2011
03.07

SYNOPSIS:

Life in the 18th Century – Safranbolu, a UNESCO protected Ottoman city.

I almost gave in to the urge to sleep away the day.  After 7 sleepless hours at a packed even though comfortable overland bus, it would have been easy to do.  I felt jet-lagged and groggy.  Instead, I decided to take a shower and got the jolt I needed:  There was only cold water.  Given that the room temperature showed 13 degrees Celsius (around 55 Fahrenheit) that shower was very quick.  The only way to get warm again, was to rub myself as hard as I could with a very scratchy towel.  It gets your blood flowing and gives you the illusion of warmth.  After that I put on almost all the clothes I brought.

I was awake now.  Welcome to the 18th Century!

Almost!  In the 18th century, there would have been a fire in the oven rather than my room radiator and the toilet would have been a copper bowl, a chamber pot of sorts.  I wonder though if the oven would not have been more effective… I have electricity and a TV is mounted in a corner.  My chamber pot is a European style toilet and a shower head has been installed even if it did not yet produce warm water.  I am sure that can be fixed.  And instead of mattresses on the floor (like I had at Baba Dool’s), I have a real bed in the room.  In the 17th Century that would have been considered way too defined.   Rooms were used for everything and furniture or accessories had to be movable and flexible.  But other than for these additions, my hotel is part of the UNESCO protected heritage site of Safranbolu and modern changes are strictly monitored and kept to a minimum.  But I saw solar panels on some houses today.  That was a nice idiosyncrasy.

I have tiny, leaky wooden windows with shutters.  There is wooden paneling in the entire room with beautifully carved shelves and niches, built-in closets and a checkered wooden ceiling.  There is a full-length window bench fully carpeted on which I sit and write.  My windows stretch the full length of the room as well and extend by one bay into the side walls.  This gives me a view into three directions.  It also gives me a draft from three directions…

As I learned today, the three-angled view was a sign of a particularly wonderful room which would have been given up to guests.  I don’t have a corner room, but my window side is protruding from the house façade by one bay which is held up by slanted wooden beams.  That allows the windows to wrap around and to provide the three-angle view.  It also expands the square footage of the house beyond its street-level size.  A corner room with two rows windows would rank even higher.  A full four sided wooden ledge tops the wooden panels, low enough below the ceiling so that antiques and knick-knacks can be placed on top of it.  My room is full of old stuff:  An old sewing machine, earthen jars, metal lamps, pickled vegetables.

Just like in the olden days, the bathroom is one of the few private baths in the entire house.  Remember, this is the special room for guests, but it is still just a hole in the wall.  I have to climb into what seems to be a small closet, two feet up, bending down to avoid the top, and stepping down into a space in which I can little more than turn.  But a sink and a toilet have been fit in.  The shower head when in use splashes over everything.  Keep your clothes and anything else outside the bathroom!

The wooden staircase coming up from the ground floor is carpeted.  You leave your shoes at the bottom of the stairs and walk up in your socks.  I am glad I brought some extra thick socks with me.  I would be even colder without them.  A traditional house would have been divided into a men’s side and a woman’s quarter at the mid-story.  The hall served for gatherings of both sides, to entertain guests, to play, and to pray.

Wealthy houses would have not two but three stories.  In that case, fewer functions had to be performed in one room and bedrooms could be delegated to the third floor.  Really fancy homes had swivel closets in the men’s section, so that for example, food could be served to male guests inside a room without exposing the women who had cooked it to the strangers.

And in fancy houses, there would have been some walk-through rooms connected to each other by balconies decorated with fancy latticed wood work.  The richer you were the more rooms you had and the more you would invest in your decorations; ceiling decorations in particular.  I learned all of this by visiting one of the traditional homes that had been converted into a small museum.  I was pleased to find just how authentic my hotel really is.  Except for the swivel closets and the third floor it lives up to the full range of features that make up residential Ottoman architecture.

The extraordinary wealth of over 1000 of these historic structures has given Safranbolu its UNESCO status.   I have seen a few before and after pictures of this town, and it is a miracle that it survived given the dilapidated state it had reached in the 1970’s.  So much has been done!  Yet, there are still hundreds of structures that need owners and renovation – perhaps, somebody out there will find his/her calling?  This town was “dead and empty” as a local put it, but it has been given new life through its designation as a historic tourist destination in 1994.  It is more popular with Turkish visitors than with foreign visitors probably because it’s a bit out of the way again – way up there on the coast with little else around that might be of interest to the tourist in a hurry.  It took me all night to get here.  For some reason, the Japanese seem to like it.  I ran into five different Japanese couples or individuals.  But most of all, this is still way out of season.  I can see this town becoming a romantic haven with evenings spent on roof terraces and in local cafes.  For now, it is still a bit sleepy and very windy.

Safranbolu, from what little information I have, has a history.  It was affiliated with the saffron trade and connected to the famed Silk Road.  To this day several kilograms of saffron are produced by local farmers and sold at exorbitant prices.  And it has something else going for itself.  Three small rivers have carved a gorge in this area surrounded by a valley.  The city is surrounded by hills and picturesque mountains.  It is a beautiful setting for any town let alone such a picture-perfect one.  I was a bit concerned when I saw this morning that those mountains are snow-capped…  Indeed, there were flurries coming down as I walked around, but I also saw a couple of fruit trees budding.  There is hope!

The heater has been on all day, yet the room temperature has not changed.  If anything, it went back down from 15 to 13 degrees.  Measured by the outdoor temperature of 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), my room has to be considered warm, but I am shivering despite all of my layers.   What compounds this is that I am tired and I am not moving, writing and working on my pictures.   I hunt for something and find blankets – in the built-in closet, of course.  If you are cold, get a blanket.  No cranking up the heat and no complaining about cold, not in the 18h Century.  I love these nearly authentic experiences even though they come at a price.  Why didn’t I think of that blanket an hour ago?  One non-18th Century bonus is electricity.  I can use my computer.   🙂  Certain habits are hard to break.

I pretty much circled ¾ of the town today and crisscrossed it at various places, usually getting confused.  But with three prominent minarets and the hills from where you can always regain the big picture, it was hard to really get lost.  There is not much else to do but to enjoy the medieval feel of this town, to envision the turbaned men and the colorfully-dressed women of centuries past.   The blacksmith corner seemed to have been frozen in time.  Half a dozen workshops were lining a narrow alley leading up to the mosque.  At old-fashioned anvils the men were forging traditional hardware for the many wooden fixtures:  locks, hinges, nails.  Little square chimneys blew out black smoke all over town; there were definitely wood or coal burning fireplaces in use.  And the heavy duty cobblestone roads and walks constantly reminded you that you were walking around in a different era.

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Irene said that Safranbolu had the best hammam in the country. If you had found it you would have been able to warm up. Irene said it was also one of the prettiest places she saw there.

  2. All this medieval talk makes me think of the plague, which makes me think of Monty Python and then I see the picture of your hotel and it’s right out of a painting and I think “Bring out your dead”
    I know, I know, we’re about 300 years too late, but still, I’ve put it in your head and if you see a rat I want you to think about it. : )