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The settlement of Mudurnu was founded along a deep, narrow valley formed by the Mudurnu (Gallos) River, in a region rich with pine forests and thermal springs. The ancient geographer Strabon informs that the town of Modrene (Mudurnu) was located on the major trade routes of Anatolia. The Silk Road, which connected inner Asia with Tabriz in the 13th-14th centuries, continued to Bursa via Erzurum-Sivas, and passing through Mudurnu-Göynük-Taraklı-Geyve, finally reached Constantinople. Another major trade route of the time, the Crimean Road, connected Damascus and Mediterranean port cities with Bursa, proceeding to Constantinople and the Black Sea through Mudurnu-Bolu-Kastamonu-Cide. Situated at the junction of these roads, Mudurnu served as an important military base and mid-size trading town in the Byzantine, Seljukid and Ottoman periods.
Mudurnu has played a distinct role in three ‘periods of establishment’ that were milestones in the development of the Turkish states in Anatolia. The ‘First Period of Establishment’ is the beginning of the Turkification of Anatolia. Following in the footsteps of the Seljuks, the first Ottoman incursions to Mudurnu were made by Osman I. The town fully became Ottoman territory under Osman’s son Orhan in 1307, hence becoming a city of the Ottoman heartland. During Orhan’s reign, the foundations of the first regular Ottoman army and treasury systems were laid by Halil Hayrettin Paşa (Çandarlı), who was raised in the Ahi lodges of Mudurnu and taken by Orhan to the Court from the Madrassah of Sheikh Fahreddin-i Rumi. Halil later became the first Ottoman Grand Vizier, his Çandarlı lineage (1330-1450) helping to establish the Ottoman administrative and political system. Mudurnu and Göynük served as Early Ottoman centers for the education of crown princes. The ‘Second Period of Establishment’ was the Ottoman Interregnum (1402-1413), when the region of Mudurnu was a refuge for crown princes who fled Timur’s armies. Of these, Çelebi Mehmed set up his camp on the highlands of Mudurnu-Seben and oversaw the establishment of the second Ottoman Reign. The ‘Third Period of Establishment’ was the Turkish War of Independence (1919-22), leading to the establishment of the Turkish Republic. During the conflicts between the Sultan and the Atatürk’s new Ankara government, the most turbulent rebellions against the National Resistance were suppressed around Mudurnu. Since then, the community of Mudurnu has been among foremost supporters of Turkey’s Republican ideals.
A fundamental element from the outset of Mudurnu’s development as a Turkish settlement has been the Ahi Order (Akhism), a merchants’ solidarity organization and a guild system based on a philosopy of tolerance and fair distribution of wealth. The Ahi Order was established in the early 13th century by Ahi Evran in order to integrate Turkish manners and customs with the Muslim faith, to create employment opportunities for merchants and craftsmen that migrated from Asia to Anatolia and to make them capable of competing with their Byzantine counterparts; to maintain quality standards for their goods and products; to regulate the production according to needs; to infuse craftsmen with morality; to provide economic independence to Turkish people and to support those in need. The ethical values and organizational structure of the Ahi Order lie at the heart of contemporary tradesmen and craftsmen organizations. A derivative of the Arabic for ‘brother’, ‘Ahi’ means generous and hospitable. The Ahi Order combines material qualities like ‘skillfulness, productivity and professionalism’ with moral qualities like ‘maturity, selflessness and truthfulness’, educating people along these principles through a master- apprentice relationship. Beside commercial and social life, the Ahi Order has reflections in folklore, as Ahi practices like ‘throwing one’s shoe over the roof’ are idiomatic expressions today.
