Vernacular Buildings and Construction Techniques in the Black Sea Region

Theme: Built Vernacular Heritage “Earthen Architecture and Interpretation of Rural Internal Design”

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)


The traditional architecture of the Black Sea Region conveys the importance of the vernacular heritage. It is a great example of the authenticity and the uniqueness of the rural areas. In this study, the vernacular houses, their typology, materials and other architectural elements will be explained accordingly. It is also going to mention the characteristics of the area and the formations of the houses.


Figure 1: Traditional Black Sea Region Houses, Ayder Plateau-Rize. Source:

The built heritage is created by both the factors of the physical environment and the cultural values. In the case of vernacular architecture, the main element is the nature. In other words, the location determines the architecture. Vernacular was defined by Oliver in Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (1997) as “… dwellings and other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental contexts and available resources, they are customarily owner- or community-built, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of living of the cultures that produce them”. It can be understood that vernacular architecture involves several aspects of people and their surroundings.

Throughout the world, vernacular building techniques are being used in different types of climates. These techniques even help changing the climatic conditions with the help of architectural elements. However, these are determined by the location, availability of the local sources to construct, labor and craftsmen (Alrashed et al., 2017).

Moreover, preserving these built architectural heritage is a delicate topic to discuss because it should be delivered to the future generations. The loss of these traditional techniques and knowledge causes great damage due to the fact that they represent the historical, architectural and cultural values of these rural areas. The built heritage defines the rural traditions, the life style and the identity of the people.

Vernacular Architecture in the Black Sea Region

The elements that shape the rural architecture are basically the climate, culture, socio-economic life and topography. As a matter of fact, since the 17th century, the most characteristic specialty of the Ottoman period houses is the wooden material. In the Black Sea Region and the Aegean Region, the wooden built heritage is the unique conclusion of the Ottoman period since these areas are rich in terms of density of the pine and oak trees (Kuban, 2017). In the Black Sea Region, this situation is much more obvious due to its location. The forests and the plateaus have a large impact on the building material which has shaped the architecture and typology. Wood was used by the craftsmen in all kinds of places in the region but especially near the seaside.

As mentioned before, the Black Sea Region is famous of its forests. The wood types which were used in the buildings are Chesnut, ash, elm and pine in particular. They are preferred due to their high resistance to humidity and heat. Chesnut is the most common one amongst them with its durable properties.

Figure 2: Çantı technique corner connection detail, Mudurnu, (Salgın et al., 2017).

As Central Anatolia is known to use stone, mud and adobe materials after the 18th century, the Black Sea Region is known for its wooden materials especially with the techniques of log built architecture which is the “çantı” technique in Turkish. The çantı technique only involves wood as a material. As for the wooden technique, it is known that they were using wooden carcass systems with different types of filling such as stone and bricks or it can also have wooden coverings as in the examples of Istanbul. Moreover, in the Black Sea Region they are also known to use wooden fillings. It is understood that they used wood not only as a construction material but also as interior elements like ceilings and floors, coverings, closets and terraces.

The architecture in the Black Sea Region represent the traditional Turkish houses in a special way. Different types of wooden architecture can be seen in the area. The houses are usually built by two or three floors. The major feature of this construction system is that the until the sub-level it is built by stone and the upper floors are log built or masonry (Eruzun, 1997). This is a common situation to protect the wooden elements from the humid climate. The mountain ranges lie parallel to the sea and since the area has moisture above average due to the rain and its closeness the sea, the climate controls the dwellings.

Figure 3: Traditional houses intertwined with nature. Source:

In addition, they are designed especially in the way of protecting the building from the north-west wind Karayel, avoiding extreme slopes, providing natural ventilation and reusing the natural materials or even hiding in the nature for privacy. Therefore it can be understood that, these values all support sustainability and the actor behind this, are the local people indeed.

