Why the Houses of Safranbolu Became a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Why the Houses of Safranbolu Became a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The historical houses of Safranbolu
Written on: 21 January 2018

The real estate market of modern-day Turkey is undergoing massive modernisation, but the historical houses of Safranbolu will forever be preserved in their natural state. Reflecting the cultural heritage of a bygone era, their presence on Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage Site list means future generations who clamber for everything new and modern will still glimpse into the past and see a town bursting with nostalgia. As other towns, cities and villages in Turkey make room for the new by getting rid of the old, Safranbolu’s protected UNESCO status will forever tell the story of Ottoman families and how they lived.

Safranbolu sits in the Karabuk province of the northern Black Sea region of Turkey. With a population count of 30,000 people, the town isn’t at the forefront of modern day living. Yet, every year, thousands of Turks and international tourists flock to Safranbolu that gains its name from the spice of the same name. These tourists don’t want convenience or the latest travel trends. They specifically travel to see nostalgic Safranbolu that is one of Turkey’s best open-air museums.

The Ottoman Architecture of Safranbolu Houses

In 1994, the UNESCO World Heritage Organization placed Safranbolu on their protected list. The organisation that seeks to preserve cultural, historical and scientific landmarks did so because the perfectly preserved Ottoman architecture of the houses portrayed how the town thrived as a major trading port on the old silk road.

Its influence played a large part in the development and spread of urban Ottoman architecture as seen in houses of similar appearance in Beypazari and Amasya. Trends and ideas were born in historical Safranbolu, and while other places disappeared with the onslaught of modern living, Safranbolu stayed true to its roots and takes visitors back in time, as if they were walking the streets of an Ottoman stronghold.

The Kaymakamlar Evi of Safranbolu

The unformed appearance of the exterior architecture of Safranbolu houses is pleasing to the eye, yet it is the interior décor and design evoking images of an Ottoman lifestyle. The best place to see this, is the Kaymakamlar Evi focusing on the culture of Safranbolu in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Restored in 1979, the three-story house with two entrances, a barn and garden was opened in later years as a museum. Informative staff add to visitor’s experience with tales of urban legends, social protocol and family traditions. 

Traditional materials of stone on the lower half and wood on the upper were used to build the Kaymakamalar Evi, of which the inside also displays a typical layout around the centre of the building.

On average, a house could contain up to eight or nine rooms, of which many three or more generations of each family lived within it. Hence, each room was uniquely kitted out for comfort, practicality and privacy. The house also has many windows, an architectural trend in those days to allow lots of sun and light.

The museum is open every day from 9am to 5.30pm however if it still doesn’t satisfy your curiosity book accommodation in the Asmazlar Havuzlu Konak. Also known as the mansion of pool, the restored Safranbolu hotel offers traditional style but with modern cons. 

Safranbolu: Where Turkish Delight Reigns Supreme

The houses of Safranbolu command much respect, but among Turks and those who know the city well, its locally made Turkish delight is also a taste to be reckoned with. Some say the Turkish delight from Safranbolu is the best in Turkey, hence take a slight detour from an historical walking tour of the houses, to sample it in the souvenir shops.

The difference from other brands, is that it is lighter on the palate, which Safranbolu locals credit to using rich mineral water in the ingredients. The most famous Turkish delight shop in Safranbolu is Ozer Lokum that has a countrywide reputation for excellence. The number one favour to taste is naturally Saffron.

Other Things to see and do in Safranbolu

Including the Safranbolu houses, the UNESCO World Heritage Organization has listed many other historical landmarks in the old town district. These include 25 mosques of which the oldest is the 13th century Suleyman Pasa.

Five Turkish baths including the 14th-century Eski Hamam are also under preservation status and the 17th Cinci Hodja Caravansary naturally plays equal importance given Safranbolu's prestigious standing on the old silk road trading route.

Otherwise, the natural landscape of Tokatli Canyon displays another aspect why Safranbolu should be on your bucket list. Particularly favoured by Turkish families during summer, a variety of flora and fauna scatted along the 9-kilometre walking trail lures trekkers and nature photographers. The park is also famous for its 18th century, six arches, Incekaya Aqueduct.

The other attraction growing in popularity is the Incekaya glass terrace visited by over 450,000 people in 2017. Attached to an eighty-meter-high cliff edge, the eleven-meter-wide platform is Turkey’s first opaque glass terrace as visitors look down to see the cliff edge below their feet. Of course, to be expected the views are fantastic and provide an alternative angle to your holiday photos from Safranbolu.

Travel Idea: While you are in the Black Sea region, you might also like to visit Bolu just a two-hour drive from Safranbolu. As a favourite destination for Turks all year round, it also displays impressive Ottoman architecture and the freshwater Lake Abant is an idyllic place to stay overnight.  

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