My trip to Turkey 5: Kayaköy

We arrived at Kayaköy on a stinking hot afternoon. After a quick orientation walk, we ate and then curled up like pythons in the welcome cool of our guest house / Pansiyon Makri (phone 0252 618 0405), which turned out to be a prime example of Intrepid’s knack of finding accommodation that’s close to interesting things but not in the middle of tourist-trap territory. Our host came from generations of butchers: on our second night we had dinner there, and he spent a good bit of the morning taking a cleaver to a large section of lamb, and the results were excellent. (For the record, I had fish, which was also excellent.)

But on the first night, once our wilting spirits had revived, we went by Dolmus over the next hill to the port of Fethiye to photograph some Lycean tombs carved into a cliff face, then dinner at the fish market and a stroll along the esplanade. Fethiya used to be called something else (I cant tell you what because I’m iPadding this on the bus and so depend on my naked mind for facts and figures). It was renamed after a pilot who died in 1914, a martyr in the struggle for a Turkish republic and the end of the Ottoman Empire. There’s a splendid heroic statue of him in goggles and leather helmet with huge angelic wings at his heels. We also saw weirdly cohesive Turkish ice cream being made, and ate some.

Next morning, in slightly cooler weather, we visited the ghost town of Kayaköy, which occupies the hillside above the tourist village: two churches, 14 chapels, two schools, a thousand dwellings, all abandoned in the population exchange of the mid 1920s when everyone who lived there, being identified as Greek in spite of having lived in this place for perhaps a thousand years, was sent ‘back’ to Greece. We were told several times that Louis de Bernières tells the story in his novel Birds without Wings. A while back there was a move to turn Kayaköy into a tourist village, but this was foiled, and it is now a museum dedicated, I read somewhere, to fostering peace between Turkey and Greece.

Kayaköy means stone village, and that’s what’s left of what was the village Levissi: roofless, doorless and windowless stone houses, whose walls have almost all survived upright, stone churches stripped of ornament except some faded colour in the domed ceiling and some red, white and black pebble mosaic floor, narrow stone streets, many of them disrupted by an earthquake in the 1950s. It felt like a memorial,to all the people who have Ben displaced and dispossessed by nationalism, war and colonialism over the last couple of centuries. This forced emigration happened a couple of years before the Coniston massacre, Australia’s last recorded large massacre of Aboriginal people, so there was no call for any kind of moral superiority here. Perhaps the time will come when we’re bighearted enough to have as substantial a memorial as this for the terrible episodes of our history. These solemn ruminations were interrupted by the discovery that, unlike other memorial museums, this one is occasionally put to practical use. I took this snap of the inside of a house near the bottom of the hill:


After our first walk in the ghost village, most of our group went on a six kilometre hike along the Lycean Way to Oludeniz Lagoon, which I regretfully bowed out of as the first leg brought me to the brink of an asthma attack and we were warned that the rest of the terrain was steep.

The others returned in mid-afternoon well pleased with themselves. But as I’d used the morning to blog about the Asia Literary Review I wasn’t too unhappy to have missed out.

The Art Student and I caught a dolmus to nearby Gelmeri, a picnic ground at a beach, where we swam in buoyant salt water and lazed beneath a hired umbrella. The were quite a few Turks there, but most people sounded English. Did I mention that everywhere in Kayaköy cafés offer English Breakfast, and gozlemes are advertised as pancakes? We chatted with a couple of bright red Brits who have been coming to Turkey every summer for 20 years. This year for the first time they experienced earthquake, and they had two of them. Both times they were at the beach, and both times they observed that the Turkish people in their vicinity reached immediately for their phones to text about it. Sounds just like Melbourne.

4 responses to “My trip to Turkey 5: Kayaköy

  1. Hi Jonathan.

    On the run with the iPhone so I hope the following is readible.

    My Dad’s side is from Levisi = Kayakoy.

    The truth was that my Pappou, his family and the rest of the town fled before the exchange. There were killings too on the way out. Things became quite violent. This fact is evident on their arrival passports (and their many tales) There are quite a few people in Perth and Adelaide too who are descended from there.

    ‘Bird Without Wings’ was an apalling fabrication of events. That town and the area was depicted by the author to be full of Turkic speakers who’d lost their Greek! When that was much farther East: Cappadocian Greeks.

    My Yaya’s family were from Myra and never lived in Greece and they were fluent Greek speakers too. Myra, however, was a little more cosmopolitan and full of polyglots.

    I offered to chat with Louis years ago when he was writing the book. He was here in Perth for a visit. The novel would have been fine had it been based in Cappadocia, but to have it set in Lycia is disappointing and represents poor research and little historical understanding.

    In fact, studies have shown that the moden Greek dialect that was spoken there still had traces of ancient Doric! The traditions and customs were the same as Castellorizo (nearby island of which many come Lycia). Dad has cousins there whose ancestors are from Levissi too. All the now deceased Levissians I knew there were fluent in Greek. There is also a wonderful interview I saw when living in Greece with an elderly man from Lycia, saying that life was harmonious until Greek speaking Muslims from Crete were settled nearby and stirred up anti- Christian sentiment although he still lived watching them dance the Cretan pentozali!

    The greatest irony was when my extended family went back there in 1994. An elderly Turkish lady in Marmaris heard us speaking Greek and called out from her balcony in fluent Greek: ‘Why did you all leave? We were so happy.’ She insisted on inviting us up. So my father, uncle and aunt and my cousins all were given tea and Turkish cigarettes and sweets. Her kids and grandchildren and a greatgrandchild lived there too
    ( no knowledge of Greek whatsoever) but it was a touching moment. The elderly lady seemed to think that we’d abandoned them and Marmaris was (she claimed) soulless for years after. Now, of course, it’s a wonderful town.

    I am really enjoying your posts. I went to Istanbul a few years ago and found that Turkey seemed changed. Headscarves were far more common and it seemed less liberal in general.

    Wonderful place with so much history. Hope you continue to enjoy your holiday!


    • Liked watching the Pentozali – not lived.

      Won’t bother with the myriad of other errors!



      • shawjonathan

        Thanks so much for that comment, Anthony. I’ve shared your stories with some of the traveling group – they really enrich our grasp of what we’re seeing.


      • shawjonathan

        I’ve made a myriad of typos too, with less excuse than you. One day I may have a settled enough connection to the Internet and time, to go in and fix them. Meantime, I’m hoping people can tell what I mean


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