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Historic Town of Kemaliye

Date of Submission: 15/04/2021
Criteria: (v)(viii)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Erzincan, Eastern Anatolia Region
Coordinates: N38 30 E39 16
Ref.: 6535
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Historic town of Kemaliye (or Eğin) is located in the northwest of the Eastern Anatolian Region, and to the southwest of the Erzincan province which lies in the Upper Euphrates. The east, west, north and south of the Kemaliye settlement are surrounded by mountains. The Karasu tributary of the Euphrates, which is the longest river of the Southwest Asia, flows through the east of Kemaliye. The Lake Kadı and some other brooks, which begin in this district and flow into the Karasu River, are the most important water sources that have created the permanent settlement here.

This settlement lies at the axis of northwest-southeast in the direction of the Karasu River. The settlement has not been established at the eastern hillside of the flat-floored/deep valley that is called the Kemaliye Gorge/Karasu Valley as this slope rises as a steep wall. But as the topography at the western hillside rises gradually and falls with a lighter ascent, it has formed a proper ground for the foundation of the town alongside a small brook flowing upwards to downwards and in a formation of amphitheatre. The settlement that has dwelt in this topography utilizing the nature as the key element in settlement consists of three main terraces starting from the banks of the Euphrates River. Dense green areas stand out on the first terrace close to the river. These sections consist of vineyards and gardens, and a low density construction can be mentioned here. On the second terrace, there are dense residential areas. Especially, Kadı Lake and its surroundings made it possible for the area to be a district center due to the land structure suitable for settlement. The third stage where the settlement ends is Taşdibi Mevkii, and as the Hotar Mountain rises like a fortress wall, the possibilities of construction from here become more difficult.

The Karasu River has formed strait valleys by splitting the Munzur Mountains which is between Erzincan and Elazig and 3000 m above the sea level in the north-south direction. One of them is the Kemaliye strait. The part of the strait between Bağıştaş and Kemaliye, starting from Bağıştaş village (Ilic) in the north and ending in Dutluca village (Kemaliye) in the south, is called the Karanlık (Dark) Canyon. Karanlık Canyon has 25 km length, 1000 m depth, 90% slope and occasionally 10–15 m valley floor. With these features, it enables rock climbing and canyoning activities that have become widespread in recent years within the scope of mountaineering activities.

The construction of The Taş Yol (The Stone Road) above the the Karanlık (Dark) Canyon by the local people by means of the primitive methods to connect the caravans to the Giresun Port over the Central Anatolia begun in 1870 and completed in 2002, which meant that its construction lasted 132 years. This 7-km road consist of 38 tunnels whose heights range from 400 to 500 m. The Taş Yol is categorized as one of the “most dangerous roads” of the world.

The Ottoman Empire, the Seljuks, the Ilkhanids, the Aq Qoyunlus, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Sassanids, the Persians and the Serderges had ruled Kemaliye (Eğin) before the Republic of Turkey was founded. It is thought that Kemaliye (Eğin) was an important outpost called Teucila located at the south-north military highway controlled by an Armenian Theme after it became part of the eastern half of the Roman Empire (Byzantine) following the crumble of western half. During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Philippikos, the Armenians were inhabited in Kemaliye (Eğin) after the Jacobites had been exiled. The Arabian – Byzantine conflicts occurred in Eğin which was ruled by the Muslim Arabs for about 200 years until the 11th century. The Seljuk Sultan Alparslan captured the region following his victory in the Battle of Manzikert. The raids by Turks were witnessed in the Kemaliye (Eğin) which was ruled by the Ilkhanids, the Aq Qoyunlus and the Seljuks even before this battle. The traces of Turks can be seen in the Dilli Valley lies some 4-5 km to the northwest of Kemaliye. The data obtained from the petroglyphs and marks through photometric scans and ethnographic methods includes significant knowledge on the history of Turkish culture. Kemaliye (Eğin) became an important commercial hub after it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Mehmed I, who is the fifth sultan of Ottoman Empire, between 1413 and 1421.

