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Safranbolu Houses :: The Preparation of Materials and Construction Techniques



Limestone obtained from the surrounding area is utilized in construction, although the use of stone does not amount to much. Masonry being among the crafts mastered by the Greeks living in Safranbolu, it is mostly in the Greek houses that stone is used.

"Kufunk" is a lightweight, porous stone found in the caverns in the area, which is easily cut with a saw is used in the adobe walls.


Timber necessary for house-building is supplied by foresters, to which order has been placed before hand. Generally trees are felled in October- November, before the trunk begins to drain water. It is believed that trees felled at this stage are more resistant and do not necessitate drying. Trees growing on south-facing slopes are preferred, due to their richer inner layers, believed to be more resistant because of less moisture content. The forest villagers split the lumber they have already felled with an axe and carry it down on horse or mule, or drawn by oxen. The carrying capacity of the animals helps determine the quantitative aspect of the timber:

'Tekin Ceker": These are long trees with a diametre of 10 to 15 cm, one is fastened to each side of the animal.

"Ciftin Ceker": These have a smaller section (6x12 cm or 5x10 cm) and are carried four at a time, tied in couples on either side of the animal.

"Ken": These are thick trees with a diametre of 25-30 cm, and are pulled down by oxen. They can sometimes be partly trimmed.

"Giliste": Young trees of a diametre of 10 cm cut on either side so as to obtain boards with a section of 4x10 cm or 5x10 cm.

Boards: Boards used for flooring are wider than 30 cm, but can even be 62 cm wide. The thickness is 3 cm and the length is less than 4 metres. Boards used for the ceiling are narrower. They are 17.50 cm wide and 1.50 cm thick. These are cut either with a hand saw or at a sawmill. They are stacked and left to dry .They are planed in spring and nailed into place in summer.
Linseed oil or any other protective liquid is not applied on the surfaces.

Shingles: To cut out shingles, the texture of the tree has to be almost without defect. Naturally, trees of such a smooth texture are rare. For this reason, a sample is taken from the tree before cutting it down and tested to see if it splits smootly or not. Two pieces are split in succession and are placed face to face. If  the surfaces almost coincide,  then it is decided that the tree is the right choice for the production of shingles. It is mostly the villagers from Danakoy who are engaged in the production of shingles. Commonly, fir is used for this purpose but villagers of Baskoy prefer black pine, from which a more hardy product is obtained which can also tolerate nailing. The shingles are 4-6 mm thick, 10-20 cm wide and 60-100 cm long.

The trees mostly utilized are fir, yellow pine, black pine, and occasionally poplar, walnut and horn beech. Oak is not used.


Straw is added to the mud and thoroughly kneaded by foot. It is allowed  to set for two days and is then poured into triple or quadruple moulds. This mostly takes place when the swallows arrive. In May, after being let f to dry under the sun for 10 days, adobe can be used as an infill in wood-frame construction. Adobe of various dimensions: 27x27x10 cm; 27x22x10 cm; 27x13x10 cm was found in the Haci Salih Pasa house dated 1820.


Mud is allowed to set so that it can be kneaded like dough. Fine sand is sprinkled over flat wooden moulds. The mud-dough is spread over it and smoothed with a float. It is then transferred onto a wooden mould which gives it the semi-cylindrical shape. The mould is removed and the tile is left to dry in the sun before being burnt. Tiles were mostly made in Cercen and Bostanbuku villages and Camlica district.


Mud Mortar: It is prepared like the adobe dough, except that the soil used for this purpose is sieved. It is used in laying stone or adobe walls and as a base-coat plaster. Straw is not added to this mortar when used in wallbinding.

Lime Mortar: Lump lime is slaked in a wooden box with a little water. It is left aside for a day, then sieved to obtain powdered lime. Still in the wooden box,  it is mixed with water until a smooth paste is obtained, and with the addition of tow and hairs shaved off the left-over pieces of  leather from the tannery , it is used for the finishing coat.

"Horasan" Mortar: It is used in places are in contact with to water, e.g. pools and water cisterns. It is made with lime, fragments of clay tiles and linseed oil.


Utilization of Stone

Stone is utilized in the construction of the foundation walls and the ground floor, irrigation and sewerage channels, door arches, corbels and garden walls, as an infill in woodframe consruction; for paving streets and randomly as stepping stones in front of the houses or arm-rest stones beside the hearths.

"Kufunk", the lightweight stone is used mostly as an infill in wood-frame construction and when cut to the size of adobe, for building chimneys.

