Soğukçeşme Sokak, Sultanahmet

This narrow street running between the walls of Topkapı Palaceand Ayasofya in Istanbul was renovated by the Turkish Touring and Automobile Association (“Turing”) under the leadership of its longtime chairman, Mr Çelik Gülersoy.

The houses along the street now comprise an Ottoman-style inncalled the Ayasofya Pansiyonlari operated by Turing.

Çelik Bey was the visionary who almost singlehandedly introduced the concept of historic preservation to Istanbuland indeed all of Turkey.

Naturally, the great imperial mosques and palaces had always been maintained, but everyday vernacular architecture was ignored. Mosques and palaces were built of stone and lasted for centuries. Houses were built of wood and rotted away, and old houses were replaced by new, safer, more comfortable ones with modern conveniences.

Çelik Bey’s first Sultanahmet project was the fine Yesil Ev inn. It was fully booked almost from the time it opened its doors in 1987.

He followed that success with a bold project to restore all of the derelict wooden houses along Soğukçeşme (soh-OOK CHESH-meh, “Cold Fountain”) Sokak and make them an inn.

The houses are built right against the Topkapı Palace wall and look directly onto the great bulk of Ayasofya. Çelik Bey had difficulty obtaining official permission from the city government to undertake his project. He once told me:

“They said it wasn’t right to build houses against the palace wall. They said the old houses should be torn down and not replaced. ‘You’d never find houses against the palace wall in London or Paris,’ they said.

“I told them, ‘That’s what is so wonderful about Istanbul! People built houses right up against the sultan’s palace!’

“They finally agreed to let me restore the houses.”

Soğukçeşme Sokak gets only the occasional car. The only significant noise is that common to Istanbul, the City of a Thousand Mosques: the ezan, or call to prayer from loudspeakers on nearby minarets.


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