A view of the town of Harput (Source: Ernst Sommer, Was ich im Morgenlande sah und sann, Bremen, 1926)

Harput - House and Architecture

Author: Vahé Tachjian, 20/02/2013 (Last modified 20/02/2013)- Translator: Nayiri Arzoumanian


The village houses of the Harput plain were generally two-storied and comprised either of two floors above the ground, or one ground floor and a basement. Stone houses were few and far between. For example, in Parchandj/Perchendj (currently Akçakiraz), the only stone structures were the two mosques and the bathhouse. The rest were built from sundried brick (kerpiç, in Turkish). All of the houses in the village were two-storied. The Kurdish aghas of the same village lived in mansions (konaks), which contained a special wing reserved for their harem. Some of the Armenian families had large houses, as well. In the local dialect, they were called hampa renchbers, or well-to-do farmers. In Tadem (Tadım), the majority of the houses were one-storied, but they also had a basement where the family spent the winter.

The plan for a two-story building in Parchandj. The house belonged to an Armenian family bearing the surname Khodjgants. The plan was printed in Manoog Dzeron’s book. It was prepared by the author himself, and then redrawn by his son, Levon Dzeron. The version presented on this page was reworked by Houshamadyan. We have tried to maintain the authenticity of the original, while giving it a visually more appealing look to this amazing document.

The classical Armenian village house in the Harput plain was made up of the following basic parts: the courtyard (tortan), cooking room, storehouse, and barn.
The courtyards in the village houses were generally more spacious than those in the city. The courtyard had a door that opened to the street, and two internal doors that opened to the cooking room and the barn. It was from here that one could ascend to the second floor. In single story houses, too, it was from the courtyard that one ascended to the roof. In short, the courtyard connected the different parts of the house. Also here is the deep well and the bathing basin—a conical structure 25 cm. (10 inches) tall, in which the household members took baths year-round, and the women did laundry. At one corner of the courtyard were farming tools and equipment, including a plough, cart, wooden pitchforks, harrows, a moldboard, the coulter, and plowshare, and a wooden staff usually made from a sour cherry branch, with one end sharpened and the other iron-clad, used to prod oxen and buffalo. In the courtyard of hampa renchbers, there was usually a second well where wheat was stored in the winter so that it could be sold for higher prices in the spring or summer. [1]

In the barn, in addition to the harness animals, were the sakoo, the olive oil press, the wheat crusher, the salting oven where flaxseed and sesame were roasted, the dung pit, and the sheep stable. The sakoo was a large wooden square area built about a meter above the ground, where the villagers gathered in the winter; the breath of the animals kept them warm. Here, they spin with a bobbin, knit socks, and engaged in other domestic crafts. During long winter days, the sakoo also served as the social corner, where neighbors met, the elderly told stories and fables, and games were played. Sakoo-life often continued until late at night. Village meetings were held in houses with large sakoos, in the presence of the village headman and his aide, called the melik and the kizir, respectively. In these large sakoos, it was not uncommon to encounter a fireplace that provided additional warmth during very cold winter months. Certain houses contained a bathing basin in the barn, as well, for winter use. [2]

The barn had two subsections: the hayloft, where the hay and grass were stored for the animals; and an area called kshgurdun, where other useful material, like fuel, dried dung (kshgur), twigs, wood, etc., were stored. [3]

The cooking room was larger in the villages than in the cities. In one corner was an oven, where bread was baked and food prepared. The oven stood a meter above ground. It was in the cooking room that the tools and utensils used for baking and cooking were kept. These included the dough bowl, the cauldron, the frying pan, the hutch, cups, dishes, handle curves for the cauldron, trays, the urn, the oven spade, the scoop, and the cross-iron (a metallic cross-shaped tool that holds the cauldrons in the oven). These were all made of copper or other metals. By the entrance door of the cooking room was the shoe holder (charekhnots; the charekh or çarık, in Turkish, are the wooden shoes or sandals villagers wear), a 30-cm. (12-inch) deep trough where visitors left their shoes. [4]

The provision room in village homes, unlike the one in city houses, was not dug in the ground. Rather, it was on the ground floor, and could be accessed from the cooking room. In this room, the villagers stored wine and raki barrels, bulgur, dzedzadz (uncooked, ground, and cleaned wheat), djulband (meadow-pea or lathyrus pratensis, used as food for cows), and bags of lentils. Here, too, were the soured-pepper barrels, fried meat preserves, butter fat, vegetable and fruit extracts, and dried fruit on strings. The veritable owner of the provision room was the housewife, who kept the key to the room. She decided which meal would be cooked on a given day, and the ingredients and supplies that needed to be brought from the provision room. [5]

A scene from the town of Kharpert/Harput (Source: Rev. Edwin M. Bliss, Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities, London, 1896)

A Lock: 1) slide; 2) key; 3) fingers (Source: Manoog Dzeron, Parchandj...)

