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Safranbolu Houses :: The House

THE MASS AND ITS EXPRESSION

As mentioned before, in a Safranbolu house, the wall next to the street follows its natural curve. This wall is the continuation of the garden wall. The street is bordered on both sides with these walls. According to Islamic tradition domestic life is concealed from the eyes of any outsider. Consequently, the ground floor wall is blind up to the first floor level. The design approach to the middle floor can vary: it may prepare for the upper storey as an intermediary floor; it may be parallel to the ground floor; it can be a mezzanme to the ground floor; or, it may not exist at all. The middle floor has a lower ceiling than the upper floor and its windows are fewer and smaller. In most cases it has a wooden-frame construction. The top floor is the ultimate achievement. We can find the basic plan of a Turkish house in this upper floor. This is generally achieved with projections extending towards the street and the garden. While enlarging the rooms these projections also ease the relationship with the street and the view. The top floor contrasts in every way with the ground floor: instead of stone it has a wooden frame construction a high ceiling and a vivid appearence with its projections on all sides as against the blind, massive and sombre facade of the ground floor. The projections are supported by wooden brackets resting on the lower walls, emphasizing the extension of the upper floor towards the street. When the brackets cover the total height of a floor and especially when this is repeated on two succeeding floors with double projections, then it gives a spectacular appearence which is a pleasure to behold. The intervals between the wooden brackets provide a special rhythm. Walking along the street it is facinating to watch them open and close like the ribs of a fan. A plain roof covers the top floor enlivened with projections. As the function of the roof with its wide eaves is to protect the house, its form is simple. It is not very steep and is covered with semi-cylindirical tiles. The house is white except for the cornices and shutters. The darkened wood colour contrasts nicely with the whitewashed walls. The vertical or diagonal wooden lattices running along the total height of the ground floor disguise the brackets supporting the top floor. Hence the two-stroyed, large, white mass appears to be rising from the depths of a shadow, producing an awesome illusion.

THE GROUND FLOOR

The ground floor is at the same' time the basis of the house. It functions as a space for productive activities and has no claim on form.

The Entrance Door

The access to the house from the street is through a double winged, large door. Simple as they are, these doors give a sense of security to those dwelling within. When one wing is open people or a single animal can pass through. During ceremonies such as weddings or when loaded animals are to be let in, both wings are open. The doors are made of vertical boards, fixed from behind to three horizontal ledges. The boards are nailed to the ledges with large, concave headed nails, which are, at the same time used as a decorative element. The two wings come together with an astragal in the centre, decorated in the classical Ottoman style like those of the shutters. On the exterior surface of the door there is a metal door- knocker for the use of visitors. The knocking sound is produced by tapping the knocker repeatedly on a large nail-head. When the sound is heard, a string tied from the inside to the door lock is pulled from the middle floor, thus releasing it. The visitor can then open the door by lifting the door latch. If there is no door knocker, the warning sound is produced by lifting and releasing the vertical wooden latch repeatedly. When only close friends, neighbours, or members of the household are expected, a scrap of wood placed under the tongue of the lock keeps it continuously released, so that they can just enter by lifting the vertical wooden door latch. The noise this makes is enough to warn the household that someone has entered the house. The wooden door-latch is a very simple yet efficient device: a horizontal piece of wood fixed from one edge to the lintel over the door slants downwards with its own weight and presses against the door from the inside, thus preventing it from opening. There is a vertical strip of wood attached to the metal door latch outside, which can move upwards or downwards, parallel to the movements of the latch. 

Thus, when the latch is lifted from the outside, this wooden strip pushes the horizontal piece of wood upwards and releases the door. The oblong scutcheon of the latch is shaped so as to allow for its free movement up and down. It is made of wrought iron and is decorated with triangular holes. The round door handles are fixed to the concave medallions on either edge of the scutcheon, which are also made of wrought iron and decorated in the same way. They serve to pull the door in order to make sure that it is closed. On the interior surface of the door there is the vertical wooden latch, the lock and the hook. The lock is still produced in the ironmonger's market today. Generally there are two keyholes. The one below moves the bolt which either releases or locks the door; while the one above serves to open the unlocked door. The hook bolts the door from the inside. There may be additional safety measures such as iron rods hooked on either wing from the inside, generally used at night. The door-wings are fixed to the door frame with double looped special hinges (gullap). There is a hinge at each ledge level.

A wide architrave borders the door on the exterior, attached to the door frame. Occasionally, plaques of the old insurance companies can be found on the doors.

Hayat (The Entrance Hall)

The space first entered from the street is called "hayat". Generally, it has an earthen floor which needs tending now and then. When they speak of "a rise in the hayat" it means that the soil has loosened, lost its smoothness and necessitates repair. In this case it is pounded back in to shape and cleaned after sprinkling some water and straw on it. Sometimes it can be paved with stone.

A staircase leads to the upper floors. The first few steps, where the shoes worn outside are left is the "pabucluk". One or two sides of the hayat faces the exterior. The foundation wall which is about 60 to 80 cm, both in width and height, forms a basis for the load-bearing studs set at certain intervals. Firewood is piled on this low wall and the intervals between the studs are used as a measure for the amount of firewood in stock. The facade between this low wall and the ceiling of the hayat is enclosed with wooden lattices formed either out of spaced vertical laths, or of double rows of laths nailed to one another crosswise. These latticed screens provide the necessary airing for the firewood, illuminate and ventilate the hayat and protect it from external dangers.

The Hearth for the Cauldron

Either on one of the walls of the hayat or in an adjacent work-shop there is a hearth for the cauldron which has an important role in the preparation of food in large quantities. If the room in which the hearth is built is paved with stone, it is then called the "stone kitchen".

The Storage Chest (Granary)

Placed against one of the walls of the hayat there is a large storage chest, usually of two different depths.

The Stable

One door opens onto the garden from the hayat, and through another one, you can enter the stable. The flooring of the cowshed is wood while the stable for the horse and donkey has an earthen base. Light and air comes through unglazed vertical slits, more like a loophole than a window. Generally there is one horse, one donkey and one cow in the stable, though the number of cows may occasionally increase. Sometimes the cowshed is built close to the barn in the garden, so as to keep the unpleasant smell at a distance.

Storage for Hay

If there is only one animal in the house then the hay is stored in one corner of the stable. If not, a separate barn is built either adjacent to the house or standing free in the garden.

ROOMS

The most significant feature of the house is the room. Each room is a self-contained unit in which one can sit, sleep, pray, wash, eat and even cook. This provides the necessary privacy for the couple to which the room is allocated. The dimensions or the emphasis given to certain elements may somewhat vary , but these characteristics are valid for all rooms. Although the design principles are the same, some functions may gain priority over others. For example, one of the rooms is usually built to serve as a kitchen. In general, the rooms on the middle floor are used as day rooms or work rooms. The top floor rooms are for the newly- weds or visitors, and in general they mainly serve as bedrooms in the summer houses arranged as a "winter room", after making sure that it will be better heated due to its orientation, size and location. Either in the selamltk, or in a place easily accesible from the staircase there is a room where men entertain their visitors. Usually the elderly, widowed members of the family agree to share one of the rooms on the middle floor with a beloved grand child. At times when the house is overcrowded, even the kitchen can be utilized as a bedroom.

The shape of the room is a square or very close to one. The ceiling height is over 3.00 m on the top floor and between 2.30 to 3.00 m on the middle floor.

The Entrance to the Room As each house has its own privacy and safe-guard which makes it difficult to guess what goes on inside at first glance on entering through the door, the same privacy and protection is secured in each room which is regarded a living unit. The room is neither directly entered, nor directly visible from the hall. This design is achieved in a variety of ways.

In general, access to the room is from one of the corners. When it is through one of the chamfered corners of the room, it is literally a corner entrance. The reason for designing a corner entrance is to provide an indirect entrance to the room. Rarely, the room is entered directly from the eyvan, in which case it is the eyvan which provides the privacy. It is possible to find direct entrances to rooms which have been altered.

