Our home is not old in comparison with the abundance of truly, really old buildings that you will find throughout Turkey and that is without considering the few ancient buildings that are still standing. Our home is probably just under a hundred years in existence.
We believe it was constructed during the French Mandate (1923 – 1946). That was the time after the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire and before this area was joined to the Turkish Republic.
The administration by the French was a mixed bag as most colonial powers are inclined to be.
French rule was oppressive and they tended to accentuate the natural racial and religious divisions within their mandated territory – they adhered to the British maxim of ‘divide and rule’. They imposed the French Franc as the currency of the territory, but the Franc was administered according to the needs of France and without regard to the needs of the Mandate Territories.
On the positive side, the French championed modern town planning, civil engineering projects, schools, hospitals and so on.
But overall, the French were more interested in administering their Mandated territories, today what is the Lebanon, Syria and the Turkish province of Hatay, according to their own socio-economic priorities and, as always, with a view to their rivalry with the British.
Within society there was a lot of unrest and discontent with the dominating control exercised by the foreign power.
But, it was also in this time that the much appreciated, large, green, treed, central park was constructed in Antakya. The French also constructed some fine, stone buildings including a small parliament building for the newly minted Republic of Hatay (established on 7 September 1938 and dissolved when merged with to Turkey in 23 July 1939). The independent Republic of Hatay had existed for about ten months.
It was in this time that we believe that our house was constructed.
It was built with a mixture of old and new building methodologies and materials. The outer walls, are old school, built of rough, field stone with mortared outer faces with rock-rubble in-fill and built to 60 to 70 centimetres thick. For the roof, they used heavy steel ‘I’ beams to support a reinforced flat concrete roof.
The homes built at this time were built in the traditional configuration with high ceilings and laid out around a central courtyard with all the rooms opening into the courtyard. If you desired to go from one room to another, this would entail a trip to the courtyard to make the connection.
In summer time that would be no problem – but in winter, in the drizzling rain, it was less than desirable to have to go outside to go to the kitchen, or toilet or bedroom via the dark, damp, cold, breezy courtyard.
It appears that our large house was built in conjunction with the neighbouring house, and together it was a corporate home to a large, extended family.
At some time in the life of the building, it seems that family relationships hit the buffers, which resulted in a wall being erected between the houses. It was not a planned wall nor a bearing wall.
When we first moved in we were doing some renovations in the kitchen and discovered that the dividing wall was no more than a single brick wide. When we vigorously attacked the wall to remove the plaster on our side… we also unknowingly and unintentionally, knocked the plaster off the opposite side of the wall.
The neighbour complained – wouldn’t you?
In the end we accidentally poked a hole in the wall and then discovered its depths – or lack thereof. We replastered their side as well as our own.
Anyway, back to the history and development of the building. After the construction of this rather flimsy dividing wall, and at a later date, someone decided to extend the back wing of the building by utilising and extending the building out and into the courtyard. Doing this consumed approximately one third of the courtyard. When we compare our courtyard with our neighbours, it is clear that when our home was initially constructed, the courtyard was of rather generous proportions. As a result, there was sufficient space to give some area to a room and still leave a reasonably sized courtyard.
The extension was constructed with more modern columns and beams and they poured a concrete extension to the flat roof. In this manner they joined all the rooms on the wing on the back side of the courtyard under one roof.
Thus this newly created single, long, rectangular room, running the length of the old wing, meant that no longer were people required to go into the courtyard to communicate from room to room. No more traipsing through the rain carrying the evening meal to the dining room, no more dreading the midnight stroll, no more cooling the house in winter as someone must exit to go to another room.
Of course, the two rooms on the opposite side of the courtyard still required a courtyard stroll to access. The main access to the property is via the front street and by means of a corridor which bisected the two rooms. So one would enter the property and then cross the courtyard to enter the extended wing at the back of the courtyard.
Interestingly, this meant that the newly created room had both doors to the pre-existing rooms, but also windows, for formerly they looked into the courtyard; now they looked either into the new room, or from opposite perspective, into the former rooms.
It was rather strange.
Hence, it was in this unplanned manner, that our home has historically grown and been extended. These changes occurred organically, without planning – simply answering the needs of the occupants at that time.
Which brings me to our corridor. Our corridor is a johnny-come-lately, joining the oldest part of the house with the first addition which consisted of the kitchen, bathroom, toilet and finally with the last addition, the added-on extension that consumed part of the courtyard.
As is in keeping with its origins, it is a bit odd.
