On our Blue Voyage, we enter a beautiful cove called protected by Gemiler Adasi (means Island of the Ships). It is also referred as the St.Nicholas’ Island, where lies the original tomb of the St.Nicholas (yes, Santa Claus!), the patron saint of the sailors.
After spending some time on the island exploring the ruins of the church at the top of the island and the processional walkway, all built around the 4th century CE, we decide to hire a van to go see the ghost village of Kayakoy, a village that has been totally abandoned since 1923.
Kayakoy has always been on my “must-see” list for many years. But, I did not get a chance to visit this very famous village. My curiosity got even bigger since I read Louis De Bernieres’ book “Birds without Wings” .
Our captain makes a call to arrange a trip for us to see Kayakoy. And in about thirty minutes, we are on the beach getting on a white van that comfortably takes all ten of us. The driver is from the village. We drive through a beautiful road on the Taurus Mountains lined with pine trees.
We first see the lower part of the village: Beautiful stone houses, bougainvilleas hanging from the walls, little cafes, animals roaming freely, kids are playing cheerfully. We are surprised when the driver tells us that there are a lot of British people live here year around. I would too.
We arrive at a small parking lot. It is the beginning of the ghost town part of Kayakoy. It has been abandoned during the Turkey-Greece population exchange in 1923. The Turks in Greece were forced to move to Turkey. And the Greeks in Turkey were forced to move to Greece. This was a result of Lausanne Treaty of 1923 after the Turkish Independence War. The Greek part of Kayakoy has been empty ever since. The devastating earthquake of 1957 had some substantial damage on the houses. But, given that all the houses are made of stone, many survived, most without roofs.
During their peaceful times Greeks and Turks lived happily side by side. Greeks called the village “Levissi”, Turks called it “Kayakoy”. It was the largest settlement in the area with two churches, schools, post office, library, windmills, textile industry, masonry, and coffee houses.
After visiting Kayakoy, Louis de Bernieres wrote his famous novel (2004), Birds Without Wings. This is one of the novels I read twice. No other novelist can describe the life of a village, named Eskibahce (based on Kayakoy), like him. You feel that you are part of the daily life of the village residents, feeling the ugliness of the war, understanding the love between two young souls (Philothei and Ibrahim), sadness of the Greeks while being deported from the village.
Now, I am literally walking on the narrow roads lined with beautiful Greek houses. I see turtles taking their strolls. Are these the turtles descendants of the turtles who carried candles on their back to light up an entire garden to please Rustem Bey in Birds Without Wings?
Everybody in our group is silent. We are all overwhelmed with feelings. There was life here. We see the bright blue painted walls through the open roofs. We see the chapel where many weddings took place. Where are these people? Where are their grandkids living now?
There is a beautiful Turkish classical piece is playing softly on the speakers. We can’t locate the speakers, so it makes it more eerie. Only music fills the air.
We walk back to the parking lot. Our driver wants to introduce us to his mother. We drive down from the ghost town to the bustling fertile part of the village. The mother greets us. She is busy picking cucumbers and zucchini. She hands us plastic bags and invites us to pick whatever we want. Our friends are not sure if she will charge us money. She says she is used to the tourists worrying about that. She says she only wants to be a good hostess. Whatever we pick is free. We are going to have a great meal tonight!
Then, she tells us Kayakoy village story.
“During the exchange of Turks and Greeks in 1923 after the Turkish Independence War, the Greeks from Kayakoy (link) were given a little time to pack and they could not take all their belongings with them to Greece. That time, no one knew if they ever would be able to come back to their own village or even to get their belongings. This Turkish village woman still has a locked chest that was given to her grandmother by the grandmother’s Greek neighbor. They were very close friends and lived in harmony as everyone else in the village, Turks and Greeks mixed, until imperialism brought its dark clouds over this beautiful village.”
As we drive back to the Gemiler Island cove to go back to our boat, we imagine the road we drive on once was filled with Greeks carrying as much as they can without knowing that they will ever come back to their homes.
Many resources say, Kayakoy was adopted as a World Friendship and Peace Village by the UNESCO. However, I could not find this statement on the official UNESCO site. If not true, I hope it will happen.
Parts of Russell Crowe’s movie, “The Water Diviner” (2014), was filmed in Kayakoy.
Kayakoy is about 8 kilometers from Fethiye and is accessible by car, minibus, or by boat/minibus from Gemiler Island.