The entrance has two separate units. Coming in from the hall, passing from one unit to the other and finally entering the room necessiates changing directions two or three times. A wooden screen facing the door hides the interior of the room. The first unit opens on to the second with an archway. The height of the ceiling of this first unit is little over the height of the door. A second right-angled turn after passing through the archway brings you to the central axis of the room. The entrance alcove is larger and has a higher ceiling. There are cupboards or shelves on the wall facing the door. In some of the older houses, the space beneath the cupboards is an arched, open storage space for fire-wood. On the wall facing the room there are generally small, wooden niches and a larger flower niche with a shelf. In the Haci Salih Aga house dated 1820 there is a wall painting over the door level of this wall. The corners of the ceiling of the entrance alcove have been trimmed with additional pieces to resemble an arch facing the room. When the sides of the ceiling are coved, the cross section gives an arch-like impression. The floor of the entrance alcove is lower than that of the room and is separated with balustrades on either side. This rather complicated entrance provides heat and noise insulation, while protecting the room from direct visual exposure.

The Door of the Room: The door is bordered with an architrave and has a threshold at the bottom. Between the architrave and the arch-shaped upper frame of the door an "inscription panel" is inserted. The inscription panel may consist of a single plate; it may be made out of three or more plates as is the case in the summer house of Ahmet Bey. The door swings open towards the interior. It is approximately the height of a man. In the older examples the door is quite plain; it is made of vertical boards fixed to three ledges. Panelled doors are more commonly used. In some doors, fir has been used in the frames while walnut has been used in the panels, thus making use of the contrast in colour and texture.

The Hearth-Wall In general the hearth is on a wall at right-angle to the entrance wall, but never on an exterior wall. There can be a closet, cupboards, niches and sometimes sitting platforms (divans) along the hearth wall.

The Window-Wall

The wall facing the entrance of a room and the one perpendicular to it is a window-wall, provided it is a corper room. Divans run all along these walls, below the window-sill level. Over the windows a wooden shelf (sergen) encircles the whole room.

The Floor The interior of the room is left free except for the divans. This space is utilized so as to perform the various functions expected of a room: a low table is set here when it is time to eat the beds are laid when it is time to sleep and people sit on the floor of this free space when the room is crowded.

THE HALL (Sofa) 

It is the hall which is most influential in the design of the houses and 'which integrates the rooms constituting its most important units. The rooms open onto the hall and are joined to one another through the hall.' In addition to this, the toilets and washrooms, the pantry and the staircase are connected to the hall. Apart from all these, the hall can be used for various functions such as sitting, eating, working and even sleeping. Crowds gather here for different festive occasions: weddings are celebrated here; games are played; tables are set and prayer sessions in memory of the dead (mevlud) are performed here. When baklava, a Turkish sweet or similar pastry is to be prepared the space is utilized to spread out and dry the numerous layers of rolled-out dough. There may be some differences between the halls of the middle and top floors. For example the top floor may have a central hall while the middle floor has a corner hall, or one that opens on to the hayat in a mezzanine form. The local name for the hall is sofa or cardak. The layouts can be classified according to the location of the hall in relationship to the rooms, in the following sequence:
Halls In this layout the rooms are placed on one side of the hall. In the examples studied the hall is open on all three sides, although under roof cover. The exterior facades are enclosed by a wooden screen up to the level of the window sills and by a wooden lattice from then on, up to the ceiling. There are elevated sitting platforms. Separated with balustrades these platforms may sometimes have a cupboard or a coffee-stove. In general the ceiling is not cladded, exposing the roof structure.

Corner Halls

In this layout the hall is in one corner of the house, with rooms on both sides. It can be exposed to the exterior. There are divans in front of its windows. The hall may have an extension forming the eyvan. The eyvan may protrude outwards or it may end with a raised platform or divan. Usually three rooms, a staircase and the passage to the toilet washroom open onto a corner hall. In most cases the rooms are entered from the corners.

