Houses of a Yöruk Village


In the principal room of Sipahioglu House in the village of Yoruk near Safranbolu in northern Turkey and above the great wooden cupboards fitted around the walls, ran a frieze of painted decoration. From the windows of this lovely house, which has been open to the public since 1999, could be seen others of the traditional Ottoman Turkish type, of which examples are to be seen in many parts of Anatolia and the Balkans. Although the oldest houses in the village were constructed in the 17th century according to their date plaques, the majority date from the late 19th century. They have lower floors of stone, timber framed upper floors, tiled roofs with broad eaves, windows with shutters and lattices, and jettied bays supported by long corbels. Some have belvederes set into the roof. The last representatives of a past way of life, these houses were built according to an unwritten but ubiquitous law based on the principle that human lives are shaped by the houses they live in. Traditional respect for one’s neighbours is manifested in the way that no house blocks the sun or view of another, none invades their neighbours’ privacy by windows overlooking the next door garden, or has a gutter that empties rainwater over the boundary.

Each room is designed as an independent living space for a nuclear family, in the days when extended families occupied these large houses. The wooden cupboards served not only for clothes, but to pack away the mattresses and bed linen during the day, so transforming bedroom into living room. Concealed inside one cupboard is a tiny washroom like a modern shower cubicle, known as a yunmalik, and each room has a fireplace. At meal times the room became a dining room, simply by bringing out a low portable table known as a sini. This multifunctional concept derived from nomadic culture in the days when the yoruk people were tent dwellers, and gave the individual members of large families a personal world of their own, even when living under the same roof with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The living quarters of the houses are on the upper floors, the ground floor being occupied by the hayat (an open or covered area used for diverse domestic tasks), kitchen, storage rooms and stables. Depending on the prosperity of the owner, the upstairs rooms may include a bas oda (principal room), library and prayer room. The number of windows and even the width of the floorboards are indicators of how wealthy the family was. The inhabitants of the village trace their ancestry to the Karakecili branch of the Kayi clan, itself a branch of the Oguz Turks who were the principal settlers in Anatolia.