From the courtyard, the upper floor or rooftop was accessed by climbing wooden or stone stairs. The upper floor housed four to six rooms, and one to three porches (ayva, chardakh), while the remaining space was open air. The house’s second floor served as a bedroom for the household. Boghosian points to the fact that in Pazmashen (Sarıçubuk), this second floor also housed the cooking room. The porches were walled from three sides, while the front side and the ceiling were open. In the summers, this space was used as a guest room; family members also spent the nights here. The stairs from the courtyard led to an opening on the second floor, called kapank in Tadem; its door remained shut throughout the winter. [6]

The foundation of the houses were made of stone, and joined together by mud-cement. In the Harput region, the most commonly used stones were the chechkar (pumice stone), the white pukh, and limestone. Masons dug holes around 60-150-cm. (2-5-feet) deep, and of comparable width, and filled them up to the surface with foundation stones. They then lined the bricks on the foundation. [7]

The external walls of the house were usually 60 cm. (24 inches) thick, while in the interior, the walls were 45 cm. (24 inches) thick. Two units were used to measure the density and thickness of the walls, the anadj and khuzi, which were in fact different sizes of brick. One anadj corresponded to 60 cm. (24 inches), and a khuzi was half the size of an anadj. To keep the walls firm and solid, crossbeams (locals called them khatel) were used from the wood of poplar trees. The two ends of the beams were smoothed and placed in parallel on both sides of the wall, 90 cm. (3 feet) apart. These parallel support beams were attached to one another with wooden nails. [8]

The sundried brick was prepared with clay-like soil and mud made from fine crumbs of chaff and water. [9] In his book on Pazmashen, Abdal Boghosian notes that in his village, the brick was also prepared by mixing clay, adobe (soil with clay), and water. This mixture, while still wet, was poured into a keshgereg (a wooden tool with holders on two sides used for carrying stones and brick), and carried by two people to the brick cast (kalıp). This, too, is a wooden tool, square-shaped, with four compartments. The two small compartments of the kalıp were used to prepare anadj, and the large one to prepare khuzi. The villagers referred to both types as kerpidj (kerpiç). The bricks assumed their final shape in the cast; this process was referred to as karpidj geyrel in the Harput dialect. Afterwards, they were left out to dry for three to four days. With these wooden casts, four people could prepare up to 1,000 bricks a day. [10]

The villagers covered the roof of the house with wooden beams and djisirs (small beams). The beams were usually 25-30 cm. (10-12 inches) thick, and were placed approximately 3 meters (10 feet) apart from each other. The space in between was filled with 20 cm. (8 inch) thick djisirs, at a 45-60 cm. (18-24 inch) distance from each other. To support the beams of the roof, wooden pillars were fixed on the floor of the house. Each pillar stood at a distance of 3 meters from the other. After the djisirs, the joints were put in place, again at a distance of 10-12 cm. (4-5 inches) from one another. On top of the joist, the laths—short, thin pieces of wood—were placed tightly next to one another. The laths were then covered with green tree branches (in Pazmashen, these branches were called keveshe), and covered with slightly wetted soil, called peteruk or petrig (in the local dialect, this meant dough or cement). In Parchandj, this soil was a mixture of chaff and mud, while in Tadem it was soil without any chaff in it. The peteruk on the root had to be 7.5-10 cm. (3-4 inches) thick. This was further condensed and often flattened with a stone-roller. On top of all this, a 5 cm. (2 inch) layer of kerpidj was added. This mixture was also used to parget the walls of the house, both from the inside and outside. [11]

The building of the roof continued with the placement of eaves. The lower layer was made up of branches of durable wood, while the upper layer was a mix of soil and chaff. The eaves had a width of 25 cm. (10 inches). They were placed next to one another on the four corners of the roof, pointing outward. The eaves prevented the walls of the house from getting wet. Hence, they looked more like wooden umbrellas attached on top of the walls of the house. At the eaves, they placed the gutter (in Harput, they called it djrton, as well as gurchivan, gurchrvan, chortan, or chrortan). The gutters were semicircular wooden tubes that carried off rainwater to the ground. In Tadem, during a draught, tradition dictated that villagers steal the gutter from the house of a woman who had been widowed three times, and hide it for a few days, in hopes that it would bring rain. [12]

On the roof, there was also the dormer, a square opening right over the cooking room. The smoke came out from here, and fresh air entered the house. The villagers used a wooden cover to close it shut when needed. [13]  

This collective labor of building a house in the village could last 2-3 months. [14]

The Armenian houses in the St. Hagop neighborhood of the city of Harput (Veri Tagh) (Source: Nubarian library)

In Tadem, where most of the houses were one-story and built at the same height, next to one another, it was possible to walk around the entire village from roof to roof.

