Turkey // The Turquoise Coast //

Kaya Köyü

The atmospheric ghost village of KAYA KÖYÜ, whose Greek Orthodox Christian inhabitants were forced to leave their homes in the compulsory exchange of populations between the newly created Republic of Turkey and Greece in 1923, stands roughly 9km southwest of Fethiye. The roofless remains of the six hundred or so houses that comprised this community of some three thousand souls are arrayed in tiers up a pine-scented hillside. They stand above a pastoral idyll of a valley which has, so far, escaped the excesses of tourist development that have swamped nearby Ovacık and Hisarönü.

While the population of Kaya Köyü, or Levissi as it was known to Greek inhabitants, was being shipped west, Macedonian Muslims were sent to occupy the abandoned buildings. Most choose to emigrate rather than stay, considering the land too poor. Today the local population lives in a couple of hamlets, Keçiler and Kınalı, set in the valley below the ruins.

Although this is fertile farming land, tourism has become increasingly important to the inhabitants of this tranquil spot, and there are a number of attractive places to stay and eat. Clearly the ghost village of Kaya Köyü is the main attraction for most visitors, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied for several days, including a superb half-day walk to Ölüdeniz, horseriding and kayaking. Or you could just relax and read Louis de Bernières’ epic novel Birds Without Wings, much of which is set in Eskibahçe, a thinly disguised Kaya Köyü. Beware, however, as a controversial plan to “restore” some of the village houses, and turn them into holiday homes, resurfaced in 2012.

If you visit Kaya Köyü in high season – July and August – it’s best to start your explorations of this unique place early, both because of the heat and to avoid the tour groups who arrive later in the day from nearby resorts. To get a flavour of the place, it’s enough simply to wander the lichen-crusted cobbled pathways that cut between the derelict houses – most still with their fireplaces, earth-closets and cisterns still intact – and try to imagine the place as it might have been a hundred years ago, with workers on their way home from the fields, or dressing up in their Sunday best, ready for church.

If you want more of a focus, a small, barrel-roofed and whitewashed chapel, clearly visible on a hilltop just above the town, affords splendid views back over the settlement and, in the opposite direction, over the sea.

A more sizeable church dating to 1888, that of Panayia Pyrgiotissa, stands a couple of hundred metres above the road in the west of the village. Its red roof tiles, like those of many other buildings here, were imported from Marseille, a testament to the prosperity of the place prior to the expulsion of its inhabitants. The Taksiarhis church, in the east of the village, was restored in 1910, with a pretty courtyard floored with a black-and-white pebble mosaic.

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