Let’s Go to Cappadocia: Hamleci Mansion, its History, Evolution and Influence

If Ayrancı is a shining spot on our inner world maps, Hamleci Mansion in Ürgüp is one of these luminous spots. For many of us, all these spots are the places where the feeling of being a community and the taste of being together penetrate our minds and hearts. While these vibes are transformed into Ayrancı-Neukölln Dolmuş magazine, we continue our journey to Cappadocia and then to our stop in Ürgüp, Hamleci Mansion. In this article, we want to try to explain how Hamleci Mansion has come to this day and where it goes. So, we want to go on a mini journey together.

Ürgüp is a place where the fabulous nature of Cappadocia survives, and the mansion is a place where the historical traces of the region can be followed. The famous fairy chimneys were constructed by wind and water giving shape to the texture formed by the drying of the waters in the history of active volcanoes. This geography, where different societies and cultures live, gives the feeling of an open-air museum that we can visit and see even now. Cappadocia, which Assyrians call “Katpatuka” and means “the Land of Beautiful Horses” in Persian language, is referred as the land of fairies according to a local legend.

Dear Yılmaz, who has absorbed Cappadocia into his soul, says that those who come here cannot leave when they enter the right door. It is indeed so, the roots that pierce and hold onto the rocks are so strong that it is impossible not to feel. This is the reason why we have not been able to get enough of dreaming of going back to and producing together in these lands and the Hamleci Mansion.

Hamleci Mansion was built about 200 years ago by the Greeks living in the region. One day when we were interested in the maintenance of the mansion, we learned from someone who came to do a research on the old Greek houses of the region that, in Evangelia Balta’s book “Prokopi”, there is a photograph of the first owner in front of the mansion. With the combination of these information, the stories about the mansion began to merge one by one.

We learned that the first owners of the mansion were Greeks and when they had to go during the population exchange period between Greece and Turkey, the grandfather, nicknamed Hamlecioğlu, bought the mansion. Hamleci Grandpa, whose stories we had been trying to learn for a while, was Atatürk’s telephone handler. According to what is told, he did not speak much. He was highly respected by those who knew him, and was able to see his great-grandson while he was alive. At that time, we learned that Hamleci Grandpa’s own family, as well as tenant families and “Yoğman Ağa”, who was handling some of the works of the mansion, lived together in the mansion. Ürgüp was the most famous and developed region in Cappadocia at the time that Hamlecioğlu Dede and the generation after him lived.

Another feature of the mansion that is the subject of architectural research today is its wooden door. This door was painted green after Hamleci Grandpa went on his pilgrimage.

There is a garden on the right side extending from the old door. Once in the garden, there were horses in the barn, old fruit trees, a vegetable patch and an irrigation pool. This fertile garden, which has been neglected with the decrease of the residents one by one over the years, is covered with weeds and trees. Even a part of the house was destroyed by these trees and according to the stories, this destroyed part was quite magnificent. Apple trees, which were said to have at least ten varieties before, have left their places to the self-growing apricot and black elderberry trees as well as a walnut tree that is hanging from the neighboring garden.

 When you continue from the plain that extends from the garden to the mansion, you will reach the stone stairs leading to the courtyard. When you arrive the courtyard, you will see the old stone house, some parts of which are in the rocks, and the “yellow house” where the vine trees make a shade at the entrance. The courtyard, which connects the mansion and the yellow house, is in the shadow of the vines during the day and the stars and the moon at the night. According to Evangelia Balta’s book Ürgüp – Prokopi, the shape of these stone houses was determined by the rock on which they rest.

We can easily feel the natural fabric of Ürgüp in this wide area where there is a gazebo that overlooks the front garden. This mansion, which once hosted a crowded population, has sections that serve different purposes such as flour place, barn, sheep pen, tandoori, grape distillery.

