This narrow street running between the walls of Topkapı
Palace and Ayasofya in Istanbul was
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
inn called the Ayasofya
Pansiyonlari operated by Turing.
Çelik Bey was the visionary who almost singlehandedly introduced
the concept of historic preservation to Istanbul
and 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
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.