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Peasant Architecture in Anatolia

People and Culture
  • Sunday, August 14 2005 @ 09:19 PM AEST
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This article is based on my observations during a holiday in Turkey in 1993. The article starts with the rather shaky assumption that peasant architecture in Anatolia is substantially the same as it was in Byzantine times. To support this contention I offer the following arguments. Firstly, the Turks who supplanted the Byzantines in Anatolia were a nomadic race, largely without an architectural tradition of their own. Those who kept their nomadic, herding lifestyle would not have effected the local architecture; those who became farmers would probably have adopted the styles they saw all around them. Though their public buildings developed from the Muslim Arabian and Persian traditions, peasant styles would have been more conservative.

Secondly, it seems likely that large numbers of Byzantine peasants did not flee Anatolia when the Turks invaded, but stayed to farm the same lands they had done for generations, merely exchanging one set of masters for another. Intermarriage would also have had a marked effect in assimilating the invaders.

Turkey until the twentieth century has been largely unaffected by outside influences, and this is another reason the architecture may not have changed all that much. Modern developments have had an effect, particularly the easy availability of such modern build materials as mass produced hollow bricks and pre-cast concrete roof tiles. These are rapidly replacing the traditional materials, probably because they are so much easier to use. However, there are still enough older buildings to give a fair idea of what it must have been like.

So, if you’re prepared to take these (admittedly rather dodgy) assumptions on board, I’ll go on to describe the construction methods I observed, and which I believe have a good chance of being essentially similar to those used in Byzantine times.

House shape

The houses I saw were generally a simple rectangle in plan, or sometimes L-shaped, with either almost flat sod roofs or tiled roofs on a steeper angle, usually about 20 degrees. Walls were usually of local stone or of mud bricks.

Stone: These were impressively fat and “square” both inside and out. Even the walls around the gardens and animal pens were beautifully precise. The technique for achieving this is interesting. Splitting a stone usually creates at least one relatively flat surface. Two rows of split stone are arranged with the flat faces outward, and the space between filled with rubble or un-dressed stone. Liberal amounts of mortar are used to cement it all together and fill the gaps. Interestingly, the 5th century AD city walls of Constantinople use the same technique, though the stones on the face are nicely squared. See Figure 1.
Mud Brick: The bricks are a sort of dirty yellow-ochre colour. The bricks are about 45 cm wide by 20- 25 cm deep and perhaps 30 cm thick, the thickness of the wall. They were laid in courses, in stretcher bond, the way most bricks are laid in Australia now days, with each row of bricks overlapping the one below by the length of half a brick. Squared timber lintels support the door and window heads, and there would presumably be timber beam along the top of each wall to support the rafters.

Half-timber: Some old buildings, mainly in the larger towns, were what I can only describe as half-timbered, though they are different from the European buildings we call by the same name. A frame is erected of square timber, then the gaps are filled with terra-cotta bricks, approximately 5 cm thick by 45 cm long and maybe 20 -25 cm wide. There are several variations on this design, see Figure 2.


Roof shape: The houses have roofs of shapes familiar to us all, gable, hip and skillion (lean-to). See Figures 3, 4 and 5. Eaves are usually quite narrow.
Half-round Clay tiles: These are similar to the kind seen throughout the Mediterranean. There are two layers of half round terra-cotta tiles, in the lower layer the concave side faces up, in the upper layer it faces dawn, and the layers overlap by the width of half a tile. They are supported by a framework of pole rafters, (probably poplar) about 10 cm in diameter, about a metre apart, with horizontal battens about 10 cm wide and 2 cm thick. See Figure 6.

An alternative design has horizontal poles (purlins) covered by planks approximately 15 cm wide. See Figure 7. By the way, this building technique has it fault. The size and spacing of roof timbers produces a “wavy” roof.

Sod roofs: Supported on rafters and batten, the sod roof is constructed as shown in Figures 8 and 9. The sod, about 45 cm thick, is laid with grass growing in it, both binding the soil together and aiding water run off.

In another variation, the lower beams rest on an inner ledge, so the roof is flush with the top of the walls. See Figures 10 and 11.

A version from further West in the Anatolian grasslands involves twig or bamboo thatch covered with sod (see Figure 12) and some other houses have roofs made of straw over crossed poles, covered with a layer of dirt (only about 10 cm deep) and held down at the edges with large stones. See Figure 13.

In Byzantine times glass was very expensive and hard to get in large amounts. Windows would have been a lot smaller than they are today, and would have had shutters instead of glass to keep the weather out. Peasant houses must have been very dark inside.

As a finishing touch, Figure 12 shows a terra-cotta chimney pot on a house in Western Anatolia. They seem to be rare.

These building styles demonstrate the ingenuity of ordinary people in inventing ways to solve the problem of providing shelter for themselves.

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