How a Developer’s Dream of Selling Fairytale Castles Turned into a Raw Nightmare

Steve Palace
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An ambitious Turkish housing development with a fairy tale twist has become a ghost town of epic proportions.

Burj Al Babas, located between Istanbul and Ankara, looks like an abandoned movie set, or a feat of CGI special effects. However the unusual sight is very real and has got the world talking with its striking display of multiple — and identical — castles.

Drones have explored the cluster of turrets to reveal the scale of this epic misstep. The structures bring to mind Disney, but also something more unsettling. Alongside magical features, such as a spiral staircase and rolling hills, visible through the window are shrink-wrapped furniture and gouged walls.

The villas are worth between $400,000 to 500,000 each. Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP/Getty Images

Of course it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The original idea was for Burj Al Babas to be an accommodation hub for the well-heeled who wanted to play Prince and Princess. At an overall price tag of $200 million, with dwellings on sale for $400,000-$500,000 apiece, luxury was the byword.

Sarot Property Group started laying foundations in 2014. Half a decade on and a biting recession later, the company are struggling to survive. Extremely sluggish sales resulted in a distinct lack of hand-biting from the target market of Gulf investors.

Traveller.com writes that “Although around half the villas — some 350 properties — were initially sold, largely to Middle Eastern customers, the company has filed for bankruptcy protection.” 732 buildings were planned. 587 were finished.

With the Turkish economy in less than rude health, world events have also taken their toll. The site reports, “Some of the buyers have backed out of their purchases, thanks — the news agency Agence France Presse has reported — to the slump in oil prices.”

The development has been held up by media outlets as a symbol of Turkey’s economic problems. An article in The Guardian observes, “the project has become a cautionary tale for other developers in Turkey’s debt-laden construction sector.”

Hopes for Burj Al Babas were high. The project even got the national seal of approval from President Erdoğan, who saw Burj Al Babas as a welcome money-spinner for the country.

Measures being taken to address the downturn include relaxing citizenship rules to attract overseas investment. Meanwhile Sarot Property Group believe they can resolve their debt issues by selling 100 of the fantasy-inspired properties.

Speaking to The Guardian, deputy chair Mezher Yerdelen said, “I believe we can get over this crisis in four to five months and partially inaugurate the project in 2019.”

In a further complication, Burj Al Babas has faced a lawsuit from those angry at the company’s treatment of forests in the Mudanya district.

In December last year it was reported by the Hürriyet Daily News that the Sarot Group “damaged 6.5 decares of forestland and uprooted 82 black pine and oak trees during the construction of the controversial project.”

The dispute has been long-running. An indictment in 2016 stated “excavated soil was dumped in the forest, as a result of which 46 trees were tumbled down. During the construction process, barbed wire was set up in a particular area of the forestland leading to the ‘extricating and utilization of the forestland’ offense.”

It turns out people were not even impressed with the design aesthetic of the development in the first place.

According to The Guardian, Mudurnu locals “say it is not in keeping with the area’s traditional architecture, characterised by Byzantine buildings, traditional Ottoman wooden houses and a 600-year-old mosque.”

Read another story from us: A Huge Fleet of Ghost Ships in American Waters is Creeping Towards the Ocean

So what started as an opulent vision straight out of a storybook has turned into a financial and cultural nightmare for its architects. How will the issues be resolved? In the words of a famous franchise, they might want to wish upon a star to make their dreams come true.