Eerie KAYA KÖYÜ, Asia Minor’s largest medieval ghost town, lies southwest of Fethiye, near the site of ancient Karmylassos. Known as Levissi after the eleventh century, it was settled by Greek Orthodox Christians and supported a local population of over 3000 before 1923, when its Christian inhabitants were exiled, along with more than a million others, to metropolitan Greece, leaving a dramatic and moving site that places in stark relief the human suffering experienced during the compulsory population exchange. Despite the horrors of the 1919–1922 Greco–Turkish war, relations between Christian and Muslim remained good here, with local “Turks” accompanying “Greeks” to Fethiye to bid them farewell. Tales abound of Christians entrusting their neighbours with treasure chests against their possible return; they never did come back, but the caskets remain unopened. Macedonian Muslims were sent to occupy the abandoned buildings but most didn’t stay, considering Kaya’s land poor and emigrating. Most locals now live in Keçiler and Kınalı hamlets at the far fringes of the surrounding plateau, overlooked by the ruins.
All you can see now of Kaya is a hillside covered with about six hundred ruined dwellings – all with fireplaces and cisterns intact – and the attractive Panayia Pyrgiotissa basilica (or Kato Panayia), the most important of three churches here, about 200m uphill from the road. The church, dated 1888 by a scandalously deteriorated floor mosaic but over a century older, retains some of its marble altar screen and murals, but its general dereliction merely serves to highlight the plight of the village. A grisly item in the southwest corner of the church precinct is a charnel house piled with human leg bones; the departing Orthodox took the exhumed skulls of their ancestors with them.
As with other remote, abandoned Greek villages, proper title deeds for individual Kaya properties were never issued by the Republican Turkish government. In 1988, mass acquisition of the village houses for package-holiday accommodation was threatened, though development plans have been withdrawn and a preservation order slapped on the valley. Only five percent of agricultural land area may be built on and only archeologically approved restoration is allowed. The old village remains the focus of Greco–Turkish reconciliation festivals, with its Orthodox diaspora visiting regularly from Greece; Orthodox Patriarch Vartholomeos himself stayed here in 2000. Kaya has again been in the spotlight since Louis de Bernières disguised it as Eskibahçe, the setting for most of his 2003 epic Birds Without Wings.