Being located over the Silk Road and caravan routes played a significant role in change of rulers and invasions of Kemaliye. Kemaliye (Eğin), which is an important junction at the north-south and east-west trading routes, lies at the Baghdad-Basra and Iran-Georgia axis. Kemaliye (Eğin) was frequented by the caravans until 19th century. The neighbouring settlements, namely the villages 1-1.5 km far from the centre, developed at this axis as the Silk Road, the caravan routes and the road to Iran passed through Kemaliye. Kemaliye (Eğin) became an important trade centre within the region in the course of time thanks to the transportation carried out over the Euphrates River and as the Custom House was founded here – in addition to the customs in Istanbul.

Kemaliye was a cosmopolitan city. The Muslim-Turks, Armenians, Orthodoxes and Rums, as is case in Konya, Karaman and Kayseri, lived in Kemaliye (Eğin). There was no much difference between the people living in Kemaliye (Eğin) or its villages in terms of social and cultural aspects. The primary materials used to build the Kemaliye houses are stone, wood and mud-brick. The Kemaliye houses are built through the construction technique called “hımış”. The wooden beams and rubble stone with mud filling are used to build an area up to the main storey. For the main storey and roof, the wooden framework with mud-brick filling is used to build the house. The mud-brick use in construction of a house is limited to only being a filling material of the wooden framework system. The façade of masonry wall facing the street is unplastered but its interior is coated. On the interior of the wooden walls with stone and mud-brick filling, the finishing coat, which is like a gypsum plaster made of the local material called pur stone, is applied over the scratch coat before polishing it with a cloth. The exterior surface of the wooden framework wall is covered by the 15-30 pine timbers, called as the alignment woods, which are vertically arrayed. Today, the timber is replaced by metal sheets because of the difficulties to maintain the wooden material.

The use of local material in the formation of regional architecture in the settlements of Anatolia is essential. However, the difference between the natural environment and the regional architecture is remarkable for the settlement character of Kemaliye. The main components of the architectural language, which are based on utilizing the qualified material, are wood and stone. Using wooden material is considered to be normal in Kemaliye while using wooden material is quite surprising. In the natural environment of Kemaliye, there is no forestland around that may supply the timber to be used in construction but only the crags and orchards. However, the development of wooden architecture, which is the most important component of the local architecture, is fairly interesting. The nearest forests to Kemaliye are in Refahiye located to the north of it but there is no direct connection between these two towns. According to the oral history research conducted in this area, the timbers supplied from the forests of Refahiye were transported here via the Euphrates over Kemah. The timbers were tied together through a technique called “Apart”, which is a bright example of the human creative genius, to the Gümrükçü Neighbourhood over the Euphrates. The raw timbers were transported into the construction areas after they were processed in the carpenters’ shop.

Despite of such a difficult transportation means, developing this system that became widespread throughout the whole settlement enabled Kemaliye to establish a more authentic structures as compared with the settlements around it. Another reason for the use of wooden materials, which is not encountered in the surrounding settlements, is that people of Kemaliye living in Istanbul wanted to carry the material and spiritual savings they have acquired there to their Kemaliye houses.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The intricate urban texture of Kemaliye creates a cultural and natural landscape that forms a whole. The nature-space-human relationship here has created a unique texture of settlement. The part of the Karanlık (Dark) Canyon that includes the Keban Dam Lake, which is an integral part of the Kemaliye settlement, is 8 kilometers, and its entire length is approximately 35 kilometers. The elevation difference between the river base and the valley side in the canyon reaches up to 1000 meters.

With this feature, Dark Canyon is among the top five deep canyons in the world. Natural elements are of great importance in the formation of Kemaliye's unique urban texture and architectural character. The sloping structure of the region, the presence of the Euphrates River, other water resources in the settlement center and the climate features are the natural factors that determine the position and formation of the civil architecture examples in Kemaliye. The way of life here is based on nature.

The building conditions of Kemaliye which is positioned over the 30-45% slope of a terrain have brought about the construction of houses with two or more than two storeys. The designs of these houses have solutions that used the topographic data with a rational approach. In this respect, they must be appreciated as a product of a human creative genius. The terrain conditions have brought about two street types, namely in parallel with slope and vertical. When the seating situation of Kemaliye houses in the topography is examined, it is seen that it is possible to access houses from two, sometimes three different levels. The relationship between the house and the street can be provided from three different levels: courtyard, garden and direct house connection.

The fundamental principle applied to position the houses and project the indoor space is the tendency to orient towards the Euphrates. The main spaces and rooms of the houses are positioned in a way to see the scenery of the Euphrates while they come to the forefront with their bay windows and become special. In this sense, the Euphrates has influenced the design of urban space and architecture. The settlements have been designed and established in accordance with this impact.