The earliest trace of the Ahi Order in Mudurnu is the mention, both in the Book of Aşık Paşazade and the Book of Neşri, of Sultan Orhan looking for the ‘Beştaş Ahi Lodge’, a ‘border zawiya’ left from Seljukid times. The famed 14c. traveller Ibn-i Battuta, who travelled around Anatolia in Sultan Orhan’s time, describes Mudurnu as a “town inhabited entirely by Muslim-Turkish people and full of Ahi zawiyas and lodges” and praises the hospitality of the locals. In the Early and Mid- Ottoman eras, Mudurnu emerges as an important centre of merchant-artisanship and trade based on the Ahi system, and its location on major trade routes. The wealth accumulated by the commercial production of the Ahi guilds was channelled into urban development, producing sophisticated commercial, religious and residential architecture. Many mansions, waqfs, khans and caravanserais were built to meet the needs of campaigning Ottoman armies, trading caravans, postal organizations and diplomatic couriers who used Mudurnu as a staging post and place of accommodation until the mid-19th century. One of the ‘poultry-providing counties’, Mudurnu had local products including butter, cheese, barley and pears directly sent for consumption in the Royal kitchen. Due to these close ties to the Ottoman Court, Mudurnu was nicknamed ‘Little İstanbul’. Particularly mentioned in written sources are the sought-after mirrors produced in the Mudurnu Mirror-makers Market, the ‘maiden needles’ produced by the needle workshops, the products of the Mudurnu Textile-Silk Factory, the hand embroideries, ironware, copperware, saddles, knives and goat hair products of Mudurnu. The Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, who visited Mudurnu in 1650, describes the town as having “3000 houses, 17 neighbourhoods, Yıldırım Mosque and Madrassah, 1 quranic madrassah, 13 children’s schools, 3 khans and hammams and 1100 needle workshops. Needles and wooden pitchers made in Mudurnu are sent to the “Lands of Rum and to India”. The mid-17c. Ottoman scholar Kâtip Çelebi describes Mudurnu as “a kadiluk (judicial official’s jurisdiction) [with] 11 neighbourhoods, 2 hammams and 3 mosques. Beside Yıldırım Bayezıd, Sultan Suleiman and Asilbey Mosques, there is a Yıldırım Madrassah and Dibek Khan built by Rüstem Pasha. Most of its populace deals with needlemaking. There is a citadel on top of the eastern hill, surrounded by walls on three sides.”
The historical urban landscape of Mudurnu today presents a quiet but striking ensemble of monumental and civic architecture set on a rocky river valley. The distinct characteristics of traditional Mudurnu houses, similar to other Western Black Sea towns, include wood as predominant building material, a serene rhythm of windows, protruding upper level windows, angled corbelling adjusted to the streets and topography, hipped roofs, triangular pediments and wood-carved decorations on building facades. Some prominent examples are the Armutçular, Haytalar and Keyvanlar Mansions. As for prominent monuments, three ‘Sultan mosques’ were built in the 14th-16th centuries. in Mudurnu. Only foundations remain from the Imaret Mosque built by Sultan Orhan, but Yıldırım Bayezıd Mosque, significant in terms of Early Ottoman architecture, and Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent) Mosque, built in the Classical Ottoman period, are still in use today. Bayezıd I, who had his crown prince education in Mudurnu, had his namesake mosque, hammam (1382) and madrassah built to become impressive buildings of their time. Other monuments include the Byzantine Citadel; approximately 30 saint tombs and graves which include those of Fahreddin-i Rumi and Şeyh-ül İmran; and the Clock Tower (1890). The historical Bazaar (Arasta) located in the city centre is formed by four parallel main streets and smaller perpendicular streets in grid layout. The shops lined along the streets, built for the crafts of making needles, knives, copperware, ironware and the like, exhibit Late Ottoman technical and stylistic properties; the late-19th/early-20th-century steel-beamed, double-storeyed shops represent important examples of their period. The most important intact feature of the shops is the mobile shutters, which open up to form canopies and down to form exhibit counters. As a whole, Mudurnu has preserved its typical Ottoman town character to a great degree.
