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Conserving History & Tradition: Mudurnu, Turkey Madanlar Konağı (Mansion)

Conserving the past is a tradition in Mudurnu, Turkey. This silk-road city is a historic jewel resting in a narrow river gorge about three hours east of Istanbul. Surrounded by forest covered hills, Mudurnu has a new addition to celebrate - Madanlar Konağı (Mansion).

Madanlar is a traditional, three-floor, timber-frame Mudurnu house, with an expansive garden and located in the Hızırfakı neighbourhood at the southern end of the Mudurnu urban conservation area, or ‘historic district’.

Madanlar Konağı was in rapidly worsening condition when it was acquired in early 2020 in co-ownership with the local family who now live in Ankara and abroad, and two women owned small businesses from Istanbul. Aside from its alarmingly deteriorating state, Madanlar had also suffered from some inappropriate alterations, requiring a complete assessment before any conservation work could be started. A marathon of planning and logistical coordination began soon after its purchase. The project design was prepared by local architects and approved by the regional conservation board in 2020, followed by site works that began in spring 2021 and substantially finished by mid-August 2022. As the architectural conservation was nearing completion, the focus was changed to restoring the interior to its former beauty.

The process of completing interior design, furnishings and decorations was accompanied by multiple visits to the hardware store and especially heavy traffic to and from the tailor, cushion and curtain makers, electricians, lighting store, carpenters, and speciality artisans. We were happy to work with as many local craftsmen as we could, to support the survival of the guild culture of Akhism – ‘The Historic Guild Town of Mudurnu’ is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List for this still active tradition. Our goal was to recreate a traditional, unique artistic style using time honoured designs, combined with some minimalist, modern touches for a serene effect, all this while maintaining architectural integrity.

While completing the finishing touches on Madanlar, a business license was issued from Mudurnu Municipality and the utility and internet system contracts were signed. That also meant that staff recruitment and hiring shifted from part-time to full-time. We organised an opening event to celebrate the restoration, welcoming partners and the local community, our Provincial Culture and Tourism Director and our Mayor as well as a few friends from Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. The opening event was announced by the imam during the Merchants’ Prayer in the Bazaar – one of the 700-year-old Ottoman Akhi Guild ritual – so we could be blessed on a Friday like all new businesses that open in Mudurnu. There was live music, dancing in the garden and a buffet of local, traditional food. We are very grateful for the warm support of the people of Mudurnu!

However, no building conservation is ever without bugs – in this case literally. I moved into the mansion, also doubling as the de facto operations manager, and immediately, of course, became the guinea pig for tackling these inconveniences. Since guests would not welcome being tested by insects, fumigation of the entire mansion was necessary and the insect problem was solved; but, that was quickly followed with the need to make sure we had a well-performing heating system – winter was coming.

Heating is a really big issue in older houses and most houses here still burn large amounts of coal during the late fall and winter months sometimes extending into early spring. However, Mudurnu is part of the CittaSlow/Slow City movement, and it is our principle not to use coal in keeping with the movement’s philosophy. Plus, we had decided not to spoil the original interior architectural appearance with radiators. So, after some initial studies, we opted for a pellet boiler and room-based modular fan coil system, economically efficient and importantly, limiting our carbon footprint.

Nothing goes perfectly, however, and after the boiler was installed, it did not work for several weeks, largely due to defective parts. After the boiler was fixed, a supplier for pure pine-wood pellets was found about two hours away, but we could only transport small quantities (500kg) each time. After about three months of this four-hour commute, a more efficient way to extend the pellet fuel was found by mixing in nut shells which were first brought from Sakarya, a beautiful and historic area on the way to Istanbul; a more efficient supplier of pellets was also found in Çaycuma, which was closer and to the east in the province of Zonguldak, otherwise known as a coal producing centre. So, now there is an efficient heating system with a low carbon footprint!

In the meantime, the large garden area needed work. Soil was tilled, grass planted, trees trimmed and a vegetable garden area was established. All the garden work was helped with advice and recommendations from the ladies running the agricultural engineering community in the district.

Getting ready for guests also meant making sure that first aid services were available. So, as a further step, we attended first aid training under the guidance of the District Governor's Office and we now have our official first aid certificate.

We plan to take our commitment to sustainability further in Madanlar. Since having started operation in the Fall of 2022, we have embraced the principle of responsible consumption and production (UN-SDG 12). No single use plastic items are used in the facility and water is served gratis in glass jugs and glasses. We harvest the fruit from the walnut, apple, quince and plum trees in our garden to make and sell all natural jam and compote. We are also developing our own gardening to be more self-reliant foodwise, and have allocated an area for composting.

As the latest development, last but not least, we have recently acquired our Special Accommodation Facility license from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a second and more complicated level of licensing, where we can now serve alcohol, but also abide by the higher standards of the ministry. We are the first urban hotel to acquire this prestigious label in Mudurnu!

The conservation and restoration of Madanlar Konağı has been a labour of love both for the community and for the owners. The operation of the hotel and cultural space continues to keep us excited and learning new things every day. We have started organizing both social events for the locals (including an art exhibition, an English language-learning drama workshop for kids and adults, and tea parties for students of the local kickboxing club and the vocational school’s tourism department), and for customers from out-of-town (a yoga retreat is upcoming in late March). In 2023 we hope to see you and experience Madanlar and the wonderful, historic Mudurnu!

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