Besides the natural flow of water springing from this source, an irrigation network is set up through the network of water-ducts. Thanks to this irrigation network which is one of the examples of human creative genius, the water gets to the gardens of houses, courts or fountains or the cooling chambers inside the houses. The water channels also ensure a natural air-conditioning while its water flows along the walls of gardens throughout the street before entering the houses. 

There are many original urban details of Kemaliye Houses. The stone-staired street systems shaped in accordance with the topography, the tortas, the intersections of houses with the street corners, water-ducts, the garden walls integrated with the greenery, the grapevine structures, the fountains with iwan, the simple urban furniture and such are worth studying in terms of their local peculiarities. In addition to the characteristic street types of Kemaliye developed in accordance with the topography, there is a third street type defining the urban character. These streets, locally called “torta”, have the feature of a passageway. These passageways are formed while the houses are erected over the street. The tortas can be seen in the streets extending vertically against or in parallel with the slope.

The concerns to ease the exit points on these staired-streets which occasionally become narrow and develop vertically towards the slope are felt. The bevelling method is frequently used in order to decrease the sharpness of the street turns adjacent to the corner walls of the house placed into the street. These special details in which a corbelled system is used play a definitive role in the character of the street.

Besides the original urban details, there are many unique details about the residential architecture in Kemaliye houses. Traces of social life can be seen in almost all Kemaliye houses. The figures, which have a place in people's lives and have certain meanings, have been stylized and turned into details that enrich the simple structures of the houses. Figures on door knockers and locks, wooden carvings on fixed hardware, «rıhtım» floor pavements done with small river stones, inscriptions and stone reliefs on facades, skylights, patterns on large V-shaped iron pins connecting wooden pieces called "güllap" and door knockers that differ from their traditional typology are the details that contain these traces. For example, the stylized snake figures on the keyholes on the doors of the rooms or on the hangers nailed on the wooden belts that circulate throughout some rooms carry the belief that the snake will protect the house from evil from the past to the present.

The figure in the rings to which the ropes connected to the baby cradles, which are suspended in the air in Kemaliye houses are thought to belong to Mother Umay, the protector. Mother Umay figure is the general name given to feminine beings seen in Turkish mythology. In the inscriptions of Köl Tigin, Bilge Kağan and Tonyukuk, Mother Umay is referred to as a woman deity. In the authentic architecture of the houses, all the service spaces, walking spaces, lower terraces of the rooms, roofs and courts are covered by the “rıhtım” floor system in which the small creek stones are paved side by side.

Criterion (v): Town of Kemaliye has a cultural and natural landscape bearing testimony to 600 years of Ottoman / Anatolian urbanism and architectural texture. This landscape is composed by these components: Settlement fabric and streets which were shaped in accordance with the topographic structure of Karasu Valley; building masses and facades, which are directed to the Euphrates River; use of stone as local construction material; use and transportation of wood as non local material to the area by a very special method called Apart; spatial organisations of the houses (in terms of both interior and outside organisations) which were shaped in harmony with nature and topography. Due to these features; it can be said that Kemaliye is one of the true representatives of the housing culture developed in Anatolia (Doğan Kuban, Problems of Our Art History, Çağdaş Publications, Istanbul, 1975).

