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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

When historians of the future look back at the 20th century they will not be impressed by the changes wrought in its towns and cities. Over a century which in so many ways was one of misfortune for humanity and civilisation, torn by wars, migrations and destruction, urban legacies were ruthlessly swept away all around the world without replacing what was lost with a cultural heritage worthy of the name.

Despite tremendous leaps forward in technology, legal improvements in the sphere of human rights and freedoms, and the creation of democracies in place of centuries old feudal regimes in many countries, these achievements cannot dispel the shadows cast in other areas. Historians will accuse the 20th century of causing the degeneration and alienation of societies which disposed so carelessly of their cultural legacies. So for the historians of the 21st century, dispirited by the sight of towns stripped of their histories, Mugla will be one of the rare places they will look upon first with surprise, and then with affection and hope.

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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

They will be surprised, because this little town seems to have emerged unscathed from the 20th century. The rash of high-rise blocks of flats which in the last quarter of the century in particular altered the appearance of so many Turkish towns and cities beyond recognition seems to have passed Mugla by. They will embrace it with affection and hope, because they will realise with what determination Mugla resisted the wave of cultural destruction.

They will look upon it as a living witness to history and an inspiration for the future. How did Mugla manage to create this legend? While not just other cities but even seaside towns in the province of Mugla itself abandoned their urban identities to photographic archives even before the 20th century had run its course, in Mugla on the threshold of the 21st century it was possible for photographer Cengiz Civa to capture living images of the traditional houses and streets which are the subject of this article.

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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

When next you are travelling to Marmaris or Fethiye, if instead of just glancing at Mugla from the highway as you drive past, you take a few hours to wander around the town, you will see immediately that Cengiz Civa did not have much trouble finding historic houses and streets to photograph.

Having entered the town, if you walk in the direction of Mount Asar, for example, or towards Saburhane Meydan; head west from the district of Tabakhane, or take a stroll after shopping in the Arasta bazaar, what you will see will not be just a few historic buildings which have survived accidentally, a handful of monuments marked on the city plan, or a few museum pieces restored for tourists.

Instead you will be surrounded by innumerable old houses, streets, squares, fountains, coffee houses, plane trees, shops and hans (khans), all combining to create a living urban texture out of the past.

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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

Moreover, this authentic setting is inhabited by modern people who are no stranger to the technology of their age; people who after watering the yellow roses in their lovely nineteenth century courtyard behind a high wall sit down at their computers to work on the Internet, sit on the wooden verandas in front of their houses reading the news in their local newspaper as they sip their coffee, or listen to discussions on the local television channel.

And now let us return to our question of how this legend was written? How did Mugla escape the epidemic of insensitive building and disregard for history which infected the previous quarter century?

The most important factor in preserving Mugla’s cultural and urban heritage was its citizens’ decision to preserve the old town as a whole and with its inhabitants, rather than focusing on single buildings.

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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

The concept of preservation on an urban scale arrived in Turkey with the programme of events for the European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. Mugla was one of the first towns where awareness of this concept found a response, and when the decision to establish urban heritage sites was taken in 1979 it was one of just a few towns selected.

But the people of Mugla had not actually needed that concept or preservation regulations.

They had been already preserving their town long before, and the status of heritage site merely confirmed their traditional attitude. A master plan for the town, drawn up without any sense of the need to protect its historic heritage, envisaging wide new roads bulldozed through the town and the construction of high-rise flats, was never implemented even though it remained theoretically in force from the 1960s until 1979.

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THE MUGLA LEGEND
2000 / FEBRUARY

When the town was declared an urban heritage site this master plan was abolished and replaced by a new plan designed to preserve the town. Under the former master plan just two apartment buildings had been constructed in the old districts of the town prior to 1979. Since the 1980s the people of Mugla have only elected local government candidates who pledge to preserve the town’s historic heritage. I hope that you find the opportunity to visit Mugla before the historians of the future, and savour its evocative atmosphere. Then on behalf of us all you can congratulate the town for refusing to be party to the catastrophic building craze which destroyed so many others in the name of modernity.



* Oktay Ekinci is an architect.

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