Birgi – one of the best villages in Turkey

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These days a lot of adjectives are wrongly applied and frequently overused. You know the sort of thing. An averagely pretty beach is described as gorgeous and a reasonably interesting restaurant menu classed as awesome despite being neither inspiring nor terrifying. Sometimes though, there aren’t enough words in my lexicon to do a place justice, and Çakırağa Konağı in Birgi is one of them.

Looking up at the Çakırağa Konağı in BIrgi

Çakırağa Konağı, a mansion turned into a museum in 1995 dates to the second half of the 18th century. What makes it so special are the architectural and ornamental styles used in the design. They are particular to the Aegean region of the period so it must have been an incredible experience to live in the building, as some lucky people did until 1975. That’s when Çakırağa Konağı was nationalised and came under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. Different sources tell different stories about the person who built it, but almost all say he was a Birgi leather merchant who married twice. One wife came from Istanbul and the other from Izmir.

Even when only seen from the outside from the courtyard, Çakırağa Konağı is breathtaking. The ground floor walls of this three storey U shaped building are made of stone and the upper floors were built using a wooden framework technique. Each floor has a deep balcony edged by wooden railings. The placement of the banisters forms a mesmerising waving geometric pattern that’s hard to take your eyes from. Look up and the same pattern is echoed on the underside of the eaves while smaller diamond shaped painted panelling decorates the ceilings of the balconies. Every surface is meticulously finished but the exterior is a mere meze in comparison to what awaits inside.

The Istanbul Room

My favourite room of course, was the exquisite Istanbul Oda. Locals say it was created for the lady of the house by her husband. Apparently he commissioned the paintings of her hometown so she wouldn’t feel nostalgic and start longing for Istanbul instead of feeling at home in Birgi. There’s a room dedicated to his Izmir wife too. Of course historians contradict this lovely story with facts saying otherwise. Personally I don’t care that some of the buildings portrayed in the paintings date to a time after the wives lived in Çakırağa Konağı. Whatever the truth these rooms are undisputedly exquisite and divine. The wives must have been much loved.

Painted walls in Çakırağa Konağı

Regardless of where you look the decoration is outstanding, especially on the top floor. Geometric panels made from narrow strips of wood decorate the ceilings and they and the walls are painted with colourful plant, flower, crescent and fruit motifs.

Traditional Ottoman houses in Birgi

The rest of Birgi is equally captivating, so it’s no wonder the town is on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are more than 100 historical buildings officially registered by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, including restored classical Seljuk and Ottoman houses.  Interestingly, the name Birgi comes from the medieval Greek word Pyrgion, means little tower, although no trace of any towers remain. Over the centuries Birgi was home to Phrygian, Lydian, Persian, Pergamon, Roman, and Byzantine civilizations, and today has a markedly old Turkey town flavour. Brilliantly red tractors sit in front of chicly renovated stone and wooden homes, while kids just out of school at the end of the day cluster excitedly around foreigners to practice their English.

Ulu Camii or the Grand Mosque takes pride of place in the religious architecture of Birgi, or it will when renovations are finished. Also known as the Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey Mosque, it’s named for Aydınoğlu Bey of the Sultanate that ruled Birgi in the 13th and 14th centuries. The mosque dates to around 1312 and is constructed in Anatolian Seljuk style. As I mentioned it was closed for renovations when I visited Birgi, but the layout is a basilica design with five aisles and made from rubble, ashlar, marble blocks, and spolia. Unusually the minaret is built on the west end of the qıbla wall rather than at the north end as is more traditional. This was done to accommodate the tomb of Aydınoğlu Mehmet Bey, constructed at the same time. The minaret is built from unglazed matte red bricks and turquoise glazed bricks and glistens richly in the sun.

Inside, plain white walls show off the mihrab and the minbar. The mihrab is covered in eggplant-purple and turquoise coloured tiles arranged in geometric compositions of three, eight and ten-pointed stars and four, six, and eight-sided polygons. Religious inscriptions in Arabic calligraphy are interspersed throughout. The minbar carved from gleaming walnut wood took a master craftsman seven years to complete. The ornately carved wooden ceiling is typical of Seljuk architecture of the period.

Birgi is located on the Silk Road and the town was once an important silk production centre, beginning some fifteen hundred years ago. By 1426 it had come under the control of the Ottoman Empire and in 17th century, Evliya Çelebi noted that loads of silk were being sent from Birgi to cities all over Turkey. These days silk weaving is done on industrial looms but there are still some small workshops producing delicate items on traditional silk hand looms. Birgi was chosen as one of the 3 best villages in Turkey in 2022 by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and once you’ve seen it for yourself, I’m sure you’ll agree. 

Where to eat in Birgi

The interior of Birgi Sofrasi where we had lunch

When the need to rest and recharge arises, a pretty village café shaded by an ancient plane tree awaits but if you’re hungry head for Birgi Sofrasi. I went to Birgi on a TGA press trip sponsored by the Turkish government and this is where we were taken. I’ve eaten at a lot of local lokanta and can vouch that this one is up there with the best. Unusually they offered casseroled baby goat, testi kebab in a pot, stuffed peppers and liver but there was also a good range of dishes suitable for vegetarians. Leave room for dessert if you can. They’re delish!

Feeling hungry – selection of food at Birgi Sofrasi

When to visit Birgi

It’s better to visit Birgi on a weekday if possible because it gets swamped with domestic tourists on weekends. Also, Monday is market day when locals from the area come to sell and shop for locally produced food and goods.

How to get to Birgi

Birgi is 7km from Ödemiş, in the Izmir district. It’s 122km from Izmir by car. If like me you don’t drive, it’s possible to reach Birgi via Ödemiş by bus from Izmir Otogar (bus station). The bus trip to Ödemiş takes around 2 hours, and from Ödemiş you’d need to catch a taxi to Birgi, although there might be minibuses running to the town. You can also catch a train to Ödemiş and the journey takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip to Turkey.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

My books about living in Istanbul and Turkey

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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