Mudurnu developed as a trading and military hub at the junction of major trade routes including the Silk Road, to emerge as an important cultural centre of the Ahi Order in the Ottoman era. The dense linear settlement, lying along the rocky Mudurnu River valley, forms a harmonious ensemble of natural topography and urban fabric, creating a dramatic historic urban landscape. The legacy of Ottoman trade and crafts, the Ahi culture based on a philosophy of tolerance and equitable distribution of wealth, and associated monumental and civic architecture are significant features of this landscape. As an Early Ottoman religious philosophy, the Ahi tradition is particular to Anatolia and has played a key role in the development of Turkish sovereignty and culture in Anatolia. Kept alive in the social and physical milieu of Mudurnu since the 14th century, the Ahi tradition has clear reflections in the urban environment. The most striking social reflection of the Ahi tradition is the Merchants’ Prayer (Esnaf Duası) that has been performed in the historical bazaar (Arasta) for 700 years. The physical reflections of the Ahi culture are seen in the building activity that was undertaken with the wealth accumulated by the organization of Ahi guilds and Mudurnu’s strategic location at the junction of major routes. Significant elements of this built heritage are the Arasta that is home to the traditional artisanal trades, the vernacular urban fabric containing sophisticated examples of Western Black Sea region timber houses, the Yıldırım Bayezıd Mosque representing an important step in the evolution of the Ottoman single-domed mosque architecture and other monuments such as the hammam, saint tombs and graves of the Ottoman period.
Criterion (iii): Mudurnu’s Ahi Order-based commercial activities and associated historic urban fabric developed when the town was located on major trade routes, and went into decline when the routes shifted north to other itineraries. In a similar process, the Ahi guild system was weakened as a result of competition from Western industrial products in the 19th century and became obsolete with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. However, it is kept alive as a cultural tradition and value system. Through its historical Arasta, where some traditional crafts remain and the 700-year Merchants’ Prayer is performed, the historic town of Mudurnu bears witness to the Ahi tradition, which has been an integral part of the city’s culture since the 13th century and has transformed itself into the present-day tradesmen and craftsmen organization. With the commercial functions in its Arasta continuing to be connected to the Ahi tradition, with its significant monumental works such as Yıldırım Bayezıd Mosque and with its sophisticated examples of timber residential architecture such as Armutçular and Haytalar Mansions, Mudurnu offers a physical-spatial manifestation of a religious, commercial and social organizational system of the Ottoman period.
Criterion (iv): Among the Sultan-built mosques in Mudurnu, Yıldırım Bayezıd Mosque warrants special attention. It was built by the then crown prince Bayezıd I in 1382, and the villages of Kavak and Semdören and various other properties and endowments (waqfs) were assigned to fund its maintenance. Within the context of Ottoman architectural evolution, the mosque is one of the earliest examples of a simple execution of the singled-domed mosque plan layout. Furthermore, the building is significant for the size of its dome diameter; with its wide dome, it represents an important step in the transition to Empire Period religious buildings having monumental domes.
Criterion (vi): The Ahi order, which played an active role in the economic life of the Anatolian Seljuks and has since been a symbol of Turkish morality, is not encountered in any other nation. Mudurnu is the only district-level urban centre in Turkey where the Merchants’ Prayer, a quintessentially Ahi practice, has been performed continuously without interruption for more than 700 years, and the ‘Ahi Culture Week’ is officially celebrated. Mudurnu has played a distinct role in certain milestones in the development of Turkish states in Anatolia, most notably through the Çandarlı Vizier dynasty, which helped establish early Ottoman state institutions, as a centre of education for Ottoman crown princes.
Efforts for the conservation of Mudurnu’s heritage began with the listing of 180 historic buildings in the late 1970s, and continued in the 1990s with the preparation of a conservation plan. With the Council’s decision no. 15.01.1991/1609, a large part of the settlement was designated as an urban conservation site, while Mudurnu Citadel designated an archaeological conservation site. As of April 2014, Mudurnu has a total of 234 listed cultural and natural properties. Yıldırım Bayezıd Mosque suffered various earthquake damages and underwent repairs in 1744, 1776, 1839, 1900, 1956-60 and 1999. A local initiative was launched after the 2001 economic crisis, to revitalize the town’s economy through cultural tourism, which triggered the restoration of several buildings and their reuse as hotels. Also noteworthy are the Ministry of Culture and Tourism grants used since 2005 for the repair of 72 houses. Piecemeal conservation works have been undertaken since 2009 for the Arasta and a street rehabilitation project was implemented in 2005 in the urban conservation site. Mudurnu was awarded prizes by the Turkish Union of Historic Towns in 2003 and 2006 for these efforts. The Turkish National Inventory of Intangible Heritage includes the ‘Birikme Nights’ and ‘Bride’s Head Embroidery’ of Mudurnu, and work is in progress to include the ‘Ahi Culture’ heading. The Mudurnu Cultural Heritage Site Management Plan was prepared and approved in 2014, with funding from East Marmara Development Agency. Work has recently begun to set up an ‘Ahi Museum’ and a Building Conservation Workshop.
