Turkish delight

The regal splendor of the departing ambassador's residence lives up to expectations.

turkish yard 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
turkish yard 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
The Turkish Embassy residence is situated on a quiet, leafy street in Kfar Shmaryahu and is surrounded by a high wall, an impenetrable gate and towering trees. Outside, the only indication it is a residence is the security guards' covered booth. Having passed this intriguing spot many times as it's on a street on which, by coincidence, many of the homes have been featured in this column, it was very gratifying to finally get an agreement from the embassy to visit the residence, a few weeks before Ambassador Feridun H. Sinilioglu ends his four-and-a-half-year tour of duty here. Once through the gate, the house certainly lives up to one's expectations, having a regal splendor entirely appropriate for a diplomatic residence. The Spanish-style villa is set in four dunams (one acre) of land, the back being given over to rolling lawns with a pool at the end of the garden, while the front is paved, with gurgling fountains and carefully tended flower beds. Waiting to show us around are the ambassador and the second secretary at the embassy, Rauf Denktas. We settle down to a cup of coffee - not Turkish, but very good - and look around at the splendid interior, which both men have described as modest. The ambassador's wife is also a career diplomat and before returning to Ankara was posted to Amman as deputy chief of mission for two years. "However, she was a frequent guest in the house," smiles Sinilioglu. "She came home every weekend." The house, which has been rented for the last seven years or so, belongs to an Israeli and was chosen for its size, and especially the huge garden which is ideal for entertaining. On Turkey's national day more than 1,000 people wander around the garden or find plenty of lounging areas within the house itself. All the furniture comes from Turkey, but much of it has a distinctly English look. Furniture is one of the many items which Israel imports from Turkey. Another is the superb silver work, much of which is on display. Talking to Sinilioglu, it is apparent that tourists are Israel's best export to Turkey. "Between 400,000 and 600,000 Israelis visit Turkey every year," he says. "Even this year, in spite of the war, the numbers remained constant. In the high season, there are 27 flights a week to Istanbul." What is it about Turkey that is so attractive to Israelis, one wonders? "It has something to do with the proximity and the cheapness, but it's not just that," he says. "It's also because they feel very much at home, just as I feel here. It's familiar. There are many similarities. Both countries are at the cross point of different cultures and civilizations, and the combination of European and Middle East identity is strongly felt in both." The most striking architectural feature of the house is the arched windows sometimes stretching between two walls and echoed in the inner room divisions, which are also all arched. A display area around the arched fireplace is built with the same lines and shows some typical Turkish ornaments and a china plate with a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, placed at the top. The ceiling is quite low, and the eye is immediately drawn to the floors, paved with Turkish travertine stone and covered with the beautiful Hereke hand-made rugs that are Turkey's pride and joy. Some are old, some new, but all have the trademark floral designs in sumptuous colors typical of the Hereke style. The art work is also mainly Turkish, with a painting by Orhan Peker, one of the most important Turkish painters, prominently displayed in the entrance hall. On the other side, a wall-set aquarium contains some brightly colored if lugubrious fish swimming around, while the Perspex-sided spiral staircase in the middle of the house is an impressive decorative feature. Sinilioglu will be going back to Ankara shortly and taking fond memories of Israel and the house he lived in, which he said he enjoyed very much. Before departing, I could not resist asking whether it was true that Israeli tourists had been known to help themselves to the taps from Turkish hotels. Happily, Denktas gave a wholly diplomatic answer. "It's a myth here, and frankly, I'd never heard about it in Turkey," he said. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected].