Travels in Turkey: Kayakoy

Travels in Turkey BadgeLinda Stewart

In the fortnight we were hosted in Turkey we did a number of day trips in and around Fethiye and the trip to Kayakoy was up there on our must do list.  8 km from our home base in Fethiye, Kaya (known by the locals) was a half day trip, preceded by lunch in the village.

This once large town now has the appearance of an ancient ruin although it was abandoned as recently as 1920 making it instead a modern ruin.  The stone buildings are roofless and weathered and the narrow streets worn with age but the charm lingers still.

Up until the 1920s, Kayakoy (ancient Karmylassos) had a thriving mixed population of Greeks and Turks who had lived together for centuries. The 1923 Population Exchange uprooted ethnic Greeks across Turkey and sent them ‘back’ to Greece with a reciprocal arrangement that ethnic Turks, residing in Greece be returned to Turkey.  This despite peoples of both nationalities may well have been born and raised in their birth country were now made to leave and go to an ostensibly foreign country.  The results were devastating for families who left a lifetime in one country to move to another of which they knew little.

Kayakoy Town

All houses had a valley view

When the Greek residents said goodbye to their stone village on the hillside it was left to decay.  The ruins include two Greek Orthodox Churches:  the Katapongagia and Taxiarkis.  Beautiful mosaic and interior decorations are evident today.  An interesting town planning concept, and can be seen in the photo above, was the idea that every house was to have a view over the valley below.

Kayakoy, Church built 1888

Originally built in the 1700s, the town called Karmylassos in Greek was home to as many as 20,000 Greek Orthodox residents by the early twentieth century. The messy fallout of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to the land grabs of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). The resounding loss of the Greeks in this war ended with violence and retribution, which was often aimed at the remaining Greek Orthodox community within the new Turkish borders, and in turn, against the Muslim Turks in Greece. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks fled the violence in Turkey.  Eventually in 1923 the governments agreed to a mutually, but compulsory, exchange of citizens.  It was hoped this ‘repatriation’ of Greek and Turkish people to their own countries would staunch the bloodshed.

Ruined House of Kayakoy

The residents of Kayakoy, until this time had  lived peacefully with their Turkish neighbours, now abandoned the town and went to Greece, which was struggling to find places for the nearly 200,000 refugees of the exchange.  Even before the official exchange more than a million former Turkish residents fled to Greece. Over 300,000 Turks were forcibly removed from Greece to a war-ravaged, but land-rich, Turkey in exchange. The polar explorer and Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen was assigned the task of organizing the exchange.

Kayakoy overlooking the Sea

Around 350 homes now sit empty and mostly roofless, along with two Greek Orthodox churches and the fountains and cisterns that watered the city. Harsh winters and strong winds have stripped the buildings down to ruins, making the town look ancient.  We visited the private museum schooling ourselves up on the story of the town which proved to be a good investment of our time.  Wandering up and down the hills and in-between the ruins it was easy to imagine a bustling township and hear the sounds of people going about their daily routine.  The noisy market places, women calling out to each other as they tended their homes and small gardens and the children playing in and around the close knit community.

Kayakoy House

Posted as part of the April 2015 A – Z Blog Challenge.