A mahalle is something like a neighborhood. Smaller than a town, but larger than a block, the word also implies a strong sense of community. In Alanya, our villa is located in the Tophane Mahallesi. In the two weeks I’ve spent walking around, I’ve seen that juxtaposition defines the area.
My Turkish teacher explained that this area of town was nothing special until a few years ago, when rich people discovered the gorgeous views and proximity to Alanya’s tourist attractions. They started buying up and renovating dilapidated villas. Now, boutique hotels and cafes stand next to villas and homes that are visibly falling apart. The renovated buildings clearly attempt to emulate the architectural style of the Alanya villa, though the walls and wooden windows are too shiny, too new to fit smoothly into the landscape. It’s not just the tourism industry that contributes to this divide, but also rich Turks. Two years ago I was invited to dinner in Tophane, owned by a man who is not an Alanya native but bought and restored an old villa (and installed a tiered swimming pool).
This is well and fine – I’m not opposed to hanging out at a mansion with a swimming pool from time to time – but it’s clear that the mahalle is going through some serious gentrification. Some of the villas in the neighborhood are visibly falling apart and probably have no one living in them, but many families call Tophane Mahallesi home.
From the McGhee villa balcony, I like to watch the spaces where people interact. Two boys spend nearly the entire day playing – pretending to be pirates, chasing each other, playing football – on the street. My Turkish teacher says they are şanslı, lucky, to have this place to grow up in. On the second highest balcony of another building, three women drink tea and chat for a few hours each afternoon. When the students descend the steps from our villa, they call out in a mix of Turkish in English to greet us.
I wonder what continued gentrification in Tophane Mahallesi will mean for these families, who perhaps have lived in this neighborhood for generations.
Could the Department of Tourism force the families out to make way for better hotels? I’m unsure about tax codes in Turkey, but if property values rise too much, could hotel owners and the wealthy effectively push out families who can’t afford to stay? Perhaps it just means more Russian tourists explore the back streets, asking “Castle kale where is it?”
I also need to reflect on the role Georgetown plays in the neighborhood. We are renting our current space from people who intend to sell the villa soon. On the one hand, we – the students, the professors – are foreign, dumped in the middle of this quiet neighborhood where families live. Do we have the same impact socially and economically as the boutique hotels that move into the area? What about in Alanya as a whole?