In northwestern Turkey, on the outskirts of a village called Mudurnu, sit hundreds and hundreds of abandoned castles – 732 to be exact. What once promised to be a luxury community located between Turkey’s two biggest cities has become a graveyard of extravagant homes that nobody ever lived in.
This is the story of Burj Al Babas.
It looks like a model village. The scale and similarity of the châteaus plays a trick on your eyes, and the Gothic architecture exacerbates the effect. Spires, balconies and flying buttresses make it look like someone got carried away building a historical model. And yet, sure enough, there existed a pair of brothers who were bold enough to embark on Burj Al Babas in real life.
Known as the Yerdelen brothers, they ran a compant called Sarot Group alongside their partner, Bulent Yilmaz. Based in Istanbul, Burj Al Babas was one of the group’s flagship projects as they looked to cash in on a Turkish economic boom. Friendly property laws were introduced in the early 20th century, with mortgages arriving in 2001 and reformed laws for international buyers.
Soon, wealthy Russians and Arabs were plucking up properties along the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, as well as in Istanbul. Recep Erdoğan, who has gone from mayor to prime minister to president, went so far as to offer citizenship to anyone who made a real estate investment of over $250,000.
The intention behind Burj Al Babas was to cash in on this opportunity by creating a town of decadence right in between Turkey’s biggest city of Istanbul, and the nation’s capital, Ankara.
Work began on 732 “exclusive villas” in 2014. Each was three stories with a sprawling, 150 ft roof terrace above. Prices started at $310,000. Construction was expected to take four years. On the top of the individual residences, there were going to be swimming pools, Turkish baths, saunas, steam rooms, health and beauty centers, aqua parks, a fitness area and even a shopping complex.
“The social facilities will provide the residents of the site with free-of-charge services,” the Burj Al Babas website still reads. “It will fulfill all kinds of your requirements, cinemas, restaurants, fast-food areas, game parks, children’s amusement centers, free internet, conference halls, small meeting rooms, car park, car wash service, and nursery services. Basketball courts, tennis courts, open and covered football pitches, walkways, horse riding, and ATV tours are some of the social activities within the facilities.”
Many of the houses were snapped up; over 350 sold according to Mehzer Yerdelen, who spoke to The New York Times back in 2019. It makes sense: they were appealing to the same international buyers who, instead of turning to France, Italy or Spain, could find a classical-style European home (even if a peculiar, superficial imitation) in Turkey instead.
They were not everybody’s cup of tea, however. Locals were outraged at the difference between Burj Al Babas and other, existing architecture in the Bolu province of Turkey, according to local news from the time. Then, in 2018, Turkey went into an economic crisis and investment in the properties dried up.
Before construction was even finished, with sales plummeting and costs soaring, the developers were forced to declare bankruptcy. A lawsuit also accused the Yereldens of destroying trees and damaging the environment.
When Covid-19 arrived, economic crisis expanded well-beyond Turkey’s borders and the Burj Al Babas project now seems unsalvagable, though the Yerdelens are said to remain hopeful, potentially renting the châteaus as holiday homes.
As it is, tucked away in a Turkish valley, Burj Al Babas is surely the weirdest town that never was.