Housing Typology and Architectural Elements

In the Eastern Black Sea Region, the actual living unit is the first floor which has the rooms and a communal hall called “sofa”. The rooms are placed on the long sides of the sofa, making it become a central place. To explain further, these typologies of the traditional Turkish houses were classified by Eldem (1954) as they are formed by the location and shape of the sofa which is the key element of the houses. He classifies the four plan types as:

  1. Dış sofalı (has an outer hall)
  2. İç sofalı (has an inner hall)
  3. Orta sofalı (has a central hall)
  4. Sofasız (does not have a hall)
Figure 4A: The plan type sofasız (without the hall) (left); dış sofalı (with an outer hall) (right), (Eldem, 1954)
Figure 4B: The plan type iç sofalı (with an inner hall) (left); orta sofalı (with a central hall) (right), (Eldem, 1954).

In this case, the plan type is considered to be “iç sofalı” plan with an inner hall. The stairs from the ground floor to the first floor, the rooms and the inner hall (iç sofa) are a part of this typology. Since the sofa is placed in the middle of the houses, the plan becomes symmetrical also affecting the façades the same way. In these houses, the organization of the rooms determine the plan from inside out and the first floor has the leading role.

Another determinant of the façades is the windows. They are usually considered as small windows, within the same size. There is another element which is the console of the façades. The furniture in the house are placed accordingly, since there is another space created by these consoles. It is used as a place to sit, called “Sedir”. The decorations and ornaments are also part of the architecture. These are the most common elements of the traditional Turkish houses, formed by the needs of the people (Başkan, 2008). Also the courtyards and the relationship between the houses and streets affect the location of these dwellings.

Figure 6: The decorations of a traditional house, (Özen et al., 2012)

Construction Techniques

As it was mentioned, the main materials of the Black Sea Region are wood and stone. They can be classified into two; timber heap and timber framing systems. Then, the framing system can be classified into three; timber filled wall, filled cell wall and filled triangle cell wall (Özen et al., 2012). These techniques are usually constructed above the masonry sub-level or the basement and are a part of the log built architecture.

The timber heap method involves the “çatkı” technique which is the interlocking joints system on the edges where the timbers overlap each other. The timber framing method is the one with timber carcass systems. The poles are placed over the floor beams which are connected to each other by interlocking on the edges. The empty spaces can be filled with stone or brick.

Figure 6: Hurşit Bey House, Çağlayan Village, Fındıklı-Rize, (Başkan, 2008).

Filled cell walls are formed by wooden coverings creating rectangular shapes considering the window openings and can be in different dimensions according to the building. The filled triangle is similar with the filled cell system. The only difference is the dimensions of the poles because there are additional timber elements with 45° slope. The final one is the timber filled wall which has its poles filled with timber.

Figure 7: A house in Sürmene, Trabzon, (Başkan, 2008)

Wooden Mosques in the Black Sea Region

Apart from the houses, the mosques also give insight to the vernacular architecture in the Eastern Black Sea Region. These wooden mosques are not that common throughout the country which is the main reason of why they are considered as important mosques. They are usually dated back to the 18th or the 19th century. Similar with the traditional houses, these mosques are also built on a masonry sub-level or a basement. They have hipped roofs due to the rainy weather. Back in the days, they were covered with thin layers of wood called “Hartama” but nowadays they are covered with pantiles. Many of them do not have any minarets and the ones that have, are mostly built later on (Zorlu, 2017).

Especially in this region, there are several mosques built by the techniques mentioned before. They were either built by the çatkı system or the timber framing system. However, the mosques which were built by the çatkı system did not survive till today. Therefore, there are not many of them left. On the other hand, in the Anatolian Region, there are different types of examples of mosques with wooden columns.

From the outside, these mosques look simple and elegant. Although, inside the mosques, there are many ornaments and decorations built by wood. The entrance doors, ceilings, other parts of the mosques as the Minber, Mihrap and the railings of the “kadınlar mahfili” which is the prayer place for women. In other words, the architectural elements within the mosques are delicately conveyed with the wooden material by the craftsmanship. These examples are very rare to find in terms of wooden heritage and should be preserved considering their value.