Firstly, it isn’t straight. Well, full disclosure, the whole house is a collection of odd angles – nothing, anywhere, is straight: the plot that the property is built on may, possibly, have a 90º angle – somewhere, but truly, everything is skew-whiff. The corridor is just one more example of this household trait.
Secondly, the corridor is of different levels: the lowest level is at the door to/from the courtyard – this was the level of the added-on room. The higher level, a mini-step of about two centimetres, goes from where the former courtyard door was but is now situated one third the way down the corridor. This early section of the corridor goes towards the back of the house and joined the old, original wing with the later addition of the kitchen, bathroom and toilet.
The multi-level dimension does not end there.
The kitchen, bathroom and side room are all higher than the corridor.
So, someone coming into our home, would begin at one level, and then, one third the way down the corridor would have to negotiate the mid-corridor lift of about two centimetres. Proceeding down the corridor, wherever they would desire to go, it would involve another mini-step of something like three centimetres to gain entry to one of those rooms.
We have noticed that many of our visitors have been stumbled, literally, by the mid-corridor change in height.
For us, it became so much a part of our life, that we negotiated it, often without even being cognisant of it. As we ceased being aware of it, it quietly morphed into becoming part of the wallpaper, so to speak.
However, when the workmen put in the pipes for the central heating system, they had to trench across the floor at the lowest level of the corridor.
Thus, right at the entrance from the courtyard into the house, the tiles were broken up to enable the placement of the central heating piping, this provided an opportunity to retile that first third of the corridor, from the door to the mini-step. We could correct the stumbling block, we could remove the needless and unhelpful little step.
Because there was no way we could get the same style of floor tiles, this meant that we would be utilising a different floor tile pattern. Therefore, we needed a logical point to change from the newer tiles to the former – we did not want to retile the whole corridor. Logically, breaking where the corridor already changes direction and width and height would also provide a reasonable visual break for the tile work.
So, this we arranged to have this done.
The tiler came late in the day, after completing a full days work in a town some 40 odd kilometres out of Antakya. He arrived and immediately flew at the task. He put extra gunk at the end where the mini-step was and then gradually brought the tiles down to the old level by the front door. I had failed to purchase the required ‘extra’ gunk, and so he had to be creative with what building materials we had lying about to beef up the amount of gunk to be able to complete the job.
The finished product looks good. The tile are a wood-effect design that actually doesn’t look bad. The tiles are also non-slip; and they really, honestly do deliver on being non-slip. That is an added, unplanned bonus.
The new tile work looks good.
Well, of course, if the grout lines had been lined up it would have looked a lot better. But, at the end of the day, it was short notice, he was already committed to other work and, hence, it was done quickly. Understandably the chap was tired. The tile work covers the offending scar where the central heating pipes entered the floor, and is well laid, there is no discord between the tiles creating mini-stumbling points.
And most importantly, there is no mini-step now.
That is great!
But, as I walk the corridor two things strike me.
First off, I am consciously aware that I am ‘going up’ when I walk from the front of the house towards the back, and when I return towards the front of the house, I am ever cognisant that I am walking ‘down’ the corridor. It is very slight, maybe two centimetres difference over the course of a metre, but my legs or feet or whatever, faithfully report the change to me.
The other thing I notice is it seems the step had been programmed into my walking. I sub-consciously anticipate the step, ready to automatically make adjustments for it – now I am aware of the absence of the mini-step. On coming to the former height change, I hesitate, not stumble, but my attention is drawn to the ‘missing’ mini-step.
I am sure any visitors we have will not miss it. Hopefully they will not even be aware that there was a mini tripping-step there.
But for a week, coming and going, I was aware of the missing step. My mind could be elsewhere, but when coming to the location of the former tripping-step, I was suddenly aware of that it wasn’t there. Over a week later, I’m still cognisant of its absence.
Oh, one other thing I noticed: on walking the transition from the mini-ramp to the rest of the corridor, I feel the change from ramp to flat. No, I do not think that will be a tripping hazard… at least I hope not.
This is an example of muscle memory, a ‘learned’ and then ingrained pattern of walking the corridor. This enabled me to negotiate the mini-step day or night or on a midnight stroll – in pitch darkness – and all subconsciously, flawlessly and effortlessly.
I had become both unaware of the step and unaware of my body coping, silently, with it.
It causes me to wonder, “What else in my life have I made accommodations for, and silently deal with subconsciously?”
There may be areas of compromise, of, er, ‘adjustment’ that maybe should not be. Yes, it may make life easier, but I’m called to doing that which is ‘right’ and not that which is ‘easiest’.
I think I will have to ponder this …