Before the First World War Kayseri had a population of around 70,000. About a third of them were Christian, split about equally between Greeks and Armenians. The main Armenian districts of Kayseri were located in the large area between the Church of Saint Mary (Surb Astvatsatsin), which is now used as a gymnasium, and the Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (Surb Grigor Lusavorich), which stood almost at the edge of the city. The photographs you can see below were all taken within this area and so most, if not all, of the buildings depicted are Armenian in origin.
Old photographs show that the streets of Kayseri were very picturesque and rather medieval looking, and filled with large and elegant mansions built of carefully cut stone. However, most of the houses were actually not of any great age: most of the surviving ones (a well as the two Armenian churches mentioned above) date from the 19th century. Based on them, the following can be deduced about the typical traditional Kayseri house:
The houses were all built from a finely grained volcanic stone that was light in weight and easily worked. Upper stories often overhung the narrow streets and were carried on rows of large corbels. Window frames, arches, corbels, and other stone architectural elements were often embellished with sculptured decoration.
Houses with extensive vaulted basements were common, perhaps because many of their owners were merchants. The ceilings of these basements were raised slightly above the ground level to allow for windows. Because of this the ground floors of most houses were higher than the street level and were reached by a short flight of steps that ran into the building and ended at the entrance doorway. In the side walls of the resulting short passage there was often an opening through which those within the house could observe anyone standing outside the entrance. These openings were sometimes small rectangular windows with iron grills for protection, sometimes just small porthole openings (which on the interior were often hidden behind wooden panelling).
Behind the entrance there was often a small internal courtyard, sometimes a house would have its own well inside this courtyard.
Windows were arranged in rows and often had two distinct sections. There was a lower window, generally rectangular and sometimes arched. On the outside it was protected by an iron grill that was sometimes flush with the window, sometimes extended outwards in the form of a box. Above this main window was a much smaller window called an "upper light". Its function was probably for ventilation, as well as serving to throw a diffuse light onto the ceiling. Upper lights were rectangular on the inside, but externally were expressed in all manner of ornate shapes.
The stone walls of rooms were clad with timber or plaster panelling. Free-standing furniture was not traditionally used, so rooms normally had an elaborate system of storage cupboards, shelves, and niches that were an integral part of the wall panelling. Along the edges of rooms, especially along walls with windows, was a seating area that in Anatolian houses is termed a sedir. This is a simple rectangular structure made of timber that is covered in carpets or cushions. Inside the sedir were box cupboards for the storage of blankets, clothes, etc.
Ceilings were clad in timber, often divided into small panels with a variety of patterns, and sometimes having ornate central roundels. Floors were generally paved with cut stone slabs that were sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern. These slabs rested either on stone vaults, or on timber beams covered with a layer of cement.
Often one area of a house was open to the exterior. In Anatolian houses this is a distinctive feature, called a sofa, that forms a common area between rooms and which often overlooks a courtyard or garden. In the traditional Kayseri house this feature is often given great prominence. It was usually located on the upper floor of a house, looked out onto, and was in full view of, the street, and was often clearly expressed on the street facade in the form of an ornate balcony. In some houses it is completely separate from the rest of the house, forming a sort of kiosk.
In any country in the world, one would take it for granted that a city full of such buildings would be seen as a priceless architectural treasure to be carefully preserved. Not so in Kayseri. Starting in the 1930s, old Kayseri began to be encircled by vast new districts of apartment blocks. By the 1970s the old areas of the city were ripe for speculative redevelopment and a campaign of wholesale demolition was undertaken. The former Armenian districts were the last to go, perhaps because of uncertainties over property deeds. Demolition here started in the 1980s - thousands of individual buildings have been destroyed and very little now survives. The extent of the destruction is hard to grasp from photographs - it is as if the city has been carpet-bombed. Most of the remaining old houses are either derelict or in ruins. Empty buildings are picked bare of anything that is saleable by gangs of nomadic Gypsies and Kurds that, each summer, camp out on the cleared ground. When the ground is finally cleared completely, row after row of identical apartment blocks will be constructed.
It seems that the population of Kayseri prefers to live in a city of towerblock slums rather than one of elegant palaces.