Similar Wooden Buildings in Other Countries

Wood is a common material to be used throughout the world. However, in terms of technical similarities with the Black Sea Region, the built architecture examples of Japan and Russia can be given.

To begin with, Japan is famous of its wooden heritage and uses the same technique of log built architecture with its own way of dismantling and reassembling. In the case of Russia, the Kizhi Island located in the Karelia region, there is an open air museum which involves two churches. They are also a part of the log built architecture with pine logs and aspen shingles. As in the technique “çantı” in the Black Sea Region, they also used these wooden elements to be intertwined with each other and have built these churches.


In every culture, the built heritage differs even within the same environment. However, as it was mentioned before, the similarities can also be observed. As it is stated in the Article 11 of the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), “All judgements about values attributed to cultural properties as well as the credibility of related information sources may differ from culture to culture, and even within the same culture. It is thus not possible to base judgements of values and authenticity within fixed criteria. On the contrary, the respect due to all cultures requires that heritage properties must be considered and judged within the cultural contexts to which they belong”. Therefore, each and every one of the villages and houses should be examined and preserved with its tangible and intangible heritage.

It is extremely important that the tangible heritage of these rural areas with their architectural values should be kept alive and well preserved due to their uniqueness. It is being observed that many of these historical and cultural textures are fading away. Especially the absence of conservation plans and allowing new dwellings in these areas, slowly damages the rural heritage.

Taking the vernacular materials used into consideration, they have a major advantage in terms of sustainability. Before, the forests were a great source and the houses were built by their stock. However in today’s condition, due to the negative effects of deforestation, stone is much more preferred and used in vernacular architecture. Furthermore in the past, these buildings have experienced a great loss due to fire which is also a major matter. Considering all these facts, precautions should be taken.


  • Alrashed, F., Asif, M. & Burek. S. (2017). The Role of Vernacular Construction Techniques and Materials for Developing Zero-Energy Homes in Various Desert Climates. Buildings 7 (1), 17 – 35.
  • Başkan, S. (2008). Geleneksel Doğu Karadeniz Evleri [Traditional Houses of the Eastern Black Sea]. Erdem 52, 41-90. Retrieved October 28, 2019,from
  • Eldem, S.H. (1954). Türk Evi Plan Tipleri [Plan Types of the Turkish House]. İstanbul: İ.T.Ü. Mimarlık Fakültesi Yayını.
  • Eruzun, C. (1997). “Ahşabın Kimlik Bulduğu Rize Geleneksel Mimarisi” [Traditional Architecture of Rize in Which Wood Gains Identity]. S, Başkan (Ed.). Ankara: Rize Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları: Tanıtma Eserleri Dizisi: 72.
  • ICOMOS (1994). The Nara Document on Authenticity. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from
  • Kuban, D. (2017). Türk Ahşap Konut Mimarisi 17. – 19. yüzyıllar [Turkish Wooden Housing Architecture 17. – 19. Centuries]. İstanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları.
  • Oliver, P. (1997). Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Özen, H., Keleş, S. & Engin, E. (2012). Vernacular Building Heritage in the Eastern Black Sea Region in Turkey. Journal of Civil Engineering and Architecture, 6(7), 867–875. Retrieved from
  • Salgın, B., Bayram, Ö.F., Akgün, A. & Agyekum, K. (2017). Sustainable Features of Vernacular Architecture: Housing of Eastern Black Sea Region as a Case Study. Arts, 6, 11. doi:10.3390/arts6030011
  • Zorlu, T. (2017). Karadeniz Bölgesi’nde Ahşap Camiler: Trabzon Örneği [Wooden Mosques in the Black Sea Region: Trabzon Example]. Mimarlık, 395, 46-52. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from

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