Utilization of Adobe

Adobe is used in the construction of hearths and garden walls and as an infill in wood-frame construction.

Utilization of Wood

The main structural framework of the houses is wood. It is also used as flooring, cladding for the ceiling, for cupboards, doors, windows and shutters and in the roof. Different types of timber are utilized in different places:

Fir: It is used for the load-bearing structure of the roof. The studs, plates and joists are more resistant when made of fir. It is also used for producing shingles.

Yellow-fir: It is used as a substitute for fir, if  fir is not available. Flooring (for which black pine can also be used), ceilings, cladding of interior or exterior doors, shutters, wooden partition walls doors of the cupboards: latticed screens, fireplace hoods and mantels, the toilet floor, counter-top, of the wash-room, coppings over garden walls, and garden seats are all  made of yellow fir. The exterior surfaces acquire a chestnut brown hue with the passing of time.

Black pine: Used for producing shingles.

Poplar: Used in producing the wood-turned balustrades of staircases and windows.

Walnut: Used for the panels on ceilings, and on the doors of cupboards and rooms.

Beech: Used in making window casements.


The Foundation

The ground is dug until firm soil is reached. This usually is a depth of 100- 150 cm. Large foundation stones are laid at the base and covered with mud mortar. The mason draws his leading string and starts laying the wall. The width of the foundation is 80-100 cm. The foundation wall may end after a height of 100 cm has been reached or may continue all along the ground floor level.

The Ground Floor Wall The stones are laid with mud mortar. The width is about 80 cm. Larger and more smoothly shaped stones are specially selected for the corners. In many houses the herring-bone pattern has been intergrated using flat stones. Regular lintels are not used in the stone walls. Instead, the cambium layer of red pine is laid in three strips, each being 15 cm wide, side by side, as a binding course. Occasionally wood shingles may be used for the same purpose. These horizontal courses are laid at intervals of 100 cm. The wall separating the hayat and the stable comes more or less in the middle of the ground floor. It is built as a load-bearing wall, and the roof-load is tranfered onto it. Stone and adobe can be used together in the construction of garden walls, in which the binding course mentioned above is utilized.

The Wood-Frame Construction and Infill

From the ground floor upwards, the houses are constructed with wood frames. Fir is preferred for setting up the frame. Timber used for this purpose usually has a size of 10-12 cm. There are diagonal braces at the corners. In the older houses, stud intervals are between 45 to 70 cm, and they have finely shaped timber capitals. There are no horizontal ties between the studs. Whereas in the more recent houses the intervals between studs are much smaller, between 20 to 40 cm. The main studs are thicker and have capitals. There are studs on two sides of each window and another stud in between the windows. Projections are supported by brackets from below. The ceiling joists of the hayat, which has quite a wide span, are also supported by brackets on either side. The edge of the diagonal brace which sits on the plate is notched. In the same way the brackets are jointed to either the plates supporting the projecting joists, the timber binding within the stone wall or to the corbel with a notch. The plates are joined with semi-mortise and tenons. Occasionally the studs are also jointed with mortise and tenons to the plates, but in most cases blacksmith's nails are used for this purpose. When placing the studs, it is important to check that the roots of the tree point downwards. In the older houses the wooden frames have been filled with adobe laid edgewise. In relatively new constructions, the lightweight stone "kufunk", or cobbles approximately 10 cm in diameter have been used as an infill. This is worked with lime mortar from the inside of the house to a wooden mould nailed from the outside. One other material utilized as infill is timber fragments, either leftovers from the construction or obtained from demolished old houses.

The Floor Joists

The interval between the floor joists is around 35-40 cm. Their dimensions are 10x15 cm, while those of the ceiling joists are 6x12 cm or 5x10 cm. The corners of the wood frame construction have been handled in a variety of ways at the floor level.

In the simplest approach there is a plate on one side and a plate and sole on the other. In one other method, a sole and plate is used on one side and a double sole and a plate on the other. However, the type with a plate and a sole on both sides seems to be the most advantageous. The space between the plate and sole is either covered with a header or is filled in with stones and mortar on the exterior.

The Roof and the Eaves

The roofs are supported by the wood-frame construction. Four hip rafters with rather thick sections rest on a short ridge. Rafters, which again have thick sections are fixed to the hip rafters, spread out like a fan. This type of roof is called a !lfour hipped roof". The ridge is supported by king posts resting on a load-bearing wall. Purlins are used where necessary, but usually the rafters extend from the hip rafters to the eaves without any reinforcement. Parallel to the eaves, laths are nailed onto the rafters at intervals corresponding to the length of the roof tiles or the wood shingles.

