ESACH Blog | The role of rural communities in heritage preservation in Cumalıkızık, Turkey

Tourism in rural areas expands the broad public awareness of marginal cultures by at once providing residents with the opportunity of presenting the tangible and intangible forms of local heritage. Yet, it is a subject that needs to be approached cautiously as external presences directly affect both the architectural heritage and the related cultural expressions. Taking this concern into account, the passing on of traditions and customs left us as a legacy from the past civilizations and the communication of their significance remain nevertheless essential and questions, therefore, arise whether this can be achieved in a balanced manner. In this regard, local people demonstrate to be the key and the case of Cumalıkızık highlights the significant role played by local citizens in accommodating rural heritage preservation and promotion within forms of sustainable tourism.

Written by: Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü.

Figure 1: Cumalıkızık, photo by Murat Öcal. Source: Türkiye Kültür Portalı

Cultural heritage and significance of Cumalıkızık

Cumalıkızık is a village located in the east of Bursa, first capital of the Ottoman Empire between 1335 and 1363, and object of a relevantly growing tourism interest. The settlement relies on a unique urban planning system in the context of waqf (a property foundation endowment, based on a charity system under Islamic law which targeted the preservation of social and religious facilities) and the resulting monuments and public buildings, dating back to the early Ottoman period and, in this particular case, establishing a strong connection to the surrounding rural areas due to the openness of its civic character.

Peculiarly, besides its importance in architectural history, with the built heritage manifesting the development of a unique architectural plan defined as the Bursa-style or “⊥” plan, the local continuation of forms of rural life related to tradesmen culture is an enduring element, which, in 2014, has been one aspect particularly stressed during the phase of nomination of Cumalıkızık along with Bursa to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. (World Heritage Nomination File, 2013a, 92). Nonetheless, it can be said that the village was already receiving a significant number of visitors even before its inscription to the WHL, which was achieved in the same year, even if on the basis of criteria mainly addressing the architectural and urban significance in relationship to its relevance for the early Ottoman historical backdrop (Nominations to the World Heritage List, 2014, 24-25). 

The Kınalı Kar, a popular series from Turkish TV, was for instance being shot in a Cumalıkızık house and this brought consequently large attention to the overall village. Its proximity to other major cities made it a common daily trip for visitors, who came during weekends to see the house and then visited the whole village, as recognized by recent surveys. Kara and Kılıç (2019), in fact, identified that 67,2 percent of the tourists visit Cumalıkızık because of the images of traditional lifestyle circulated through the tv series and not because of the village status as a UNESCO site. Conversely, 32,8 percent of the visitors claim that the inscription is one of the reasons for their visit and that the local historical and cultural heritage of the place requires further promotion.

Figure 2: Bursa. Source: Republic of Turkey – Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Overall, Cumalıkızık is recognized as a fine example of a well-preserved Turkish traditional village with its organic street texture and monuments explaining the high density of visitors. The houses are 2 to 3 floors high, with their sublevels built in stone and upper floors in wooden elements coupled with the use of adobe. The paving system of the streets is realized with blocks of natural stone, with each of them comprising an internal drainage hole that along the flanking canals form the rainwater recollection system. The road scheme has been planned in correlation to the local topography with a view to cluster the waters downhill at the village entrance square, where yields start to expand from. The streets do not cut each other and their width is appropriate enough for the passing of people and horse-drawn carriages (Bursa Site Management Unit, 2013b; Pirselimoğlu Batman et al, 2019), these last providing visitors with the opportunity to make their way through the crowds and being an element that reinforces the experience of a traditional atmosphere.  

Heritage, tourism and community

The configuration of the houses allows a strong relationship between streets and people to be established. The upper floors, in fact, are for private use only, whereas the ground floors are formed by the style of traditional production and used as a public space for retail activities. In particular, the making of gözleme (turkish pancakes) is used as a means to promote the purchase of other local products, while tourists can appreciate the internal character of the interior, in which the building interventions are being done by the very residents to facilitate their serving.

The handmade items presented are knitted shawls and accessories with the ornamental details and colours of the Ottoman period, while examples of local products are the tarhana (a dried mixture for soup preparation), noodles and jam. As the rural traditions survived, in fact, locals continue to farm and produce walnuts, chestnuts and raspberries as well, which are marketed along with their other handmade goods at the entrance square, employed as a local bazaar. Every June, an yearly raspberry festival (chasing the best grown raspberry) takes place, and for the occasion the whole population gathers around the main spot to attend the traditional dances and performances which are simultaneously being held. 

Figure 7: A gift shop. Source: Biz Evde Yokuz

Cumalıkızık women, in particular, play an important role in establishing a relationship between the external visitors and the local community by actively presenting the local heritage. By the virtue of some organizations’ help for instance, they have the opportunity to display their traditional clothes and the food they prepare, therefore being involved in tourism and acting as a medium for disseminating the significance of the traditional culture they carry. Besides a significant built heritage, Cumalıkızık has thus an active and lively atmosphere thanks to the local people, who benefit significantly from this interchange by relying on their very cultural assets.

Figure 8: Local goods displayed in the streets, photo by Pi István Tóth. Source: Biz Evde Yokuz

Cumalıkızık as a valuable example of community-led sustainable tourism

Even though the settlement was built primarily in the 14th century, it has preserved its historical texture and original materials. The dwellings stand against the risk of losing their authenticity and identity amidst the development of tourism interest and especially in relation to the needs of the related built environment. In order to prevent any major alteration of loss of the built heritage, which would also undermine the other tangible and intangible forms of heritage it accommodates, sustainability should be further promoted within this form of community-led rural tourism.

In regard to the issue of sustainable tourism, UNWTO (2004) underlines the importance of community involvement and awareness, and states how the most important element is a participatory approach authorizing the local community with a sense of ownership and responsibility, thus stimulating higher sensibility in the tourism sector.

Accordingly, it is by means of the active role of Cumalıkızık’s local community that both dimensions have been kept alive. Local residents took the lead in maintaining the village as a place where visitors can be immersed in a rural environment, characterized by surviving traditions embedded in a traditional built heritage carefully preserved. The case, therefore, highlights how forms of tourism directly mediated by the community can be considered as a model of protection as they directly turn more attention to the local particularities by stressing simultaneously the need for their preservation.

About the author

Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü is a conservation architect. She obtained her Bachelor Degree in Architecture and has recently graduated from her Master Degree in Restoration program at Istanbul Technical University. She is also a heritage researcher in Heritage for All initiative. Her area of interest is cultural heritage, rural landscapes and architectural conservation.

Heritage for All is an association that mainly focuses its work on heritage, conservation, museology and site management by sharing up-to-date aspects with young professionals within its virtual platform as well as sprawling information on capacity building activities.