When we returned to the mansion after fifteen years long abandonment, while cleaning, we discovered that there was a chapel carved into the rock between parts of the house. We think that this chapel may have inherited from the early times of Christianity. In the third century, Christians trying to meet their shelter and security needs in the Cappadocia region were able to protect themselves from the religious pressures of the Roman Empire by taking advantage of the structure of the region’s rocks suitable for carving. During these times, they continued their lives and religious practices in these safe areas. We think that the chapel, according to another assumption, may have inherited from the tunnels connecting the houses in the area.

The flour house between the yellow house and the mansion served as a cellar where cheeses, meats, vegetables and fruits were stored thanks to its location in the rock and thus keeping it cool even on hot summer days. There are two separate wells in the garden and under the “yellow house” where the tenants stay, and even the neighbors would come and take water from these wells. While there were two separate symmetrical stairs leading to the yellow house during the time of Hamleci Grandpa, today only one of them stands.

The place under the yellow house, which has an independent entrance and which we transform into a workshop today, was previously a sheep pen. The place that involves the tandoor and is used as kitchen is between the flour house and the sheep pen. This place is called “tafana” in the local language, and neighbors used to come to benefit from the tandoori. There was a grape distillery in the garden and grape molasses was boiled in large cauldrons through making fire.

Especially during Ramadan and during the holidays, the mansion was full of relatives. When grandfather was alive, they would come to kiss his grandfather’s hand. These meetings were used to lead to get 3-4 generations of the family together. Local dishes of the region were cooked for the arrivals. Hamleci Grandpa always sat on his cushion next to the wood stove in the left corner of “the room with stove”.

We have not even been able to open most of this place, some of which are in the rocks, and new rooms are linked from the other rooms. However, the never-ending features of the mansion and the fact that Ürgüp has a huge differences and great calmness compared to Ankara provides us the space we need to construct the projects we want to do.

You start carving each rock with a hole. To begin with, we decided to revive the wine culture, that is unique to Cappadocia but is hurt, within ourselves. For this purpose, last summer we had an attempt on winemaking in cooperation with our friends in the region. We have experienced winemaking in terms of the grape harvest, the crushing of the grapes, the correct maceration. During this process, we visited the wine room daily and talked nicely with wines. We are currently at the stage where the grape juices waiting in barrels and patiently waiting for them to become wine. 

In permaculture, there is a crop / harvest / benefit cycle. According to Bill Mollison, all kinds of useful outputs that come out as a result of the behaviors or operations of the elements in the system are the benefits in that system. At the same time, these benefits are theoretically unlimited. We chose this principle as our road map while we construct a life system we will create in Hamleci Mansion. While buying what we need from the areas we live in and from each other, we chose to diversify and increase what we can give. With the awareness that everything is possible when we come together, all kinds of benefits we have achieved – from creating a rainwater pond in the garden to enjoying each other and healing – has been our motivation. We were good for each other, when it was good for each other, we were good for our environment as well. There were times we worked hard for Hamleci Mansion, and also we camped together in magical landscapes. It can be said that we work in festival vibes. This is our biggest reward.

It is not an easy task to get Hamleci Mansion back on its feet. Its historical nature makes any kind of renovation difficult. Considerable amounts of financial resources are required for the restoration. We are currently writing a project to receive grant support. We dream of in Hamleci Mansion, there will be a gallery area, a suitable environment where we can host artists from different places, a garden kept alive with permaculture principles and a boutique cafe or restaurant connected with the products of the garden. We are open to any improvement of and contribution to these projects that we dream of together.

In fact, what we are aiming at is to build a life woven with the art of coexistence while providing a space to everyone to discover what they want to do and helping them bring their discoveries to this life. What we experience while doing this is, starting from our uniqueness, learning to be “the one” and reflecting this; accordingly, we reach a state of “being a collective one” formed by the coming together of “all the ones”.

We are sending you all the smell of potatoes and chestnuts on the stove from Hamleci Mansion and our journey with the dream of having a place where we can enjoy our existence and materialize our ideas by taking care of each other. Let us know if you come nearby!

Contact with the authors:

Sevecen Kaplan @sevconot

Esin Metin @kaplumbagamutfak

Ayşe Yayla @aysmayslay

Translated from the Turkish original by Tevfik Hürkan Urhan