Kayakoy Ghost Town - Turkey
Not far from the hustle and bustle of the popular tourist resort of Olu Deniz in Southern Turkey, lies a peaceful valley where for most of the time the only noise is the twitter of birds in the trees and the scuttle of lizards in the undergrowth. Walk deeper into the valley and you begin to stumble on the outlying buildings of a town, a little rustic looking but you still expect an old lady to come to the door to see who is visiting her village..
You’ll be disappointed though for no one has lived here in over 85 years. The Greeks were repatriated to a poor area of Athens and left to live out their lives in misery, longing for the village of their youth. The Turks who were repatriated here were so unused to the hot conditions that they barely lasted a year before migrating again to cooler parts of the country.
At the end of the war between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s an agreement was reached which ripped the heart from communities and put in place one of the largest population movements of the 20th century.
For this village in the ancient kingdom of Lycia was inhabited entirely by Greeks and at the end of the war the agreement called for all Greeks to be repatriated to Greece and Turks living in enclaves in Greece were also forced to return home.
So Kayakoy or Karmylassos in Greek was a thriving Greek town of over one thousand houses, two churches, fourteen chapels, and two schools which went from a busy bustling population centre to completely deserted overnight in 1923 when the 25,000 Greek inhabitants living there, along with more than a million other Greeks living throughout Turkey were repatriated to Greece. Since then, the village which had been continually inhabited since at least the 13th century, has stood empty and with only the breeze from the mountains and mist from the sea blowing through it’s empty houses and streets. The benign climate has preserved much of the architecture but the town is completely deserted.
It wasn’t always this way, for centuries the Greeks and Turks lived and worked in harmony. The Turks farmed the Kaya Valley whilst the Greeks lived on the hillside and dealt in crafts and trades. Greeks had lived here for centuries and the ancient Greek historian Stravon talked about the area saying that “one reaches a steep and difficult place; Karmylessos is located here along a narrow and deep river…”.
Today, minibuses ferry curious visitors to the site. Immediately apparent is the stillness and loneliness of the valley. One can almost feel the presence of the former residents. Small, grey stone houses and chapels with faded white roofs are sprinkled over the hillsides against the backdrop of a large dark mountain. The houses are typically Greek and one can easily forget you are in Turkey as the architecture is more like that of the Greek Isles. The village was laid out so that no houses obstructed the view of the others and all looked down on the huge valley with the two churches marking the centre of the habitation. One doesn’t expect a ghost town to be of this size, nor laid out over such an area. Walking through the town you pass side streets with empty shops, windows long since broken or looted, where shop keepers must have once bartered, bought and sold their goods and housewives argued over the price of bread or olives. Old street signs in Greek and in Turkish hang lazily fading in the strong sunlight and small chapels, doors long since missing, stripped of their religious tokens and now with bare walls showing only glimpses of the frescoes that once adorned them.
In the main square of the village are the two cathedrals which tower over everything else in the vicinity. Inside it had been stripped of its splendour, partly by the departing Greeks and partly by the Turkish looters that roamed the village after the Greeks left.
The interior walls glow a pale blue in the dappled sunlight of a Turkish summer. Some of the wall paintings that were out of reach can still be seen as can a damaged mosaic in the entrance with its tiles scattered across the floor. The windows are long since destroyed allowing birds to roost amongst its beams.
The houses that remain have lost their roofs, rotted over the decades but the more permanent conveniences of home life are still visible, cisterns for the collection and storage of water and clay ovens still dot the village.
Yet there is hope for the future for a friendship program between Turkey and Greece has led to a joint project to restore the cathedrals and houses to a hint of their former glory. It may not be too long before chatter and laughter is heard in the village.
Descendants of the former inhabitants of the village still visit to discover a little of their family’s past but their presence lessens each year as memories and old villagers die.
||A well written piece, thanks for that; however a few factual innacuracies. The population was approximatly 10% of that stated, there being only about 500 houses [Check Google earth] The Greek name of the town was Levissi, Karmylassos was the name of the Lycian city some 2,000 years earlier. Cathedrals = Churches. Finally the mask hanging on a wall is a piece of modern tourist trash.
||Thank you for your input and comments John, we always welcome comments and any corrections to information that may be factually incorrect.