On every pillar inside the house, a wooden lamp was attached to illuminate the interior. The villagers also used lamp-holders to support the lamp. They prepared the oil for the lamp themselves by extracting it from castor-oil plant (ricinus, genegerçek in Turkish). [15] Household members would sit on khsirs made of fine branches and, in the evening, spread old carpets over these very khsirs, followed by the mattress, pillows, and blanket. This constituted the bed in the villages of Harput. Every morning, the beds were folded again and placed in one corner of the house, and covered by a carpet. Hagop Gharib Shahbazian, the author of the book on Tadem, notes that in olden times, horseshoe-shaped windows (called dzag badifon by the locals) were created between the walls of neighboring houses, and proved useful for communication, especially during accidents, fire, and theft. [16]

The houses had one door on the street, which opened to the courtyard. The peasants’ houses had to be large enough to allow buffalos to enter. The villages also had homes that belonged to artisans, tradesmen, functionaries, and teachers. On the Harput plain, this non-peasant class was referred to collectively as djuvalug (or djuvalag), and in most case, their families were smaller. The doors of djuvalugs were built to fit a donkey, and were often made of sturdy poplar wood. On the inside of the door was a wooden or metallic latch. The locks on the doors were called kord, and were usually made of wood from mulberry trees. The windows were few and generally small. Instead of glass, they used paper, which was brushed with oil to make it translucent. The floor of the house was covered in soil, which was flattened while humid, and then pressed and flattened further by a stone-roller, taking on a smooth, clean look. In the barns, the floor was paved with flat-stones. In the center was a ditch where the dung was collected. In warm weather, the ditch was emptied and its contents poured into a bigger ditch (referred to as terkpos) near the barn. [17]

Those farmers who were poorer did not have an olive oil press or a wheat crusher, but they invariably had the sakoo and the oven in the barn. The houses of djuvalags were relatively smaller, especially since they had no need for a barn. Their courtyard and other parts of the house were also smaller. Regardless, all villagers were home-owners; there were no renters in their ranks. [18]

In winter, the warmest corner of the house was the barn—the sakoo, in particular. [19]

The oil press. Drawn by Manoog Dzeron and Nvart Goshgarian. Reworked by Houshamadyan (Source: Manoog Dzeron, Parchandj…)

Certain structural and decorative changes in the village houses were implemented from the 1880’s onward. In the homes of the relatively well-off villagers, the heaters were instead made of sadj, the roof and floors were covered with hardwood, the walls were coated with gypsum, the windows were made of glass, and the main door acquired a metallic lock. [20] These developments presumably came about with the return of Armenians who had migrated to the United States for work. On their return, they brought with them the latest advancements in house building. [21] The establishment of the 1908 Constitution also had an impact on the architecture of the village houses in Harput. For a few years after 1908, a sense of security reigned among Armenians, giving them the confidence to take steps they hesitated to take during the preceding decades. Thus, the number of windows in the houses multiplied, and in Tadem, two-story houses were built, replacing the earlier one-story houses with basements. [22]

The bath of Parchandj—called the efendvonts—was built from polished stones, each with a thickness of 60 cm. (24 inches). The floors inside and outside were covered with marble, while the dome was made of pumice stone. On the southern side was the kulkhan (stokehole of the bath), where the oven and the cauldron for boiling water were stored. This sector was built from unpolished stones. In one corner of the room were the materials used for fuel, including chaff, pieces of wood, dung, and dry leaves, while in another corner was the burnt ash that had been collected. The bath itself was around 2 sq. meters (20 square feet). In it there were 6 kuruns (basin) each made up of a single piece of stone, and into which the water was poured. The architect and builder of the bath was Garabed Khalfa Dzeronents, from the village of Parchandj, assisted by his son, as well as Usda Boghos of Yertemnig and by masons from Hussenig. [23]

The bath of Parchandj—called the efendvonts. The plan was printed in Manoog Dzeron’s book. It was prepared by the author himself. The version presented on this page was reworked by Houshamadyan

The bathhouse was built on low ground, so as to allow the water from the mosque’s fountain to flow through wooden and brick pipes to the cauldron and water sprout. The latter was found in the courtyard, where there were also wooden sakoos. This was the waiting room, where a customer prepared for the bath. On the walls of the bath were 10-cm. (4-inch) wide water pipes that transported the boiled water to the kuruns. [24]

