Protecting the Rural Heritage of Turkish Folk Culture

Theme: The Cultural Significance of Rural Identity to the Upcoming Generations

by Ms. Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Istanbul, Turkey
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Masters Candidate in Restoration (Conservation) program, Istanbul Technical University (ITU)


This article is about the rural identity and its cultural significance, how it was built and how it can be protected for the next generations. As in the case of Turkey, the rural heritage has a great importance in terms of geographical conditions and climate which is based in Anatolia. In other words, this study explores the effects of rural identity on locality and the role of tourism and sustainability towards the future.


Figure 1: Cumalıkızık, Turkey, (

Geography determines how the dwellings form and which materials, construction techniques or even plan types will be used. It is the key element on vernacular architecture. On the other hand, culture also reflects on these matters, but geography affects the culture as well. Especially in the rural areas, geography, folk history and culture are integrated and should be examined together. It is the rural heritage that interacts with other disciplines and keeps the rural identity going.

The characteristics of a rural area, is the reflection of the locals and their traditions. The locals put their knowledge and experiences, gained throughout the years and what they have learned from their ancestors and they externalize it on the earth. Houses are the best way to reflect these values as tangible heritage. When the living spaces get affected by the nature, so does the culture. That is the reason why we are able to read the historical process of the rural communities, based on the dwellings.

In the case of Turkey, it has several climates, changing in different regions which means different dwellings. This is the main factor on the change of materials in the built heritage. Therefore, when a village is examined, it is essential to also research about the villages nearby because they have a similar climate and geographical features. When preserving the rural heritage, the cultural elements should be taken into consideration with the region’s traditional architecture.

The traditions, festivals, music and other elements that make a culture what it is, give a better understanding of how the society used to be. However, apart from the intangible heritage, the dwellings should be preserved for the next generations. As it is stated in the Venice Charter (1964), “People are becoming more and more conscious of the unity of human values and regard ancient monuments as a common heritage. The common responsibility to safeguard them for future generations is recognized. It is our duty to hand them on in the full richness of their authenticity.” Therefore, it can be said that the rural heritage should be safeguarded in a larger scale with integrity.

Figure 2: Şirince, Turkey, (

Problems Faced in Rural Heritage and Folk Culture

Preserving the rural heritage, both tangible and intangible, can be considered as a legacy to pass on to the next generations. However, protecting these rural areas are not as easy as it sounds. According to Eres (2016), the fundamental problems that are faced on the conservation of the traditional rural villages can be identified as: social problems, economic problems, architectural environment related problems, technical application problems and legal problems.

Intangible heritage is often related with folk culture and cultural identity. The actual issue stands within the cultural change by the environment, especially in the developing countries. The local people become incompatible with their surrounding of traditional built heritage and prefer the modern built environment. The main factor in this situation is the quality of living (Rapoport, 2002).

The built heritage can be protected by the legal authorities, institutions or organizations. However, it is crucial that the local people to also want to preserve their culture. In some villages, it can be seen that the locals are not very comfortable and satisfied with their village or the house that they are living. Some of them do not consider their surroundings as valuable subjects to protect. Since these dwellings are built with vernacular architecture which is generally by the local materials, they are in the need of repair or restoration. Yet, some of the local people think that it is easier to buy a new house or built another house in concrete, than to take care of their traditional houses. Because it will cost more and take more time to restore.

Another fact is that, the villages lost their population in the last decades. Nowadays, the people who live in the villages are mostly the elderly population. Not many children live in the villages and in some of them, they used to go to school in other bigger villages. Overall, the age range of the locals are the key in the development of these villages. The younger people choose to move to urban areas because of educational or financial circumstances. Yet, it is a known fact that people prefer to live in the cities rather than villages, but the rapid decrease of population in the rural areas could eventually lead them to turn into ghost villages. As a matter of fact, the local people are the ones who actually take care of their environment and are the main actors in preservation. Therefore, they should be encouraged to be responsible for their houses and preserve its elements.

Figure 3: Taraklı, Turkey, (Source: ©author, 2019)

ÇEKÜL (2012) summarizes that the rural areas are at risk due to globalization which results in the collapse of rural economy, explanation of industry into the rural areas, damages in the natural and architectural heritage in the rural areas, loss of wildlife by the modernization of agriculture, pollution in air, water and soil which will lead to deteriorations in lands and green areas, damages in the rural areas by the overgrowth of the resting areas, loss of diversity in the rural areas and standardization of the culture by the centralization of trading and lack of representation in the rural areas due to economic policies being based on urbanism. These issues all affect the social and cultural life to fade away.

However, nowadays villages are more equipped with implementations to preserve and promote their place of living. It is up to the locals to fulfill their duties to their houses, surely with the help of authorities, architects, urban planners and so on. However, the biggest power still stays in the hands of the locals because they are the ones who can show the best of their villages, and the way to do that is usually by the help of tourism. Especially in Turkey where there is a conservation based approach to the rural areas, the possibility of sustainable villages are high, and the local people are actively involved and have a great amount of income due to tourism. They turn their houses into bed and breakfast hostels and also provide the guests and the tourists who come to visit their villages with homemade traditional food.