Criterion (viii): Being one of the largest canyons in the world and completing its geological formation over the centuries, Karanlik Canyon has an exceptional importance both with its geological structure and its "Taş Yol/Stone Road" built by carving out of hard rocks. The chain of events that shaped the geological features of Kemaliye and its surroundings started with the formation of the Neotethys Ocean, which covered the region in the Late Triassic. Thereafter, neritic conditions prevailed in which continuous carbonate precipitation took place until the Late Cretaceous. Since the Late Cretaceous, the region has been compressed, uplifted and the oceanic lithosphere that forms the bottom of the Neotethys Ocean has settled on the continent with the events that caused the closure of this ocean (thrust and ophiolite settlement). During the Tertiary period, the region was mostly affected by compression and uplifts movements and at the end of the early Miocene marine conditions completely disappeared. Today, the marine units in the region have a rich and characteristic fossil content of different groups and times. (Such as Paleodacyclades, Megalodontidae, Foraminifera, Rudists, echinites, Bivalves, gastropods, corals). Tectonic events developed in the post-Miocene period controlled the outflow of steep-sloped deep valleys, well-developed karstification structures and water resources in the region.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Kemaliye's residential texture and traditional architecture have preserved its authenticity and integrity largely intact. In Kemaliye district center, 125 examples of traditional architecture, 2 bridges, 2 baths, 13 fountains, 1 madrasah, 2 churches, and 10 mosques have been registered by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as cultural property. Most of these structures are still standing today. In time, many houses lost their residents due to immigration. This disrupted the necessary maintenance and caused damage to the buildings. To prevent this, residence facades have been covered with metal sheets since the 1950s, and flat roofs have been covered with sloping roofs made by metal sheets. This practice is seen as an intervention that damages the original texture and appearance of the architecture, although it protects houses from the climate factors. Recently, restoration works and street rehabilitations which have been carried out with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism have reduced the presence of metal sheet coverings on the urban texture.

 60 restoration works and 7 street rehabilitation works which were done in the city center until 2019 were approved by the Erzurum Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural Properties. The first decision regarding registration of historic buildings was taken in 1988. The settlement was declared as an urban protected area in 2005 and the conservation plan has been in force since 2010. Numerous street rehabilitation, restoration, landscaping projects, reconstruction, simple repair and renovation projects have been implemented in the city center so far. When the robustness of 470 buildings in the city center is examined, it is understood that approximately 80 % of them are in medium condition. Those in good condition account for about 20 % of all. Streets originally paved with small river stones named “rıhtım” have been replaced by concrete pavements. In this context, the biggest deterioration in Kemaliye is in roads and roofs. The originality of houses was spoiled because of the changed window-door proportions. Today, there are approximately 470 buildings in the city center. 125 of these are registered as cultural property. Approximately 300 of the buildings in the city center were built using traditional methods. 170 of them are reinforced concrete structures. Most of these structures are compatible with traditional structures in terms of their mass proportions.

Kemaliye's unique identity, which is known with its traditional Ottoman/Anatolian urban landscape and its relation with Karanlik (Dark) Canyon formed on the Euphrates River, is protected by National Laws as the majority of the city center was declared as an urban protected area in 2005 and Dark Canyon was registered as a qualified natural protection area in 2020.

Comparison with other similar properties

Town of Kemaliye is one of the preserved examples of traditional Ottoman / Anatolian organic urban texture and traditional Turkish house architecture such as Beypazarı, Safranbolu, Cumalıkızık and Amasya. However, the authentic features that make Kemaliye stand out from these examples are as follows:

Traditional house architecture in Anatolia can be divided into seven regions depending on the local materials and building traditions. According to this conception, it can be stated that the housing tradition of Kemaliye can be placed on the border of many housing traditions which exist in different regions of Anatolia. Some of these traditions are: "wooden frame house architecture of the Eastern Black Sea Region, adobe architecture in the village and small city environment of Central Anatolia; wood-beam architecture of Northeastern Anatolia; the residential architecture, which extends from Sivas to the west, in a construction technique, in which the carrier system is wood, adobe filled, and the ground floor is usually stone. When considered in terms of the socio-cultural differences in Anatolia in the Ottoman period; It can be said that Kemaliye is located on the borderline of the "Original Anatolian Synthesis" and the Transition Zone. Kemaliye houses differ from similar Anatolian urbanizations as they synthesize the characteristics of the regions to which they have borders. One of the distinctive features of the city is that it is built on a more rigid and dramatic (35% - 40%) topographic valley compared to other traditional Anatolian settlements.

Kemaliye differs from similar Anatolian / Ottoman settlements in terms of using wood in architecture as a non local material and in terms of transportation of it to the region with a very original method named “apart”. On the stone walls of the houses, inscriptions, and some interior elements, there are figures such as Mother Umay, snake and kibele, which are symbolized by the beliefs that have continued since pre- Islamic cultures. This also makes Kemaliye different from other traditional Anatolian settlements.

Karanlik (Dark) Canyon, interacting with the residential area, stands out as an exceptional geological value in the region. In addition, Taş Yol (the Stone Road), which has been shaped with traditional methods over many years in the Karanlik (Dark) Canyon, is an exceptional example of creative human genius.