The Roofing: Until the first quarter of the 20th century, most of the summer houses had a wood shingle roof. The shingles are layed side by side on the laths which are parallel to the eaves. Each shingle is layed overlapping two others so that there is a thickness of three shingles at each course. A horizontal brace is placed on top, at intervals of 60 cm. Stones are lined on this lath so as to keep it in place. The shingles made of black pine can be nailed. Once the shingles are wet, they become waterproof and do not allow any seepage from the roofing. when tiles are used for roofing, generally there is no sub-tile cladding. The joining points of the tiles rest on the laths on either end. When tiles replace the former shingle roofing, the first layer of shingles is preserved as a sub-tile cladding. If a sub-tile cladding is to be done, this is also installed parallel to the roof slope, as in the case with installing the shingles.

Wooden Screens (DARABA)

The screen wall of the room entrance, partition walls of the toilet and wash-room, exterior walls of the open halls are all screens made of wood. The seams of the vertical boards which are nailed on ledges are concealed by moulded battens. Wooden garden walls also get the same name "daraba".

The Floors

Wide boards are nailed on the floor joists. These boards are not grooved or dove-tailed. Therefore a lath is nailed from beneath along the length of the joint bed, both preventing the dust from penetrating through and providing heat insulation. If the room is situated over the hayat; in other words, if the under-side of the floor is exposed to the almost out-of-doors weather conditions; the space between the joists is covered with boards and is daubed with mud. The floor boards are nailed only after this process of insulation is completed. This is only done in the winter homes.

The Ceilings

Ceilings are more decorative than functional. The simplest form is the board-and-batten type, in which the boards can be either parallel or diagonal to the walls. Even this simplest style is not void of variety. Apart from the battens which conceal the joints, others have been nailed in different directions, resulting in a variety of geometrical patterns. The plaster-on- lath technique has been used in coved ceilings. Walnut has been generously used in the double-surfaced ceilings made of small interlocked panels. Geometric patterns have been obtained with these panels held in place with molding strips.

The ceiling medallions consist of pieces of wood nailed succesively one on top of the other so as to produce a protruding, poligonal surface. Decorating a ceiling may take months.


After the infill of the wooden-frame construction is completed, the windows are fitted into place and the architraves and cornices have been nailed, the undercoat plastering is done, both on the interior and exterior surfaces, using mud mortar. After this undercoat which is 2-3 cm thick dries thoroughly, the finishing coat of plaster is applied with plaster mortar. First, the undercoat plaster is wetted, then using an iron trowel a layer of 0.3-0.5 cm lime plaster is spread evenly. Judging from the building dates of some houses which have managed to preserve their plasterwork for over a hundred years without it peeling off, the two types of plaster blend well together.

Whitewashing is done with pure lime and water using no additives.

The Builders

The masons, plasterers and street pavers were the Greek master workmen. The maintenance of the irrigation channels was also performed by the Greeks. It was considered humiliating for a Turk to undertake a job normally done by the Greeks. The story is told of a Turk taking up masonry after the Greeks left, who was nicknamed "Barba Mehmet" .But the masters carpentry were the Turks. In general, four carpenters, one of which was the master responsible for all the work worked in the construction of a house. Turks undertook carpentry work in Greek houses as well. That is why stone craftsmanship can more frequently be seen in the Greek homes. Carpenters came mostly from the Bulak and Gayiza villages. The builders were organized under the guild system. Both the master workers and the ordinary workers were paid daily wages and given meals as well.

Customs Pertaining to Building

A goat is sacrificed at the foundation and a prayer is given by the hodja. The goat's meat is cooked and distributed among the workmen. After the roof structure is completed, the house owner erects a flag post and flies a flag. This is followed by gifts brought by neighbours which the master foreman distributes among his staff. After the house is completed other gifts such as underwear, socks or handkerchiefs are given as presents to the workers. After moving into the house the "Mevlud", is performed. Sometimes a small corner of the house is left unplastered so as to "preserve against the evil eye". Finally a deer's horn is hung on one corner of the roof, decorated with blue beads and ribbons, also "against the evil eye". Sometimes the workers tease the house owner in their own way, saying "we will put the steps the wrong side up". As this is a humorous way of asking for tips, they are given some additional presents.

The Building Season

The period from March or April to the end of September is suitable for building activities. However, a house is not usually finished within one season. The load-bearing frame, roof and ground floor are constructed during the first year. The other floors are completed during the succeeding one or two years. In the Kavsalar house, the dates over the top floor doors indicate that each room was completed in a different year.


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