Until some years ago, Sarıhacılar, a village in the Toros Mountains, was nothing more than a ghost village. You could count the number of villagers on a single hand. Most of the houses were severely damaged or even completely collapsed. However, Mustafa Kavaşoğlu, a businessman from Istanbul, immediately recognised its charm when he visited the hamlet in 2010. He started investing in the reconstruction of some of the historical houses and opened an Ethnographic museum in 2015. His dream? To revive this abandoned village with its long and fascinating history.
By Cindy Olcan | Photos Leo van Vliet
Travel a short while into the Toros Mountains, and you will reach the small hamlet of Sarıhacılar. At first sight, the village’s descent into decay attracts the attention. The houses are just piles of stone. We see overgrown streets and half demolished buildings everywhere. Some with some very oddly skewed doors holding them up! There is a sense of desolation that you can feel and see. But what is also instantly apparent, is the incredible attraction and beauty of this village. The whole place breathes character and history. It literally shouts at you to take a closer look.
Enamoured by the Charm
After we park the car on a fallow piece of land, we are warmly welcomed by a distinguished looking man in cream coloured trousers and a blue checked shirt. It’s Mustafa Kavaşoğlu, a businessman from Istanbul. He recounts for us how he became enamoured by the charm of Sarıhacılar when he first visited in 2010. Since then; he has invested heavily in the reconstruction of this quiet little village. He is optimistic that one day soon it will become a popular destination for tourists who want to see more of the Antalya province than sun and sea.
A Historical Treasure.
Sarıhacılar lies an hour and a half drive from Alanya into the Toros Mountains on the road to Akseki. Kavaşoğlu tells us he was born in this region but moved to Istanbul when he was just 1.5 years old. “I grew up in Istanbul, married there and built up my company there. In fact, I had never been back to the Akseki region until 2010. Our company was organising a youth camp in this area, and we were looking for locations to make the activities. We were driving around, and it led us to a village of Sarıhacılar.”
Deserted but interesting hamlet
What Kavaşoğlu found in the rocky landscape, was a nearly deserted but interesting hamlet. This rather desolate place, however, happens to possess two significant historic treasures. The villages unique location along the ancient Silk Road being the first. This is the famous network of roads, along which centuries ago trade caravans travelled. It was the route between the East and the West, bringing them through the Middle-East and the Mediterranean area on their long, long journeys.
A Very Serious Hobby
The second treasure this little village contains is the Mosque, standing since the year 600. You can still find on the inside walls the original ornaments and some wall decorations of high historical value.
Our entrepreneur from Istanbul, who happens to have a passion for history, was immediately impressed when he found this great historical treasure: “I was looking around in the village, and I knew immediately: Here I want to establish my museum.”
Mustafa Kavaşoğlu explains that about forty years ago, just after his marriage, he started collecting antique artefacts. At first, they functioned as decoration for his home, but after a while, it became a serious hobby.
Kavaşoğlu collected historical items that are characteristic of the Turkish culture and lifestyle. Kitchen utensils, clothes, tools, ceramics, trinkets. You name it; he bought them. From antique stores, found in homes of friends and family or received them as a gift. While in daily life he was running Fomged, an NGO specialising in cultural events for young people, his collection of ethnographic artefacts kept growing. Mr Kavaşoğlu started dreaming of opening a museum, somewhere in Turkey, to share his beloved collection to the rest of the world.
It was when he set foot in Sarıhacılar, that he knew instantly he had found the perfect place. To his satisfaction, Kavaşoğlu also discovers then, that Sarıhacılar lies in a protected area. What this means for this village, is that anyone who wants to build or rebuild a house here has to do it in the original style. “That was the confirmation I was looking for. Because I didn’t want to take the risk of investing a lot of my own money into the renovation of historical houses and then have somebody else build a concrete building next to it.”
In Sarıhacılar you can only find the unusually named ‘button houses’, ‘düğmeli evleri’, that are characteristic of the Akseki region. Over 300 years old, these button houses owe their name to the way they were built: with wooden beams and stones. One of the beams is called ‘button’ because it holds two other beams. These beams altogether form the construction skeleton. Later stones are put between the beams that create the walls. The beam that’s called the ‘button’, sticks out of the wall for a couple of centimetres which gives these houses their distinctive, dotted, appearance.
Sharing The Affection
It’s a pleasure to walk around Sarıhacılar with Mr Kavuşoğlu. He has a lot of knowledge and shares it tirelessly. It kind of surprises us that a busy businessman, coming from a metropolis like Istanbul, shows so much affection and interest in this remote village in the middle of nowhere and invests so much money into it. “I am still living in Istanbul; my wife and sons and company are there. But the moment I arrived here, I knew I wanted to mean something here. And who knows, I was born in this area, and although I have not been here for the largest part of my life, maybe some kind nostalgia to this part of Turkey lives inside of me.”
In 2010 Kavaşoğlu bought seven houses in Sarıhacılar. He hired an architect who specialises in historical renovations, alongside five carpenters from Kastamonu, to deal with the huge amount of carpentry and wood carvings involved in the restoration. From these seven houses, four are now restored to their original state. One, a two-floor button house, has been transformed into the Ethnographic Museum. It opened in 2015 and houses the thousands of items of Kavaşoğlu’s private collection. The museum is said to be the most comprehensive museum of its kind.
Our tour takes us through the village and leads us to the reason why Sarıhacılar exists: the ancient Silk Road. From the Classic Antiquity to the Late Middle Ages this Silk Road was the most important trade route between the East and the West. Caravans of merchants with heavily packed camels travelled these paths. They were transporting mostly valuable goods. Therefore, they were in need of a safe place to reload, sleep, eat and do some business. Settlements or caravanserais were established all along the Silk Road. Some 800 years ago, one of them was Sarıhacılar.
Centuries later the Silk Road is still clearly visible in Sarıhacılar. It is a path of no more than 2-metres width, inlaid with boulders. Standing on the old pathway in the hilly landscape, it’s amazing to imagine the foot traffic moving in all directions. Caravans with sometimes 50 camels were walking on these paths!
The promotion of the ancient Silk Road as trekking route and the development of alternative tourism are high on the agenda of local authorities.
Saved From Disappearing
At the end of the 15th century, beginning of 16th century, the Silk Road started losing its popularity. That time faster and more efficient transport possibilities came into use, like shipping. Many people moved away from the once prosperous settlements, and places like Sarıhacılar became quiet little villages, where the people lived a simple life.
In the 19th Century, the next wave of change hit and young people began to move away to the larger cities for work and education. Within the villages, with no young people remaining to maintain the village way of life, it became occupied by an ageing population. Small communities such as Sarıhacılar started to disappear, becoming ghost villages.
Mr Kavaşoğlu told us, Sarıhacılar, almost disappeared completely from the map. “It was around 12 years ago and to prevent this from happening, some landowners quickly renovated some of the old houses. They also hired an Imam for the Mosque. In that way at least it looked like the village was still inhabited and therefore secured its existence.”
More like a small town
An interesting aspect of this action was the confirmation that Sarıhacılar used to be a place of significant importance. When the Imam came to the mosque, he discovered the existence of a collection of rare carpets and flags in the long forgotten basement. Mr Kavaşoğlu pointed out this was a collection given to the mosque by persons of note over the centuries. If you look at their materials and inscriptions, it shows the importance of Sarıhacılar. It was clear the current village was more likely a small town at that time.
Well, we believe one day it will be again. At least, if it is up to Mustafa Kavaşoğlu!
Tel. +90 242 259 5509 | +90 544 797 3434
Address: Sarıhacılar Village (Google Maps)
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