Halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, in one of the most historic and beautiful parts of northwest Turkey, is a deep valley covered in dense pine forests and blessed with thermal springs. And in this valley is something that seems right out of a Disney movie: row upon row of identical, castle-like, turreted chateaus. When the occasional morning mist enshrouds the blue towers, it’s a dreamy scene, but when you look a little closer, something seems off. The roads between them are unfinished. Construction debris litters the ground. And there’s not a soul in sight. It’s a fairy tale ghost town, an ambitious, luxurious development project that fell victim to mismanagement and global financial currents.
Burj Al Babas, as the place is known, is located a few miles from the historic town of Mudurnu, once at the crossroads of the Silk Road and the Crimean Road. Over the years it lost its position as a trading hub, was reborn as the center of Turkey’s poultry industry, and most recently has turned to tourism to drive the local economy, partly through the efforts of the Mudurnu Cutural Heritage Site Management Directorate. Turkish officials have even proposed making the town a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including its characteristic black-and-white Ottoman mansions.
By the early 2000s, Mudurnu and its thermal springs had—as one might expect—attracted the attention of property developers and investors, among them the Sarot Properties Group, which had already built two thermal springs hotels in the area. Sarot went big with its next idea: Burj Al Babas, a collection of luxurious holiday homes catering to wealthy Arab clients. There would be an opulent Turkish bath, a shopping and entertainment center, and more.