In the northern foothills of Mount Uludağ, 15 km from Bursa, is the picturesque village of Cumalıkızık. Set amongst chestnut and fig trees, the village is famous for its Ottoman period rural architecture. The village was originally established under the endowment of the second Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi (1324-1360), and settled by Turks of the Kızık branch of the Kayı clan. Of the seven original villages five still exist today: Hamamlıkızık, Fidyekızık, Derekızık, Değirmenlikkızık and Cumalıkızık. But only Cumalıkızık retains its original architectural texture, the others having fallen victim to modernity. Despite all the pressures in favour of change Cumalıkızık remains largely untouched.
With a history going back almost seven centuries, Cumalıkızıks bay windows, large decorated double doors, flower filled windows and plane trees welcome visitors back into the past. Only the fact that some of the colourful old houses are falling derelict reminds us that time has been at its destructive work here too.
The street doors open into courtyards known as hayat, surrounded by walls made of rough stone and cross timbers. Some of the courtyards have a floor of beaten earth and others are paved with slate slabs. Almost every one of the two and three storey houses has a garden adjoining the courtyard. The ground floor generally consists of a larder and stable, the living rooms being on the upper storeys. The first storey is known as the kışlık (winter place) since it is easier to keep warm in winter, while the second storey, being airier and cooler, is used in summer.
The houses consist of a timber frame, the spaces filled with stone and covered by a lime plaster painted yellow, mauve, white or blue. The ground storeys are windowless, while the upper storeys have jutting bays and latticed windows. Most are smothered in creepers which seem to be holding the old and weary houses on their feet. Their roofs are covered by red tiles.
The setting of the village is as beautiful as the houses themselves, and at weekends the village attracts many visitors from Bursa, from which the shared taxis known as dolmuş leave for Cumalıkızık every hour.
As we wandered through the narrow streets, the people we met greeted us from doorways and windows. Sometimes we struck up a conversation and were invited inside. We looked curiously around the houses we entered, and felt a stab of regret at their dilapidated state. But the warmth of their occupants hospitality consoled us. "At one time there were 350 families living here, but now there are only around a hundred left", Ali Amca explained. "Most of them have left their houses and moved away. The houses were old already, and once they were abandoned they quickly deteriorated." Conservation laws mean that the owners are not allowed to make any repairs or alterations which might destroy the original character of the houses, and the local people complain that this makes even urgent repairs impossible.
The village of Cumalıkızık was placed under conservation order by the Monuments Board in 1980, and in 1981 registered as an urban and natural conservation area. The village has been placed under the auspices of the nearby town of Yıldırım so that it can take advantage of municipal services, and in 1997 a project was launched to finance restoration work at Cumalıkızık by Bursa Metropolitan Municipality and Bursa Tophane UNESCO Youth Association. The aim of the project is to implement the Conservation Master Plan drawn up in 1993 by Yıldız Technical University in Istanbul. This plan does not just encompass renovation work to the houses of Cumalıkızık themselves, but a whole range of complementary economic, social and cultural measures.
Better late than never, the Cumalıkızık Conservation Project has brought together a large number of individuals and institutions, including central and local governments, universities, non-governmental organisations, local residents, firms interested in sponsoring the project, and private volunteers. The project holds out hope not only for Cumalıkızık, but for other settlements whose historical legacy is at risk from lack of funding and expertise. Explanations for the origin of the name Cumalıkızık - cuma means Friday - are various. According to one this was once the only village in the area with a mosque, so people from surrounding villages used to come here for the Friday prayers. Another is that the founder of the village was a Kızık named Cuma Ali Bey, and the name Cumalı a corruption of Cuma Ali.
After eating delicious gözleme, layers of thin griddle bread, made by local women in the village square, we headed uphill out of the village. While once the chestnut woods which cover the area were the main source of income for the village, the cultivation of raspberries has now become of foremost importance. Last year the village launched its Raspberry Festival, which it is hoped will attract even more visitors. But with or without the raspberry festival, Cumalıkızık has plenty to offer the people who come here, with its beautiful scenery, fascinating old houses and smiling inhabitants.