Turkey of the regions 5: The styles of the Aegean

3rd, 2014
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During the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, settlements along the Aegean coast lived in close relationship with those on the Greek islands just offshore.

Not surprisingly, that closeness is reflected in the architectural styles of the Turkish coastline, especially north of İzmir, where many of the towns and villages still retain street upon street of neat townhouses very much like those to be seen on the neighboring islands. The prime examples are Bozcaada, Ayvalık, Yeni Foça and Alaçatı.

South of İzmir, the architecture changes quite dramatically. With its neat little whitewashed houses, Bodrum could easily have strayed from Rhodes, for example. Ditto with the Saburhane district of Muğla.

Then, there is the special case of Akyaka, where the self-taught architect Nail Çakırhan created an attractive new vernacular of whitewashed houses with wood trims loosely based on the old houses of Ula.


There are many reasons why the island of Bozcaada, near Ezine, is so attractive. There’s the Bodrum-style giant castle. There are the lovely sandy beaches. There are the boutique wineries. But above all there is the architecture.

Against all the odds, Bozcaada town has so far managed to retain its late Ottoman townscape almost intact. Step off the ferry and within minutes you’re wandering in narrow streets lined with elegant small townhouses. To the right around the church are the homes once lived in by Greeks, to the left around the mosque those occupied by Turks.

Perhaps predictably, the houses of Bozcaada are being converted into boutique hotels at great speed. Some, such as Rengigül Konukevi (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 81 71), are absolute classics, their owners’ personalities written right through them; others, such as the Katina Hotel (Tel.: 0 [286] 697 02 42), depend more on the vision of a professional designer.


The second of Turkey’s two occupied Aegean islands, Gökçeada is more secretive than Bozcaada, with most of its older settlements hidden in the hills. Both Tepeköy and Zeytinli feel like villages that have somehow managed to fly across the water from the Greek islands, but potentially the most attractive is Yukarı Kaleköy, which hovered, largely ignored, above the small resort of Kaleköy until recently when renovators moved in and started a meticulous restoration of its old stone houses. In the foreseeable future this will be a gem of a place to stay where no doubt boutique pensions will sprout at a furious pace.

Ayvalık and Cunda

Whisking through the olive oil-producing town of Ayvalık on the coast road you could be forgiven for failing to notice what makes it tick. But the endless rows of lovely stone townhouses that fill its back streets are a reflection of the town’s very particular history.

In 1770 after a battle between the Ottoman and Russian navies, the Greek residents of Ayvalık gave refuge to Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Paşa, the defeated Ottoman admiral. In gratitude he saw that the town was granted virtual autonomy in 1773, and it went on to become a wholly Greek settlement. What this meant was that in 1923 when all the “Greeks” were required to leave the country the town completely emptied. Even today many old houses still stand empty in the heart of the modern town that grew up around them. The same is also true on Cunda, the island across the bay that is now connected to it by a causeway.

As in Bozcaada, several of Ayvalık’s fine old townhouses have been converted into pensions, with even more of them on Cunda. Stay at the Bonjour Pansiyon (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 80 85) for a peek at the sort of décor and furnishing that used to go with these houses, or at the rambling Taksiyarhis Pension (Tel.: 0 [266] 312 14 94), where you’ll be bedding down just meters from one of the town’s huge 19th-century churches.

Yeni Foça

The small beach resort of Yeni Foça, north of İzmir, has also managed to hang onto a virtually unspoiled townscape of small one and two-story stone-built townhouses, often with shuttered windows. One of the most atmospheric streets is the narrow one beside the Griffon Boutique Hotel (Tel.: 0 [232] 814 78 28), housed in what was once an old olive oil factory. Here the houses are reminiscent of those in one of the old mill towns of northern England with crosses etched above the doorframes to indicate the religion of the workers who used to live in them.


