This is the old heart of Ankara, the Kale (citadel) district. On every street is a historic market. The ambience of the area is as serene as it is crowded. The Aslanhane and Ahi Elvan mosques are the neighborhood’s places of worship and have brought peace to the streets for 700 years. The two mosques are supported by magnificent wooden posts. Continuing down Pirinç Sokağı, which is paved with cobblestones, you will soon find yourself in front of Pirinç Han. Passing through Ankara’s only wooden han door, you may feel as if your head will touch the ceiling. Going inside, the chill you encounter will create the wonderful impression of spaciousness. It is an ideal resting spot for those who find the noise and crowds of the capital overwhelming.
The entrance to the han opens into a rectangular courtyard. The yard is lined on three sides by shops. The remaining wall is adorned with roses. There are gift shops and teahouses are among the shops in the yard. There are staircases that reach the top floor with creaky, wooden steps.
As we saw each floor of the three-story han, our amazement and appreciation grew. There are 32 rooms in total at the han. Stores for handicrafts and antiques, artists’ workshops and gift shops sit shoulder-to-shoulder. In front of a window that opens up to the yard on the top floor is an array of colorful flowers. On the top floor, you can find gramophone master Kadir’s shop, retired banker Aydın Tuna’s gift shop and artist Kemal Çelik’s workshop.
We said hello to Çelik and asked him to tell us stories about the interconnectedness of Pirinç Han’s shopkeepers and visitors. He obliged and began to explain. The 73-year-old master artist was originally from Artvin. In 1959, he came to Ankara. He left Ankara University after three years of studying French philosophy in the department of language, history and geography. Because of his desire to complete university, he graduated from the department of archaeology and art history at the age of 40. His interest in art began at a young age. He has been putting brush to canvas for 50 years. He has painted around 6,500 pictures. He says, “There’s neither a street nor home in Ankara’s Kale area that doesn’t have a painting I’ve done.” Many diplomats from foreign countries who come to the han buy his paintings.
According to Çelik, from the time Pirinç Han reverted to a han from a police station in 1992, the workshops and stores established there have not changed. The rent for a shop at the han is TL 1,000, with utilities included.
Expert artists keep their workshops open seven days a week. It was incredible to hear Çelik say, “Even if I spend three hours on the road getting to work, I can’t wait to start my day.”
Çelik discovered he had cancer in 2004 and was discharged from the hospital less than a week after having surgery. As soon as he left the hospital, he went to his workshop. Like many people, Çelik does not enjoy spending time in concrete blocks; as such, he sees Pirinç Han as a rare blessing. He explained: “Like a young person going to a school they love, I come eagerly to my workshop every morning. This is my health insurance. I beat cancer. The doctors who diagnosed me are my guests on Sundays. They tell me that they rest a little here and then leave. I see those who have retired and stay at home. They become depressed very quickly.”
A strong feeling of friendship
At Pirinç Han is a strong feeling of friendship. We learned that sometimes when Çelik is late to arrive, his fellow shop owners will call him immediately. Between paintings, Çelik reads the Quran from cover to cover at least twice a year.
Tuna, a retired banker, is Çelik’s shop neighbor. While traveling with his wife, he learned that one of the shops was available and immediately rented it. He opened a gift shop despite having had no previous experience. Now he is quite happy.
Tuba Pekşen is a frequent patron of Pirinç Han. He discovered the han while vacationing and brought his friends and family to see it. Pekşen told us that every time he visits the han he eats gözleme and sips tea in the tea garden. “It’s a very nice environment. Nostalgic. Every place should be like this. There are artisans here whose skills should not be forgotten. Having the support of technology is good, but these handicrafts must be continued by new generations. If you want to furnish a corner of your home with oriental goods, you will find all you seek here.”