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September 2011
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Restoring Old Homes in Istanbul

Multistoried building in downtown IstanbulFinally, back in Istanbul, I moved into part of an old Ottoman building (perhaps 150 years old) close to the Galata Tower on the Golden Horn. I was particularly looking forward to this for a number of reasons. My host, Fateh, who I met through the AirBnB website,  sounded just my kind of person… very interested in restoration work and the history of the older homes in Istanbul.

I know many of you already know and love this amazing, vibrant city.  It had been 17 years since I had been there and it has changed so much. Many people now speak English and many are fluent in Spanish too, due to Istanbul’s increased popularity as a tourist destination for people from all over Europe.  This was my chance to get to know the city and explore alone.

Many of the old areas of Istanbul are now being “gentrified”. Just like at home here in Merida, there is a new appreciation for the old architecture and for the advantages of living in the center of the city. Unfortunately prices have sky-rocketed, although I am sure the old homes in the city center are still a good investment. Unlike Merida where most homes are single story, Istanbul’s Ottoman homes are three or four stories high and are being divided into flats. Apartments, or flats, are the most economical option for most people, whether buying a second home or retiring full-time to Istanbul. They purchase one or perhaps two levels in the home, which then is operated as a co-op or condominium.Restoration and construction in Istanbul

Our huge older homes in Merida often got divided into slices as families grew, but there are separate footprints and the homes have separate titles. You can see this on some blocks in the city, where there are two to four homes that share a common architecture or even the same roofline, but are painted different colors and now have different addresses. In Merida, because of this, we have no need for the co-op model.  The other big difference between Merida and Istanbul are the construction materials.

In Istanbul, wood was and still is plentiful. And between the wood, they use brick, another Merida rarity.  Here in Merida, when you open a wall,  you find rock and more rock, held together with lime mortar. In Istanbul, both old and new construction includes wood and brick.

The narrow winding lanes lined with tall houses on each side have meant that major fires have gutted and destroyed much of Istanbul’s old architecture. Still,  much remains and can be a challenge to restore…  so much so that in some cases I wasn’t sure whether I was seeing a house being built from scratch or a restoration!  It was quite difficult to get good photographs, too. The owners thought it would be dangerous to have me wandering about on their scaffolding and I also felt sure that some work was being done without all permits being entirely in place. This doesn’t mean that the work was being done badly or not up to standard. I have Waiting to be restored in Istanbulbeen told paperwork can be extremely tedious and time consuming in Turkey… always one more rubber stamp to be obtained and another few month’s wait while paperwork sits in the pile.

Here in Merida, while that may have been the case years ago, nowadays we are thankful to have a far more organized permitting system, making it relatively easy and cheap to get your plans approved and work started.