Friday, August 2, 2013

Kayakoy---deserted by the Greeks in 1923

 Kayakoy was the final place we wanted to visit while we had a rental car.  There are dolmuses (small van buses) from Fethiye to Kayakoy but we preferred to visit in our own car and not be tied to a bus schedule.  So this was our opportunity.  We could get there and back to Fethiye well before dark.  We backtracked to Fethiye, through town and found the road to Kayakoy going out the southern side of Fethiye.  It is only 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) south of Fethiye to Kayakoy and some serious hikers make that trek on foot.  I think those people are totally crazy because it is almost straight up a mountain and then back down the opposite side.  I don't do inclines, so via car would be our choice.

Tomb in the middle of the street
Seriously?  In the middle
of the street!

The first thing we noticed on this road was a Lycian sarcophagus right in the middle of the street as we exited Fethiye.  This was a section of Fethiye that we had not seen before.  That struck us as funny.  They couldn't build the road around the tomb rather than leave it in the middle of the street?

Abandoned stone houses of Kayakoy

Kayakoy is a ghost town of 4,000-odd abandoned stone houses and other structures that once made up the Greek town of Levissi.  Kayakoy is now an open-air museum "dedicated to Turkish-Greek peace and cooperation" according to our Lonely Planet guidebook for Turkey.  I bet the Greeks who were forced to abandon their homes here feel differently about that statement.  I am reminded of our neighbor from years ago named Nick Koutroulous, obviously of Greek heritage.  His mother was part of that population exchange.  Her hometown was on an area of present-day Turkey that used to be considered Greek.  The town was called Sparta, Greece, when she was born there; today it is called Izmir, Turkey.

About 4,000 abandoned homes up the hillsides
Levissi was deserted by its mainly Greek inhabitants in the general exchange of populations supervised by the League of Nations in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence (when Ataturk formed the country of Turkey from the old Ottoman Empire).  Most 'Greek' Muslims came to Turkey from Greece; and most Ottoman Christians moved from coastal Turkey to Greece.  This is not even mentioned in most American history classes, but it was a really big deal in this part of the world.

Entering the abandoned town

The people of Levissi, who were Orthodox Christians, were moved to the out-skirts of Athens where they established Nea Levissi (New Levissi).  The abandoned town remains abandoned still today.  At first the local Turks were afraid that the departing 'Greeks' had left explosives in or under the buildings, or that the water wells had been poisoned, or any number of other ways to retaliate for being forced to leave their homes.  Those thoughts proved incorrect over time but the city remains uninhabited still today.  It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1957.

This abandoned town was the inspiration for the mythical Eskibahce, the setting of author Louis de Bernieres' highly successful 2004 novel, Birds Without Wings.

As there were far more Ottoman Greeks than Greek Muslims, many Turkish towns were left unoccupied after the population exchange.  Kayakoy is just one of those.

Stone walls along both sides of the very narrow streets
we drove in and around Kayakoy.

With the tourism boom on the 1980s, a development company wanted to restore Kayakoy's stone houses and turn the town into a holiday village.  Scenting money, the local inhabitants nearby were delighted.  But Turkish artists and architects were alarmed and saw to it that the Ministry of Culture declared Kayakoy a historic monument.  This designation keeps it safe from commercial development.

There is not much to see except the abandoned stone houses on the hillsides.  There are 2 churches still prominent:  the Kataponagia in the lower part of the town and the Taxiarkis further up the slope.  Both retain some of their painted decorations and their black-and-white pebble mosaic floors.  According to our guidebook, the abandoned stone houses on the hillsides are spotlit at night, making the old town appeal truly surreal.

We will never know.  Because we will never be traveling that narrow winding mountain road in the dark.
Looking down at part of Fethiye from halfway
down the mountain on our return from Kayakoy

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