Near Çeşme, Alaçatı’s intact core of neat little stone townhouses with jutting wooden cumbas (bay windows) has been both its fortune and its downfall. Come here in shoulder season and you will no doubt fall in love with these elegant houses and with the lovely hotels created out of them, including the mother of them all, the Alaçatı Taş Otel (Tel.: 0 [232] 716 77 72). Come in July or August, however, and it will be much harder to appreciate them because of the sheer quantity of visitors, mainly from İstanbul, crowding into narrow streets never intended for such numbers. The answer would be to come in low season — except that Alaçatı more or less closes down out of season. The lovely Bey Evi (Tel.: 0 [232] 716 80 85) should be open all year round.

Alsancak, İzmir

For many visitors, İzmir is a scarily large town with a lot of very ugly architecture. Give it a try, though, and you may stumble upon Alsancak, the neighborhood to the north of the bay where, in streets of tiny houses, each with their jutting cumba, you will get some impression of what the town must have looked like before the terrible fire of 1922 that destroyed most of the old buildings. The Alsancak houses have mainly been turned into bars and restaurants, which means that you can visit to admire them but not, for the time being, stay in any of them.

Bodrum and the Bodrum Peninsula

Before Alaçatı started to steal some of its thunder Bodrum was the holiday destination of choice for Turkey’s rich and famous who loved the cute little white houses that rambled round the ruins of the Mausoleum and tumbled down the hillside to the sea, their gables flipped up at the end in very Greek style. Those houses are still there, although planning rules are slowly being stretched to allow more and more building and more and more idiosyncrasies that detract from a town that was once mainly lovely because of its homogeneity.

Out on the adjoining peninsula the story is also of encroaching sprawl although there are still pockets of architectural interest. Take the abandoned settlement of Sandıma, near Yalıkavak, for example, where you can still see oh-so-Greek-looking village architecture, albeit in ruins. Or Eski Karakaya, near Gümüşlük where similar houses have been restored and re-inhabited. Then there’s the inland town of Ortakent, which still sports a couple of the sort of defensive tower-houses that are common on the Mani Peninsula in Greece.


Inland from Bodrum, the provincial capital Muğla is a thoroughly delightful small town, with one quarter, the Saburhane, full of whitewashed stone houses not unlike those of old Bodrum but without the visitors. But Muğla is also home to several distinctive architectural quirks that are particularly regional. There are, for example, the lovely wooden gates into which are set two small doors with ogival flourishes. “Kuzu kapıları [lamb gates],” they’re called, and you can see a fine example in the Konakaltı İskender Alper Cultural Center.

Then there are the low-slung local villas with sweeping ground floor bay windows designed to look out onto an enclosed garden. One of them, the Hacıkadı Evi, is open to the public.

Finally, there are the chimneys. This part of Turkey favors tall brick chimneys capped with red tiles. You can see them, too, in the old parts of Milas and Yatağan, and in Çomakdağ, but they are so much a feature of Muğla that they are actually incorporated into the town’s emblem.


The small village of Çomakdağ, near Milas, is a curiosity, its houses hunkered down amid huge boulders rather like those of Kapıkırı (Herakleia ad Latmos). Here, though, the oldest of them are accessible not via a ground-level street door but via a wooden ladder leading directly to the first floor. Inside, the rooms are full of carved wooden beams painted in bright colors. As far as I know, it’s a one-off.


The small seaside resort of Akyaka, north of Marmaris, is also a one-off, saved from any more of the sort of brutalist modern development that mars one side of it by the vision of the architect, Nail Çakırhan (1910-2008), who took the architecture of his home village of Ula and played about with it to come up with pretty two-story houses with tiled roofs, wooden balconies and kuzu kapıları. Inside properties such as the Uğur Apart (Tel.: 0 [252] 243 40 45) and the Otel Yücelen (Tel.: 0 [252] 243 51 08) you will be able to admire the magnificent wooden ceilings that were a Çakırhan trademark. In 1983 he won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture for his work in Akyaka.


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