Mudurnu’s urban fabric has largely retained its authenticity and integrity. Although some alterations on roofing material and inappropriate additions to existing structures are observed, these have not reached a degree that compromises the town’s general character. Occupancy rates within the urban conservation site are %85, and 60% of buildings are still inhabited by long-time owners, showing a high level of functional authenticity. The Arasta shops are also intact in terms of physical features and function. Many shops still have their original wooden shutter system, façade elements and decorated eaves. Old crafts such as ironworking, coppermaking and shoe-making continue to be practiced in some shops. Also partially surviving is the clustering of trade types in different streets typical to Ottoman commercial centres. The occupancy rate of the Arasta is %75. The mosques and tombs preserve their authentic forms and plan layouts, but some elements such as mihrabs, inscriptions and fountains have disappeared or been renewed. The main portal and bath basins of Yıldırım Bayezıd Hammam continue to exhibit the intricate original stonework. The silhouette of the valley that envelops the town is still largely pristine. There are low-density, low-rise developments within the valley to the north and south of the historic centre. The relatively high authenticity of Mudurnu can be associated with its demographic composition not being affected much by migrations, and falling off major contemporary transportation itineraries, the town not being exposed to serious population or development pressures.
The Ahi order, which has not been seen in any other nation except the Turks, has played an active role in the economic life of Anatolian Seljuks in the first half of the 13th century and been a symbol of Turkish morality for many years. Based on this fact, Mudurnu can only be fully compared to Turkish towns or cities where the Ahi order was practiced in history. The main provinces in Turkey that are mentioned in conjunction with the Ahi culture are Kırşehir, Şanlıurfa and Denizli. In the annual Ahi culture celebrations, the state protocol gathers in Kırşehir, while celebrations in other cities are organized by the Province Directorates for Trade. Mudurnu is the only district-level urban centre in Turkey official celebrating ‘Ahi Culture Week’ and where the Merchants’ Prayer continues to be performed. While Kırşehir, housing the tomb of Ahi Evran and the national centre of celebrations, represents the Ahi culture at the scale of the single monument, Mudurnu complements this at the urban scale, with its commercial centre, monuments and residential quarter. That is to say that Mudurnu is the only case where Ahi morality and its economic and cultural accumulation in the town contributed to the development of an unequalled urban fabric which is abundant in civic and monumental architectural values.
In terms of towns around the world whose historic centres developed with the influence of merchant guilds, the European towns of Sighişoara (Romania), Varazdin (Croatia), Košice and Levoča-Spišský Hrad (Slovakia) and Visby (Sweden) and the Asian towns of Tabriz (Iran) and Ahmadabad (India) can be cited. However, the Turkish ‘guild town’ model, represented in Mudurnu, is distinct from others as combining trade with Ahi spirituality.
As a mid-size Northwest Anatolian town located on historical trade routes, Mudurnu also shows similarities with the towns of Göynük, Taraklı, Beypazarı, Bursa-Cumalıkızık, Kastamonu and Safranbolu. Among neighboring towns, Mudurnu stands out with the quantity and quality of its architectural works. In terms of the history of Turkification of Anatolia, Mudurnu enters the stage slightly earlier than comparable Göynük and Bursa. While Beypazarı and Safranbolu have been successful in tourism and promotion, Mudurnu retains its original social fabric with high levels of original occupancy.