Vanishing architecture: Kula, Turkey

The town of Kula has a population around 25,000 and is located south of Istanbul and SE of Izmir. Several years ago, I participated in an Earthwatch project which was designed to catalog traditional Turkish houses and make recommendations for preservation. The architects in charge had already made contacts in town, so we were able to get access to the buildings where we’d do the surveying.

First a little about Kula. I found it took some getting used to, as the saying goes. The town could, I guess, be described as rather laid back, and the residents I could see on my way into town that first night appeared quite conservative in appearance. Our hotel faced a busy street lined with interesting shops. Arriving late, I didn’t get to explore much that first night, but I did notice there seemed to be a mosque every few blocks, each festooned with loud speakers to broadcast the call to prayer.

As I was to learn, the broadcasts from the various minarets aren’t synchronized. One begins, then a few seconds later, the next, and then a second later, another, until all within earshot are going. My first morning in Kula, I was jolted awake. My ears were being assaulted with a cacophony of strange sounds bursting through my open windows. It took me a few seconds to remember where I was. Staggering to a window in quite a temper, I stared at the nearest minaret–bristling with its megaphones–and directed a few most uncomplimentary statements in its general direction. Feeling better for having spoken my mind, I happened to look down and to my horror, one story below was a flat roof on which a dozen or so men were playing a game of soccer. Two of the young men glanced up at me, but their faces were blank. Whoops! I quickly ducked back into my room and thought the issue was closed. Until two hours later.

I’d joined my fellow Earthwatch project members in the hotel dining hall for breakfast and had just finished eating when the door opened and in came the entire soccer team, still wearing their soccer shirts. I’d already told one of the women about my little gaff and when she saw the men arriving she began to laugh. In a panic, I pretended to have dropped something on the floor and ducked under the table until the men passed by. When their backs were turned, I quickly left the room. Fortunately, I never ran into them again. Needless to say, I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed of my cultural insensitivity.

For the next two weeks we surveyed, measured and sketched old houses. We walked the streets and talked to people in our spare time. Women often invited us into their homes and insisted on feeding us. Turkish food is absolutely wonderful. Few of the women spoke English and none of my companions spoke Turkish but we managed with sign language and travel dictionaries. When their children were around, some of them were able to translate.

On one of our walks around town we ran into a little parade. Turns out, the celebration was for a boy’s circumcision, which they perform here at age eight. The family immediately invited us to join the festivities. They rode the boy on a pony and the women showed me the room they had prepared for him to rest in after the procedure. He’d be treated like a prince for a few days.

CirOneCir2Here are the women preparing for the party.

Cir3IMGAnd the room is ready for the boy.

Cir5Here are some photos and sketches of the town and of the homes we surveyed in Kula. In these traditional homes the second floor juts out
over the street and the window are screened so women can look out without being seen by strangers.

KulaHouses7KulaHouses2Here I am, about to go inside. If my posture looks wilted, blame the 100 degree F. temperature!

KulaHouses1A sketch from inside and a few photos:

kula3The unfurnished rooms were cleared for our survey.

KulaHouses6

KulaHouses5This room would be used as a living area and for sleeping. The seating would be on moveable raised cushions along the wall. As you can see, there is a lot of beautiful carved wood in these old homes. Here’s an exterior and the view from the home’s upstairs window.

kula2

I ran into this man on the outskirts of town.
kula4

And no trip to Turkey would be complete without seeing a Turkish bath house. This one, regrettably, has been closed for years, but this is the way they used to look.

I have to confess the only thing I know about Turkish baths comes from Mark Twain’s account of a visit in his wonderful book,”Innocents Abroad.”Turkish Bathhouse Kula

This concludes your tour of Kula, Turkey. Please leave a comment or visit my website, www.mickeyhoffman.com

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~ by mickeyhoffman on May 18, 2013.

4 Responses to “Vanishing architecture: Kula, Turkey”

  1. We used to drive to Kula occasionally, while living in Izmir in the early 1970s. The photos I took then look very similar to these. We would visit one of the houses which was 400 years old, to buy antiques and rugs. The Turkish inhabitants were wonderful then, as apparently they still are.

    Bill Walker

  2. We were treated very well. I never knew if it was because we were part of the Earthwatch project or not, but I felt they would have been friendly regardless.

  3. Hello Mickey,
    I am interested in your EarthWatch to Kula, Turkey. I participated in the same expedition in 1999. I will be teaching an OLLI class on overseas volunteer experiences people can have through volunteering. Unfortunately, I have lost my slides from my volunteering and would very much like to make a powerpoint that could relay my experiences to my audience. If you have any slides you could help me with I would be very appreciative. I also would like to have access to the EarthWatch Primary Investigators (PI). I know they were a husband/wife team. The wife was an interior decorator and the husband an architect or engineer. I believe they were from Des Moines, IA. They were both of Turkish decent.

    If you can shed any light on this for me I would be most appreciative!

    thank you,
    Sue Robinson

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