The Parchandj bath belonged to the Effendi and Kor Hamid families. For an annual fee, the facility was rented to Hamamdji Ismail. Customers paid 20 paras (half a kurush), and it was customary to give a tip. According to Manug Dzeron, for a long time Armenians were not permitted to use the bath. But this discrimination was lifted when the profits began to decline. Later, Armenian women also began to visit the bath on a day of the week reserved for them. [25]

Cities (Harput and Mezire -Mamuretül-aziz-)

Our only source for this section is the volume edited by Vahé Haig, in which a few pages are allocated to describe the houses and their architecture. The author is a city-dweller, and what he describes is clearly a house in the city, in Harput, where the houses have certain differences from those in the villages of the plain. We know that the houses are different in Mezire, and the architecture more varied, since the city was established later, and high-ranking officials, tradespeople, and businessmen were its prime dwellers. Hence, the houses in Mezire were often modern-style mansions.

In Harput, the houses were generally next to one another. They rose one or two floors from the ground. The roofs were flat, and here, too, one could walk around the city by rooftop. Every house had a sufa (hall) where the family gathered, dined, and welcomed guests. The houses of wealthier families had a shayni shirin (şahnişin, bay window on an enclosed balcony), which was a well-maintained, enclosed balcony area where prominent guests were received. [26]

Harput region: The preparation of tonir bread (Source: Ernst Sommer, Was ich im Morgenlande sah und sann, Bremen, 1926)

The gragdun (cooking room) was the kitchen. The cooker itself was table-shaped and made of stone, and its height reached the waist of an adult. The cooker had a small opening on top where the kettle was placed. Wood was used for fuel, while some also burned keshgur. The provision room was a dark, underground space where supplies were stored for the winter. There, one could find preserves, oil, khavurma, sweets, wine, bulgur, lentils, and salted cheese. Every household had an oven (tonradun), which was a circular hole dug into the ground where the bread was cooked. [27]

The courtyard in the city houses was relatively narrow, and its top could be opened or covered. In the mornings, when the men were at work, the women gathered here, knitting or covering utensils by tin (kalay). On the roof of the house was the chardakh, a series of covers with openings. The family spent the summer under the shade, having dinner and even sleeping on the roof. [28]

The family gathered around the kursi in the winter. This was a raised wooden platform resting on four legs, under which the heater was placed. A huge, warm blanket was placed on top of the kursi, extending beyond the legs. The people extend their feet near the heater, and covered their legs with the blanket. [29]

Harput. The ruins of the town’s castle are on the top of the hill and, on the slope, the Sinamud Armenian quarter of the same town (Source: C.F. Lehmann-Haupt, Armenien Einst und Jetzt, vol. 1, 1910, Berlin / Leipzig)

  1. [1] Manoog B. Dzeron, Parchandj village: a complete history (1600-1937) [in Armenian], Boston, 1938, p. 226; Abdal Koledj Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen [in Armenian], Baikar Publishing House, 1930, p. 168; Hagop Gharib Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village and bloody love gardens [in Armenian], France, 1967, pp. 127-129, 133.
  2. [2] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, p. 170; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 127-129, 133.
  3. [3] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, p. 170; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 127.
  4. [4] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, pp. 168-169; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 127.
  5. [5] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, p. 169.
  6. [6] Dzeron, Parchandj…, pp. 226-227; Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, p. 168.
  7. [7] Dzeron, Parchandj…, p. 227; Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, p. 167; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 124.
  8. [8] Dzeron, Parchandj…, pp. 226-227.
  9. [9] Ibid., p. 227; Harutiun K. Shabuhian, The history of Korpe or Keorpe village, [handwritten manuscript copy; in Armenian], 1917 (revised in 1958), United States, pp. 50-51.
  10. [10] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, pp. 167; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 124-125.
  11. [11] Dzeron, Parchandj…, p. 227; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 126.
  12. [12] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 125-126.
  13. [13] Ibid., p. 126.
  14. [14] Ibid., p. 125.
  15. [15] Ibid., pp. 126, 130.
  16. [16] Ibid., p. 131.
  17. [17] Dzeron, Parchandj…, p. 227.
  18. [18] Ibid., p. 227.
  19. [19] Ibid.
  20. [20] Ibid.
  21. [21] Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, pp. 168.
  22. [22] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 126.
  23. [23] Dzeron, Parchandj…, p. 228.
  24. [24] Ibid.
  25. [25] Ibid.
  26. [26] Vahé Haig, Harput and its golden plain [in Armenian], New York, 1959, p. 675.
  27. [27] Ibid., p. 676.
  28. [28] Ibid.
  29. [29] Ibid.