Inside story: Cappadocia

A journey through Turkish homes

By Lynn Gilbert | January 30, 2015

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

In my wanderings down streets and alleyways in Cappadocia, I once chanced upon this 1876 landmark Greek house in Ürgüp (above image). Cappadocia is a World Heritage Site with many stone houses built in and on large and small caves. Apart from the grandeur of this particular house, the sign saying ‘Cappadocia Art and History Museum’ was the draw. I never pass up a museum, even if I’m ready to drop.

This house is more than a museum. It is a building painstakingly restored from a wreck to its former glory. It was once a fabulous home and today the building not only houses a museum, but also a charming boutique hotel. Part of the museum is in a small labyrinth of cave-like rooms on the lower level.

I returned to photograph this room a number of times over the years in order to capture it in the right light. This is an iconic room and I wanted to show all its bones and beauty. It incorporates all the key elements of early Turkish design that I’ve seen in my travels around the country.

The arch is a significant architectural feature of the old stone houses in Turkey. The shape frequently appears as a small opening in wood-panelled walls and cabinetry. Treasured objects are tucked into these cubbyhole openings for unexpected discoveries.

The white curtains, in lace or a gauze-like fabric and often with a fringe, are found in virtually every traditional home. The use of embroidered linens over the banquettes, on cushions and as drapes over boxes (as seen on the box on the left) is also common. Fireplaces, back walls and boxes or appliances are also often covered with a drape, usually in a flower-patterned fabric. The banquette, the one piece of furniture that is built in, is also found in most old Turkish homes. Here, it frames the perimeter of the room on three sides, with one part under the window, urging you to look inside the room.

This arrangement, the corners of the banquette meeting at forty-five degree angles, is not really conducive to conversation. Seated at the ends of the same banquette, you must sit on one leg – as long as your joints allow – then twist your body in order to face the person with whom you wish to speak.

Although Turks might not enjoy the ideal seating arrangement in their living rooms, they have something far more precious: families with a powerful sense of belonging. In most homes I visited, family members, arriving unannounced at any time of day, were always welcomed with open arms. In every place, my guide and I were instantly made to feel part of the family.

The above photograph was taken several years ago in the basement of an ordinary home in a long row of well-maintained houses on a nondescript back street in Cappadocia. The elderly couple who owned the house had lived there for many years.

The husband, a farmer, used to park his red tractor outside the basement door. As the brilliant sunlight streamed into the sky blue room, it landed on yellow rubber boots just inside the door (not pictured here). The combination of these elements is a photographer’s dream. But then I turned around, and saw the magnificent stairway.

The deeper blue arch, with patches of grey where the paint had peeled above, looked like clouds. The arch framed and highlighted a burst of light pouring through the painted wooden grate, illuminating the wall and also cascading down the stairs, emphasising the gradations of yellow, mustard, gold, cream, touches of green and grey worn paint on the steps. The unexpected delicacy of the metal doorframe to the right of the stairs drew the eye inwards and upwards, just as the huge variations of grey patches on the floor enticed the eye back to the area below the stairs.

What finally punctuated the scene was the chartreuse curtain draped over a door on the left. When you see a totally unexpected use of a colour like this, you know it’s no accident. Whoever chose it cared deeply about not just colour, but also design and space. 

This was an utterly amazing treat. I’ve never seen a space like this before – and I probably never will again.

Lynn Gilbert has been fascinated by 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, History, Museums, Photography, Travel
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