Few independent tourists make their way to Kayakoy,
a ghost town just 5km west of the tattoo parlours, British pubs and dance clubs
of Hisaronu, a raucous tourist resort on Turkey’s southwest coast. The
abandoned village’s air of mystery – and off-the-beaten-path feel – is
precisely what drew me.
In the past thirty
minutes, I had climbed half a kilometre or so up the steep incline of the hillside
village, and was still only halfway to the summit. Stumbling over broken stone
steps and weed-strewn paths, past pomegranate, pine and fig trees, I paused to survey
the skeletons of three or four
hundred stone houses, now bathed in a honeyed evening light. From the inhabited
valley floor, far below, I could hear the strains of a mournful Turkish melody
that recalled ballads I had heard in Greece.
I sipped the last of my water and
continued the upward trek, my face dripping with perspiration. Finally, after
another half kilometre, I was rewarded. On the other side of the slope, just
around the bend from the famed lagoon of Oludeniz, a view of the Turquoise
Coast and its sapphire blue Mediterranean sea spread before me.
Formerly known as Levissi,
Kayakoy was a thriving community of some 10,000 until the early 1920s. Both
Anatolian Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians had lived here in harmony since
its origins in the 14th Century. The Muslims, who lived
on the surrounding valley floor of the Kaya (“Rock”) Valley, tended to be farmers,
while the Christians, who inhabited the hillside, were mostly artisans; the two
communities were closely linked by trade and helped each other in times of need.
Christian and Muslim women exchanged food and sweets at weddings and religious
festivities; Muslim musicians played at Orthodox festivities and took part in wrestling
matches during Easter celebrations; children played together in the lanes; and men of both religions congregated at local cafés,
fingering their worry beads, smoking water pipes and playing backgammon.
But in 1923, at the
conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1923, Kayakoy was suddenly emptied of its 6,500 Christian inhabitants: both
Turkey’s Christian citizens and Greece’s Muslims were expulsed from their homes
in a population exchange meant to ensure that each country had only one main
religion. Levissi became known as Kayakoy, or Rock Village.
Naci Dinçer, a
resident of nearby Fethiye whose father was five when his family was cast out
from Thrace in eastern Greece, chatted with me in his office across from Paşa
Kebab, Fethiye’s best-loved kebab restaurant. With his snow-white hair and rosy
cheeks, Dinçer could pass for St Nicholas, who was born in nearby Patara. “Their
Muslim neighbours didn’t want their friends to leave,” Dinçer said about the
deportations. “They even sent an appeal to the government in Ankara, but the
When the dispossessed arrived
in Greece, many wandered in search of a place they could call home. Those
deported from Kayakoy and Fethiye eventually settled on a scenic spot 40km northeast
of Athens, selecting it for its resemblance to their lost home. Meanwhile, the
Muslim farmers exiled from Greece found the land in Kayakoy inhospitable and soon
decamped, leaving the hillside village abandoned for a second time. In 1957, a
7.1 magnitude earthquake delivered Kayakoy its final coup de grâce, destroying
most of the town’s buildings. Homes and businesses around the valley floor were
later restored or rebuilt, but the hillside homes and buildings have been left
Today, the hillside of
Kayakoy remains deserted, never having recovered – either culturally or
economically – from the mass exodus in 1923. The homes, schools, shops, cafés,
chapels and churches have been left to crumble like feta, unprotected from
looters or the elements. Mercifully, the Turkish Ministry of Culture rescued the
hillside from mass development by granting it museum status a few years ago.
Now, scrambling around
the hushed ruins, I entered the shell of a house that had only the sky for a
roof and weeds for a floor. I stepped into what must have been the kitchen,
running my fingers over the swath of salmon pink paint still colouring a
crumbling wall. When a piece cracked off, I felt ashamed, an intruder in the
The poignancy of the
community’s absence is most palpable in the remains of the Kato Panagia, the
town’s Lower Church. Its faded frescoes, vaulted ceilings and multi-arched
forecourt evoke the church’s former glory, but looters and the elements have
not treated it kindly. Still, with a little imagination, it was easy to picture
the church and the village in happier times, when incense burned, the priest
intoned, villagers gathered to celebrate christenings, marriages and feast days
– and Muslim and Christian residents lived side by side. “Kaya Village is a
symbol of peace and harmony,” said Dinçer, who travels all over Greece and
Turkey to meet deportees and their descendants.
At the same time, the
ghost town of Kayakoy is a bittersweet reminder of the fragility of harmony
between cultures – and in many ways, of the fragility of existence itself.
The nearest airport is Dalaman
Airport, 60km northwest. The best time to travel to Kayakoy is in the spring
or autumn, when it is not too hot; at the height of summer, visit during the
evening, when it is cooler and most day trippers have left. At night the
village is lit up, adding to the ghostly effect.
There are hundreds of
hotels and pansyons, or pensions, around Hisaronu and Oludeniz, but if
getting some shut-eye is important, avoid Hisaronu, which is known for its
nightlife. In Oludeniz, the beachfront Jade Residence has
10 rooms and apartments, an olive tree garden and a luxurious pool. Or you can
stay in Kayakoy at the Misafir Evi, located
on the inhabited valley floor just off the main road, which has nine
comfortable double rooms with balconies or patios.
There are several
restaurants in the inhabited section of the town. Try Levissi
Garden, located in an old three-storey stone building with views of the
ghost town and an impressive wine cellar. The restaurant offers a shuttle service from local hotels.
Dolmuses (mini buses) from the towns of Fethiye, Ölüdeniz and Hisaronu run to
Kayakoy every 30 to 60 minutes. From the Fethiye bus station, the trip takes 45
minutes via Ovacik and Hisaronu. Look for the dolmus with the card in the front
window that says Kaya Village. Tickets range from three Turkish lira to six
Turkish lira, depending on your starting point.
Admission fee to the abandoned
village is five Turkish lira, and the ticket booth is beside the Lower Church.
More information can be found at Kayakoy’s