Central Halls

This is the layout most frequently encountered, where the hall is in the centre surrounded by four rooms, one at each corner. In between the rooms are the extensions of the hall: the eyvans. The number of these eyvans can be as many as four. The staircase, washroom, toilet and pantry can be located within these eyvans. Generally the rooms are entered from chamfered corners. Plans with a central hall are mostly symmetrical. All floors are built in a rectangular form. However on the top floor, either the eyvan, or as seen in the older examples, the rooms may project. In this case the house is gathered under a rectangular roof . If the eyvan is projecting, so does its eaves. In houses with central halls the projections are parallel to the facades. The ceiling of the central hall is higher and better decorated than those of the eyvans, thus emphasizing its dominance as a central space. The coved ceiling is very common.

The Eyvans (Alcoves of the halls) 

The extensions of the hall, in form of eyvans in between the rooms, serve to distinguish the rooms as separate living units. At the same time, being a space shared by all members of the household, it creates the possibility for interpersonal relations. With its wide, comfortable divans, this  is an area for sitting, working and a friendly chat. Sometimes it is separated from the hall with studs or balustrades and is a step or two higher. Eyvans projecting in the form of bay windows have wide divans, utilized mostly in the summer. In most cases these projections have a flat base and are supported by the cantilevering floor joists, whereas some have a baroque style corbel, moulded with lath and plaster. In some of the older examples there are wooden lattices instead of glazed windows, which renders them vulnerable to external elements. That explains why these eyvans are more often used as cool sitting corners in summer. The Gokcuoglu summer house is a well preserved example of this hall type. In the summer house of Asmazlar (dated 1822) the wooden lattices were replaced by glazed windows during a reparation carried out in 1973. However, the wooden lattices of the platform over the stairs leading to the top floor have been preserved. The lattices of the eyvan on the middle floor of the Kaymakamlar sehir house have also been replaced by glazed windows while those in the Sahinler sehir house have been preserved.

THE BALCONY 

The balcony which is usually on the southern facade of the summer house is about 1-1.5 m wide. As its main function is to provide space for sun-drying fruit and vegetables, any shade-giving elements have been avoided and even the balustrades are very simple. It can be either on the middle or the top storey. It has a wooden floor. There are a number of reasons which can explain why an extension to the house has been preferred for drying fruit and vegetables instead of allocating a place for it in the garden: e.g. to keep the drying food at a safe distance from dust, pests, insects, cats and dogs; to let it be exposed to direct sunlight without being shaded by the trees and benefit from the rays reflected from the white-washed surface of the walls. Cushions are laid out on the balcony for those who wish to sit and refresh themselves in the summer and for those who want to warm their bones under direct sunshine in the cold weather. Clothes are hung up to dry; mattresses, quilts and the linen in the chests are taken out for an airing.

THE STAIRCASES

In Safranbolu, the staircases which provide the communication between floors have been fashioned in a very simple style. Although they mostly have a single flight, they may sometimes be of double flight; either parallel to one another or in an L-shaped form, with a landing in between. Occasionally one can come across spiral or three flight staircases. The staircase leading from the hayat to the middle floor starts with a stone landing or a few stone steps where the shoes are left and continues in wood. Usually the staircase has a wall on one side and a wooden screen on the other, thus there is no need for a balustrade. Sometimes there is a door either at the bottom or the top. These seem to be essential for reasons of security as well as insulation. In houses with open halls, there are horizontal shutters which serve to shut off the staircase leading to this hall, probably for similiar reasons. In most cases the space over the staircase has been utilized as a "high hall", raising it by a few steps. With its cupboards and small fireplace for making coffee, this is a perfect place for sitting in summer, as in the Kabakcilar summer house. The staircase leading to the hall of the top floor in the Asmazlar summer house has a decorated door-frame at the top, resembling that of a mimber (pulpit in a mosque). The raised platform is reached by a few steps on either side. The treads and rises of the stairs are joined to strings on either side. The space between the two strings can either be cladded or left open.

THE CEILINGS

 The ceilings are directly related to the design. Spatial differentiations are reflected in the ceilings. The ceiling of the room entrance is separated from that of the room and is lower. The ceilings of the eyvans of the hall are lower and simpler than that of the hall itself. There are coved ceilings in some rooms and halls. These can take a simpler form in the entrance alcoves of rooms. The central halls adopt an octagonal form when the room entrances are at the corners and the ceilings repeat this form. Sometimes octagonal or poligonal ceilings can be seen even in the rooms.

 

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