Ștefan Cândea
We passed off the fortress above the old center, in order to leave the crowded area by choosing another part of the hill than the souq. We walked randomly in the streets which became even narrower and bold, followed by children who were trying to tell us that the fortress is in the opposite direction. They thought we got lost, because there was nothing of touristic value to be seen there. Every now and then, somebody was showing us by weaving their hands to return and that the road was a dead end. We arrived in the middle of some Turkish favelas, compacted boldly on the flank of the hill. Here, they are called gecekondu. In Romanian, the word means „suburb”, but it bears the meaning of „built overnight”. This is because all the houses were built illegally, some 30-40 years ago. Some say that, back then, a juridical inadvertence granted one the right not to be demolished, provided that one began to build their house after the nightfall and finish the construction before the break of dawn, without the knowledge of the authorities. This kind of buildings (considered squatters) began to gain popularity in Istanbul and Ankara, due to the massive migration from the countryside to big cities. The construction method even began to be exported – I saw it in Berlin, to a Turk from Kreuzberg, who set up illegally, in the ‘80s, a vegetable garden, in the area of the wall between the East and the West. After the fall of the Berlin wall, he built a house using reused materials. The authorities didn’t succeed in tearing down the house yet).

Gecekondu, Old Ankara

In one of the backfall streets, a householder surrounded by a group of children tries to push uphill an old Renault (our Dacia break). He waved us to help him, so for more than five minutes we pushed the car, accompanied by the children’s shouting. Behind the steering wheel stood the smallest of children, so we climbed in a zigzag manner, which almost crushed the old men standing by the narrow road. The child, whose head could hardly be seen from behind the steering wheel, was frantically turning the steering wheel to one side only, until his father and the old men by the road began to shout. He changed the direction just as determined but then resumed the zigzag. The car stood still in the middle of the road and the father thanked us, his hand over his heart, and mentioned the name of Allah. I couldn’t understand if it was an exercise or a game for his offsprings and we began to walk down the hill, somewhat bandy.

The houses are very small, some of them even carved in stone. We entered a house that was nearly a ruin - a quarter of the main room looked like a cave, providing an outright access to a portion of rock apparently too solid to be removed. Many of the houses around seemed deserted, on the verge of being demolished. On the surrounding hills the land appeared to be thoroughly grubed. The Turkish government massively demolished this kind of houses, in order to allow the construction of private buildings – the apartment houses we saw ever since we got near Istanbul.

Translated by: Roxana Bocicai