Mehmet Ali Ağa Mansion: A stay in the past
A mansion in unspoilt Datça has been carefully restored to serve as an hotel with a difference. Welcome to the atmosphere of the Tuhfezade residence an unusual Mediterranean experience which nobody who has dabbled in history or art can fail to enjoy.
The ongoing trend in restoring historical buildings for use as boutique hotels has reached Datça in the southern-western corner of Turkey - a place where, according to Strabon, historian and geographer of Ancient Greece, God sent his privileged believers to have a long and healthy life. Mehmet Ali Ağa Mansion is one of only a few examples of old civil architecture that has survived until the present day, not only in Datca, but also in the whole Mediterranean Region. Once the residence of the Tuhfezade family, it is now owned by Pir Tourism Management, who have lovingly restored it, paying great attention to detail, for use as an hotel with a surprising number of facilities.
Lords of the Manor
Mehmet Ali Ağa Mansion, better known to locals as Kocaev (the Big House), was built by Mehmet Halil Ağa, father of Tuhfezade Mehmet Ali Ağa, in the early nineteenth century. Mehmet Halil Ağa was a descendant of Ali Aghaki, the Cretan, who was awarded the Datça Peninsula by the Sultan for his distinguished service in the Ottoman navy. The headquarters which Ali Aghaki established for the control of his manor is now the historical Reşadiye quarter of town, previously known as Elaki a term probably derived from Aghak. The family name of the original owners, the Tuhfezades is thought to have been derived from the Arabic word, tuhfe (gift) due to them having been awarded the manor of Datça.
The large two-storey mansion boasts a portico surrounded by stone arches on the northern side. The porch leads to an ante-room on the first floor, which in turn leads to the five rooms of the mansion, surrounded by wooden pillars. The rooms have fireplaces with conical roofs. While the outer walls of the house are made of stone, the first floor rooms are separated by wooden walls. A typical example of the Ottoman hamam (bath) is located on the first floor. The ground floor incorporates cellars and store rooms.
The artwork which embellishes the mansion includes some important nineteenth-century engraving and woodwork. The main room represents one of the most beautiful examples of Turkish engraving during the era of so-called ecclesiastical decoration in Anatolia. To give just one example, the upper part of the cabinet wall is divided into five panels, of which the end-panels are filled with bands of flowers, and the three central sections are filled with landscapes. The central panel shows a panorama of Istanbul with the Maidens Tower and the twin shores of the Bosphorus. Many country mansions were decorated with views of the capital at the time, but the artist responsible for the work in the Mehmet Ali Ağa mansion incorporated traditional elements into the subject matter, filling the miniature city he had depicted with rare animals.
The woodwork in the master bedroom and on the sitting area ceilings is also worthy of note. It consists of interlocking boards in diagonal and leaf shapes, which are painted in different colours - mainly yellow and red. Intricate woodwork can also be seen on the doors of the rooms.
Decline and restoration
The family and their house enjoyed their most prosperous period in the time of Mehmet Ali Ağa, who was also an administrator in Rhodes in the first half of the nineteenth century. His sons and daughters all died without having any children. Following the death of his daughter Münire and her husband Hidayet Şahingiray, an emigrant member of the Crimean Royal Family, all the properties of the Tuhfezades were put on sale by the Court of Probate. Thereafter the Kocaev changed owners more than once, serving as a tobacco warehouse, cinema, school and wedding hall. Through alterations and neglect, it had partially collapsed and had fallen into general disrepair before it was bought by Mr Pir in September 2002.
Restoration work followed the guiding principle the less you change the better. While architects were employed to design the various elements in line with their original forms, local artisans were employed to recreate them. The Mehmet Ali Ağa Mansion now offers visitors accommodation in two suites and fifteen rooms, located in the main hall and three surrounding buildings. There is a Turkish bath, and a library of books on history and culture. Ottoman, Aegean and Mediterranean cuisine is served in the Elaki Restaurant.
(DIPLOMAT - August 2005 - Ankara)