Rural Tourism in Turkey

In the late 20th century, the approach to rural areas in Turkey had changed. The establishment of the “Union of Historical Towns” had a great impact on the local authorities to start protecting the rural areas. Also, the “Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage” was accepted by Turkey in 1983. Accordingly, City of Safranbolu was inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1994 which had an importance in the matter of vernacular architecture. In the case of Safranbolu, it is one of most known the rural areas in Turkey, and this was because of its interaction with ÇEKÜL (the Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage) in the 1970s in which they have tried to raise attention to the rural heritage and take precautions. Another example is Bursa and Cumalıkızık: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire, inscribed in 2014. It can be considered as one of the best preserved rural areas in Turkey which also gets a lot of attention from tourists around the world, as well as locals. The village was built in the 14th century, yet, it was mostly preserved by its original materials and had minimum interventions. But, this was because the local people took the lead in turning the village into an open air museum, which can be considered as a way of conservation, and promoted their village at their best.

Figure 4: Safranbolu, Turkey, (

As it is stated in Council of Europe’s “On the Protection and Enhancement of the Rural Architectural Heritage” (1989), there are four ways to increase the effect of heritage on local development which are: enhancing the public investment on the basis of businesses due to their effect on economy, improving training courses in building techniques and crafts regionally or locally, supporting tax measures and budgetary allocations with public and private parts and supporting the formation of the small teams of educators and development staff to facilitate local authorities to run rural development projects. It is further explained in the third way that they can create “nature parks” or “open air museums” which integrate natural landscapes and dwellings with local economic and social development in places where they have problems with nature or economic changes, or they can realize large projects to boost the rural built and natural heritage.

In the rural areas, there are several ways to be successful in tourism. It could be from many areas such as agriculture, eco tourism and green tourism, but the most important thing to consider is to bring out the area’s historical and natural characteristics. As it is stated in the Article 11 of the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), “The diversity of cultures and heritage in our world is an irreplaceable source of spiritual and intellectual richness for all humankind. The protection and enhancement of cultural and heritage diversity in our world should be actively promoted as an essential aspect of human development.” Turkey has been a home to many civilizations which gives the advantage of a diverse settlement, and each village has different traditions, way of living, food and music. Therefore, it can be said that these features, promoted within the built heritage, are the ones that actually attract the visitors, and should be protected.

Sustainability in the Aspect of Vernacular Architecture

Another subject that affects the rural areas is sustainability. Rural areas contain the elements of tangible and intangible heritage which creates the rural identity. Vernacular architecture is known to be based on environment friendly architecture with respect to nature. Hence, it is almost mandatory to do so, in order to deliver the cultural heritage to the next generations.

People tend to search for a better place to call home in cities or villages. Instead of repairing or preserving what they have, they tear it down and build new ones. Yet, it can be said that the vernacular architecture in the Anatolian region is based on accessibility, rationalism and efficiency, but most importantly based on people. Even though, the climate and the geography has a great role in this, people are the fundamental elements. Nowadays, these issues are considered as green/ecological architecture and vernacular architecture is the base point to relate. Architects are interested in local construction techniques and materials to work with and to learn from how they were used before. They are in the mind of evaluating the opportunities that the Earth has given as natural materials. The people who want to know and discover the area’s potentials, care about the rural texture in their design. In other words, it is essential to contribute to and from the nature and that is where vernacular architecture comes in.


The determinant of the rural heritage is the environmental factors as mentioned before. Due to the fact that social and economical conditions are considered better in urban areas, people are choosing to move to the cities, leaving their heritage behind. This leads to the destruction of the rural areas and the rural identity as well. Especially, when there is nobody to protect and preserve these villages, they have the risk of becoming architectural and archaeological ruins. On the contrary, they are the sources of intangible heritage with great historical and cultural values.

To sum up, the cultural heritage of these rural areas should be specifically determined and conservation policies should be carried out with the help of authorities and local organizations. One of the most important things to do is to educate the local people to know their village and its cultural heritage to raise awareness.


  • Council of Europe (1989). On the Protection and Enhancement of the Rural Architectural Heritage, Recommendation No. R(89)6. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from:
  • ÇEKÜL (2012). Anadolu’da Kırsal Mimarlık [Rural Architecture in Anatolia]. İstanbul: Çekül Vakfı.
  • Eres, Z. (2016). Türkiye’de Geleneksel Köy Mimarisini Koruma Olasılıkları [Conservation Possibilities of Traditional Village Architecture in Turkey]. Ege Mimarlık (92), 8-13.
  • ICOMOS (1964). International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, Decision and Resolutions, “Venice Charter”.
  • ICOMOS (1994). The Nara Document on Authenticity. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from
  • Rapoport, A. (2002). Geleneksel Çevreler, Kültür ve Koruma [Traditional Environments, Culture and Preservation]. Mimarlık Dergisi, 304, 27-32.

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