing new life into an old Ottoman spirit factory. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • Painting his way into history

    The dashing Abdülmecit Efendi was the last member of the Ottoman dynasty to hold court on the Bosphorus. This enlightened, sophisticated man with a passion for painting, son of a Sultan and cousin of the last Sultan, spent two brief years as Caliph. But in 1924, the caliphate was abolished and Abdülmecid left the city his family had captured five hundred years earlier for exile in France. His paintings, abandoned in the very studio of his house on Çamlıca Hill where he had created them, are a remarkable pictorial legacy of the last days of empire. By Philip Mansel. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • And Where Shall We Begin?

    Maureen Freely looks back on the life of the architectural historian Godfrey Goodwin, who died aged 84.

  • Championed by the cavalry

    Correct trimming of the stem is the vital first step. Instead of chopping off the hard stem caps, one should trim it into a cone shape, so that the pod then looks like a sharpened pencil and the juices remain trapped inside.
    More cookery features

  • Power Dressing

    For boldness, colour and virtuosity nothing can compare with the golden age of the Ottoman kaftan. After months of conservation work to ensure that they could travel safely, the Topkapı lent the Sackler dozens of its mesmerising royal kaftans.

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