Ancient Ottoman village goes big in tourism
The village of Cumalikizik, built on the southern slopes of Uludag, the highest mountain in the Marmara region of Turkey, is known for its 700-year old wooden-framed houses.
Tour groups come to the town all the way from Istanbul, solely to have homemade breakfast in the settlement.
By Metin Demirsar
İSTANBUL - Cumalikizik, Bursa (Dunya) – On any given day throughout the year, busloads of Turkish tourists travel 260 km (156 miles) from Istanbul to this ancient village just to have homemade breakfast served in the courtyards of its 700-year old houses and explore the nearby mountains and streams.
Some 30 households serve breakfast that includes organic foods, homemade raspberry, blueberry and strawberry jams, village eggs, peaches and gozleme, a kind of Turkish pancakes cooked with potatoes, cheese, tomatoes and ground meat on special grills, in their spacious courtyards and gardens.
The oldest living Ottoman village, Cumalikizik is expanding in tourism. The 880 inhabitants of this village are restoring their 170 houses and community buildings, including a public Turkish bath and a mosque, offering rooms as pensions and taking visitors on trekking tours of Uludag, the highest mountain in northwestern Turkey.
Built on an incline on the southern slopes of Uludag, Cumalikizik is located only 10 km (6 miles) east of the city of Bursa, 5 km (3 miles) north of the Bursa-Ankara highway. The sign of the turnoff to the village is hidden behind advertising of nearby restaurants and factories and is hard to spot.
From the village, visitors can walk up the mountain as far as Sarialan, a plateau area and site of the first station for a cable car system running up the mountain from Bursa, but can go no further as a deep gorge prevents trekking higher up, though Alpine mountaineers often ascend the rocky southern walls of Uludag to the region of the hotels and ski lodges. Waterfalls, mountain trails and trout farms are all reachable from the village.
Motor vehicles aren’t allowed into the village and have to park for a small fee in the garden of the village school in Cumalikizik’s main square. On most summer days, village inhabitants sell their products in the square. Buses and minibuses run between the village and Bursa, disgorging visitors from the city.
Each house has an inner courtyard, where villagers can bring their produce in for sorting, but many of these are now used as cafes and restaurants. Living quarters are above the courtyard, supported by wooden pillars.
Narrow winding cobbled streets, some less than a meter (3.1 feet) wide, greet visitors to Cumalıikizik. Water from mountain streams above run through the streets, irrigating farms further downhill.
The Kizik clan
The village was built by the Kiziks, a clan of Seljuk warriors, before the Bursa was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1326. The Ottoman Sultan bequeathed land to the clan and allowed their members to build their homes using the wood of the chestnut trees, found in abundance in the area.
"The wood of the chestnut tree is sturdier and longer lasting than steel," said Hasan Ozer, a retired school teacher, who bought an old home in Cumalikizik 20 years ago and restored it. He now runs a small café-restaurant with his wife.
Cumalikizik got its name (Cuma means Friday) because all the Kizik clans would meet in the village for the main Friday prayers.
The Kiziks established six other villages in the vicinity, all which existed until they were burned down by the retreating Greek occupation army in 1922, towards the end of the Turkish War of Independence. Cumalikizik escaped destruction because it was protected by Turkish resistance (Kuvaye-Milli) forces hiding in caves and valleys of Uludag and fighting a guerilla war against the Greek army.
In 1981, the Turkish government declared the village a protected historic site, and restoration of buildings was only started in the late 1990s.
But the village got little attention until 2002, when it became the setting of a popular television serial, Kınalı Kar (Snow with Henna). For months, the settlement appeared on television sets and each house was used by famous Turkish cinema actors and actresses.
Eventually, Turkish tourists began visiting the village, magnetized by its natural surroundings and old houses.
But until a decade ago, it was a very difficult place to live, with little public transportation.
"We used to walk 5 km to the Ankara-Bursa highway to get a bus to the city," Mr. Ozer said.
In winter, snow blankets the hillside, making the village even a cozier place to inhabit. But because the surroundings provided little in terms of jobs, many villagers moved to Bursa permanently, returning only during the summer months.