We decided to visit the ‘Greek Ghost Town’ of Kayakoy because we had some extra time in Fetiye. If I would have known it was so cool, we would have scheduled the time on purpose.
Kayakoy is an eerie place.
It looks like there should be a lot of people living there – but there aren’t. It’s like a holocaust film.
We caught the Dolmus from the station near the Mosque in Fetiye. It was 3.5 lira each each way so a total of 7 TL per person to go and then come back.
So, what is Kayakoy? How did it become what it is?
Prior to World War I there were big Greek communities throughout Turkey and big Turkish communities throughout Greece. One such Greek town was Kayakoy, then called Kaya or Karmylassos. It was a fair sized place with around 3000 stone buildings, 3 pharmacies, a school, a couple of churches, and a few monasteries. The town dated back to the 1400’s.
After WWI, when Turkey was building a Turkish Republic, there were population exchanges where entire communities were uprooted and forced to return to their native lands, even though their family roots dated back to the 1400’s or earlier.
Whole towns full of Greeks in Turkey were forced to move to Greece and whole towns of Turks in Greece were forced to move back to Turkey. Kayakoy was one such town, the only hitch was that the Turks who moved back, didn’t want to live in Kayakoy and so it was largely abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair.
In the 1950’s there were big earthquakes in the regions and the people in Fetiye and other cities nearby, used all the wood parts, doors, and windows from Kayakoy to repair their damaged homes. After that, the weather did its bit and finally the government decided to make it a monument.
The charge to get into the abandoned village is 8 lira each. It seemed a bit much for a ghost town, so we got out of the Dolmus and started hiking up the hill to enter the town from the side and thus miss the gate where we’d have to pay.
Somewhere along the way Hanane lost her little wallet and with a hundred lira in it, karma, maybe. Luckily it didn’t have her passport or anything irreplaceable in it, just money. Still, she was inconsolable. Almost
Nothing consoles my wife better than finding a big fig tree full of fruit that nobody is eating. As we walked up the hill, I looked around and realized that these houses on the edge of Kayakoy were not derelict at all, there were people living in them! These weren’t ghosts and this wasn’t a ghost town! Still, I didn’t want to spoil Hanane’s recovery by telling her. So we at figs from the big tree and wandered further into the maze of Kayakoy.
Soon we came to a path with a small dog tied on it. My wife is fearless in many ways. She will pick up bugs, stand up to thugs, and face down police, but I am baffled by the two things that do scare her, dogs and lizards. She is absolutely terrified of both. Lucky for us, this was a dog on a rope which is the lessor of her two terrors.
She wanted to go back, but I realized this was a chance for us to meet one of the ghosts of Kadikoy, so I stood just out of the dog’s reach and shouted hello down to the stone farmhouse which did obviously have inhabitants. Pretty soon a voice answered me. Then a big Turkish woman lumbered up and said hello to us. She was wearing those big colorful clown pants old Turkish country women wear.
The path into the part of Kayakoy where everyone says you should visit was through her yard, so we thought it prudent to make friends with her. She spoke just enough English for me to know that she interacted with tourists pretty frequently.
I asked if we could see her house and she smiled and said yes. Inside we sat with her and her mother and she told us about how her grandfather had come from Greece and taken the house. Not many of the repatriated Turks had taken houses in Kadikoy, but some did. Now she lives there with her wizened old mother and her brother. She gave us fruit and water, offered me some coffee, and treated us with incredible hospitality as most Turks do.
She was a very nice woman and told us about the herbs she grew, showed us her garden, and escorted us down to the path that would take us to the abandoned churches and buildings. She then showed us her craft stand where she sells overpriced things to tourists. I didn’t want to insult her hospitality by giving her money but I did buy two of the very overpriced bracelets she was selling.
I just took her initial starting price of 10 lira each which was about 9 lira too much, but the fact is the food and stories she had shared was worth more than the 16 lira we would have paid to enter. Was she scamming us and tourists? A little bit with her big prices, but then, it wasn’t like she had other job opportunities living there as a woman in her 50’s supporting her old mother. Still, Hanane wanted to strangle me for paying so much.
I have to admit, there were a few fleeting moments in Kayakoy where I caught chicken skin. It was a little like being in a nuclear war zone or a place where the people have just disappeared.
The two things spoiling it were the fact that I knew that the people had been transplanted and that European and American tourists would come around corners every few minutes talking and laughing loudly. I asked one guy “Seen anything interesting?” and his reply was “No, not really. Not here anyway.”
We, however, saw plenty. We saw the churches, the walkways, the houses, and the many holes dug everywhere. I later found they were the marks of treasure hunters. We went back to our new friend’s house and joined with some of her relatives from Izmir who had just arrived. I helped her brother in law harvest big bunches of red grapes, we drank some thick plum juice which I suspected would soon be wine judging by the sugar that was liberally added to it in the big jug it was in, and sat feeling the breeze as it cooled down the valley below us.
Our new friends loaded us with plums and grapes and gave Hanane a pair of woven pot holders. I think she may have felt bad for the price gouging she gave me earlier, but I felt like it was money well spent.
On the bus ride home we went through the tourist town of Oludeniz which seemed like a total and complete version of hell. Every restaurant sported signs that said “English Breakfast”, every sign showing prices was in pounds, and more chubby English middle aged women in bikinis were walking around than I had ever seen in one place before. The ghost town of Kayakoy was far better than these old broads with just about everything hanging out. It wasn’t pretty.
This was a gorgeous Turkish beach town which seemed to be catering exclusively to the Bucket family. The only thing missing was a trailer park. As we passed the many ‘pubs’ and munched on figs and grapes, I realized why our friend was able to charge so much for her bracelets. It was the people who make their holidays in Oludeniz that funded the grapes we munched on.
Back in Fetiye, which didn’t seem nearly as terrible now that I’d seen Oludeniz, we gathered up our bags and waited for the shuttle to come pick us up and take us to our night bus to Goreme.