Kayaköy: the ghost village

The ghost village of Kayaköy is a strange place that transports us to the recent history of Turkey.

Located near the seaside resort of Fethiye, the village of Kayaköy is a fresco of 20th century Turkish history and the emergence of the Turkish Republic. Those who wander the deserted streets and enter the houses, have a perfect sense that the now ghostly place was once a village vibrant with life.

Kayaköy: a vibrant community

There are about 500 houses and two Orthodox churches that were home to a population of over 10,000 souls. Muslims and Christians lived together peacefully, participating in the activities of both communities. Kayaköy was a prosperous community.

The Muslims were mainly farmers and the Christians were artisans. The two communities supported each other, buying each other’s goods, and Muslim musicians took part in Christian festivals.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Kayaköy was a peaceful and vibrant community and had two names. The Muslims called it Kayaköy and the Greek Orthodox gave it the name Livissi, or Lebessos, in ancient Greek.

But then came the Greco-Turkish war and political decisions. And Kayaköy met an abrupt end.

The Greek-Turkish War

In the aftermath of World War I, Greece intended to occupy parts of the Ottoman Empire, but the revolutionaries of the Turkish National Movement, led by Kamal Ataturk, managed to win on all three fronts.

With this victory, they forced the international community to recognise the Turkish Republic, and the Treaty of Lausanne was signed, which not only recognised the new republic, but its control over Anatolia, which was disputed with Greece.

The fate of Kayaköy

After the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, which ended with the victory of Kamal Ataturk’s movement and the recognition of the Turkish Republic, some 900,000 Greek Orthodox Christians left Anatolia and took refuge in Greece, and there was also a counter movement.

The exchange of populations was even recognised in a treaty between the two countries, which relied on religious criteria to promote the displacement of those who had not yet fled.

In Kayaköy, after the departure of its inhabitants, the houses were not occupied again as a sign of respect given to the neighbours who had stayed and they deteriorated until they were affected by the earthquake that shook Fethiye in 1957.

Kayaköy: open-air museum

Today, Kayakaköy is an open-air museum, preserved to make one think. It is often claimed that it has been declared by UNESCO one of the villages of peace and friendship, but a search of the United Nations organisation’s website does not allow one to verify this.

It is likely that this was first said by a local guide and replicated in blogs and online guides. But – as the Italians say – if it’s not true, it’s well thought out.

Kayaköy is – I say – a monument to two characteristics of Humanity: the stupidity of war and the solidarity of those who remained.

Visiting Kayaköy is an unforgettable experience. Yet few people go there. When I entered this open-air museum, I was the only person wandering the streets among the ruins.

The solitude goes well with the ghost village that today honours a once vibrant community.

And it’s not because it’s hard to get to. Those who go to Fethiye are mainly looking for the beaches and the temperate waters of the Aegean Sea. But from the city, there are regular buses that pass Kayaköy.

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