For many years, Safranbolu lived a happy, prosperous life. The industrial revolution which emerged in Europe as a consequence of the discovery of new sources of energy and means of rapid communication, soon began to exert its influence on the Ottoman world as well. The political, social and economic changes introduced in Europe were adopted without much delay. The movement of Tanzimat in 1839 brought new reforms along with it. Agreements were made with the European industrialists, allowing them to sell their goods tax-free in the Ottoman markets. Being abundant, cheap and fancy, these goods dominated the Turkish markets. This was followed by a period of recession in the local industry which was mostly based on handicrafts. The guild system collapsed (1910). New techniques were developed for leather manufacturing in Europe, which were soon adopted by factories installed in Istanbul towards the middle of the 19th century. Although their influence was rather slow in reaching Safranbolu, it finally did, and leather manufacturing in the traditional tanneries was totally abondoned. As a consequence of the decline in this main line of production in Safranbolu, the capitalists started to sell manufactured goods brought from Istanbul trying to make good their income deficit. The people of Safranbolu managed to maintain their well- being till the mid 20th century through self-sufficient economy and trade revenues.
After the “mutual exchange” of Greeks with Turks, emigrants from Thrace and Anatolia settled in Kirankoy. Until the census of 1945, the population continued to decrease. The building of the railroad in 1935 facilitated migration. Those who were not well-off economically migrated to Eregli and Zonguldak in search of new jobs; some big capital owners went to cities like Ankara and Istanbul to seek new areas of investment. Part of the population moved to Karabuk as civil servants, workers or merchants following the establishment of the Iron and Steel Factory there. All these account for the decrease in population. However, after 1945 the population continuously increased. The only explanation for this, is the fact that villagers coming from the villages nearby to work in the factory, chose to settle in Safranbolu. Karabuk, which in a way changed the destiny of Safranbolu, was a settlement of 13 to 15 households and a population of around one hundred in 1935. It was attached to the Oglebeli village 91. When in 1935, the railroad which was to link Zonguldak to Ankara was brought to the region, a railway station was built there and was named Karabuk. The foundation of the Iron and Steel Factory was laid on the 3rd of April 1937 and it began to operate on the 1st of June 1939. By 1940, the population of Karabuk had reached 6825, which was equal to that of Safranbolu. It later reached 9778 in 1950, 31.483 in 1960 and 94.818 in 1985.
The social structure of Safranbolu underwent an extensive change after the establishment of the Iron and Steel Factory. It witnessed the growth of a new city and a new centre only 10 km away. Workers poured in from all around and new employment opportunities were created both in the services and trading sectors. Money began to accumulate in nearby villages.
Safranbolu was forced to experience a second transformation after the 1950s, when the economic system of Turkey was changed completely. It was no more the sole centre of trade in the region. It lost its financial sources to other cities, because big capital owners chose to earn as well as spend elsewhere. Thus the economic state of Safranbolu declined.
In spite of this, there was not yet much change or deterioration as far as the architecture of Safranbolu was concerned. The flow of workers was towards Karabuk, therefore it was there that the lodgings and apartment blocks were built. People of Safranbolu, strongly attached to their traditions, went on living in their old houses. Nevertheless, the sehir situated in the valley began to lose its prestige from 1940 onwards, as a consequence of the rapid development of Karabuk where many new houses and apartment blocks were built. The 10 km long road between Karabuk and Safranbolu was also improved, making it more suitable for motor vehicles. The “kaymakam”, the highest administrative city/officer of the period was struck with the “brilliant” idea of extending the sehir from the valley up to Kirankoy. He asked for funds from the Ministry of the Interior so as to acquire land in Kirankoy and sell it at low cost to the house owners in the sehir. According to his plan, it would be possible to move this “old city down in the hollow” up to a higher, presumably more modern and thus more prestigious area in six years.
Due to the undulating topography of Karabuk, sites suitable for building rapidly diminished, resulting in the increase of land values. The lodgings and apartment blocks built in Karabuk did not quite suit the way of life of people coming from villages. Commuting between Safranbolu and Karabuk was comparatively easy. Consequently, there emerged the tendency of moving the workers settlements towards Safranbolu. Being close to the carsi (the market, which had lost its economic activity to a great extent), that is, living in the winter house in the sehir no longer had any significance; especially as it was now possible to reach the market from the Baglar region at all seasons. As those who migrated to Karabuk or other cities had already begun to spend their summers in the Baglar region, they started first to rent, then to sell their houses in the sehir. The villagers who bought them settled there. The increase of new-comers aggravated the problem between the former inhabitants of the sehir and this newly emerging social group; therefore those who were at the same time faced with economic difficulties did not hesitate to sell their houses and move to their second homes in the Baglar region. According to the census of the year 1975, the native population of Safranbolu was limited to 41 % in the sehir, 63 % in Kirankoy and 72 % in the Baglar regions. There was not much change in the houses up to this period. The new owners of the houses in the sehir did not feel the need to modify the houses as they suited well the way of life they were accustomed to in their own villages.
For the most part, Safranbolu also got its share of the worldwide development of technology. Consequently the demand on commodities increased and the family structure underwent a change towards the nucleous family. Finally, being comfortable, economic and, at the same time, reflecting the new fashion, apartment block building became an aim in itself. Especially with the increase in land values in the Baglar region, people began to demolish their old houses and build apartment blocks instead. Meanwhile the villagers who had formerly settled in the old houses in the sehir, prospered economically with the increase in the workers’ wages and social security measures. Hence, they in turn began to modify their houses, at least partially, so as to suit the new fashion: the apartment block building. The first step was to remove the existing windows, so admirable both from an aesthetic and functional point of view, and insert the “modern” apartment type windows with wider casements. The cornices and moldings at the corners and between storeys were not replaced after repairing and replastering the exterior. The adobe infill of the wood-frame construction, and on some occasions even the wood-frame itself, were removed and concrete blocks which were easily available and easy to build with, were used instead. Because the production of semi-cylindrical tiles was discontinued, repairs were made with the flat interlocking tiles which turned the roofs into an untidy patchwork. Next, the wooden lattices of the hayat were replaced by glazed windows. Having lost its initial function, the hayat itself was divided into rooms. However, all these alterations and repairs were temporary. Due to the change in peoples’ values and the economic returns the apartment blocks promised, the ultimate aim emerged as the replacement of existing houses with these apartment blocks. This had already begun in the Baglar district. The fact that the value of land much exceeded the value of the house built on it, encouraged this trend.
These are the facts with which Safranbolu is faced at the moment. In all probability , this city which until very recently was a perfect example of the Turkish town and the Turkish house, will soon lose its characteristics altogether and become a second Karabuk; or, hopefully, the efforts which have been made since 1975 for its conservation will bear fruit and it will be possible to hand it over to coming generations, preserving at least part of its main characteristics.