The thriving village that became ghost town because of political turmoil

Bojan Ivanov
House in Kayaköy, Turkey. Photo by: Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0

Kayaköy (or “Rock Village”) is a ghost town located near the popular resorts of Fethiye and Olu Deniz in Lycia province in the western part of Mediterranean Turkey. This area is also known as the Turquoise Coast and is a major part of the Turkish Riviera in southwestern Turkey.

Kayaköy was thriving community of more than 2000 people until the early 1920s. The former inhabitants of the place were Anatolian Greeks. The settlement in ancient times was known as Lebessos, later Livissi. Muslims and Orthodox Christians lived there together in harmony.

The Muslims, who populated the nearby valley floor of the Kaya Valley, were farmers, and the Greek Orthodox, who lived on the hillside, were mostly artisans. The neighbors were deeply connected and they lived together in community in spite of their religious and cultural differences.

House in Kayaköy, Turkey. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0
House in Kayaköy, Turkey. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Ruined buildings. William Neuheisel, CC BY-SA 2.0
Ruined buildings. William Neuheisel, CC BY-SA 2.0

However, changing geopolitics began to affect their lives. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the multicultural, multinational, and multi-religious character of the region was lost. The governments of Greece and Turkey in 1923, after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1923 and because of the decisions of the Treaty of Lausanne, decided to make a population exchange and to become ethnically “pure” nation states. All Greek Orthodox residents of Turkey were deported to Greece and all Muslim residents from Greece were deported to Turkey. When the Greek people abandoned their homes and left for Greece, Muslims from Greece moved in to fill their place. The new inhabitants that came from Greece were farmers accustomed to more fertile lands. They didn’t like the rocky land of their new settlement and quickly abandoned the town. Since then, the town of Kayaköy was left completely deserted.

Livissi/ Kayaköy village. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0
Livissi/ Kayaköy village. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Greeks lived in these regions from ancient times. The town of Livissi  was built in the 18th century on the ruins of the ancient city of Lebessus, which was a vital part of the ancient province Lycia.

Tombs from the Lycian civilization can be found north of the today’s ruined town, in the village of Gokceburun. The place was an important Christian center from the beginning of the 7th century.

It is mentioned in the Notitia Episcopatuum of Pseudo-Epiphanius written under the Byzantine Emperor in 640 and also in a 10th-century document attributed to Emperor Leo VI the Wise. More than 20 churches, chapels, and monasteries were constructed in the village and the nearby area and some of them are still standing.

Roofless buildings. Nikodem Nijaki, CC BY-SA 3.0
Roofless buildings. Nikodem Nijaki, CC BY-SA 3.0

Livissi is the location where the residents of Byzantine Gemiler Island  escaped to protect themselves from pirates. Livissi underwent significant reconstruction in the 19th century.

The close town of Fethiye (known by the Greeks as Makri) was seriously destroyed by an earthquake in 1856 and a fire in 1885. Many people from the neighboring town came to live in Livissi. According to Greek and Ottoman documents, at the end of 19th century, it had over 6000 inhabitants.

But in the exodus of its historical inhabitants began in the 20th century. For political reasons, they had to leave their homes and livelihoods. Later, the empty village was damaged in the 1957 Fethiye earthquake.

An abandoned church. Orderinchaos, CC BY-SA 3.0
An abandoned church. Orderinchaos, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Kayaköy.
Kayaköy.

 

The stone buildings are crumbling. Nikodem Nijaki, CC BY-SA 3.0
The stone buildings are crumbling. Nikodem Nijaki, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Lower Church in Kayaköy, Turkey. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0
Lower Church in Kayaköy, Turkey. Darwinek, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Some buildings are still standing. William Neuheisel, CC BY 2.0
Some buildings are still standing. William Neuheisel, CC BY 2.0

Today, the abandoned village of Kayaköy is a picturesque place to visit. The village is an open-air museum and a monument of the past. The narrow streets are overgrown with vegetation and the stone buildings are roofless and slowly crumbling. There are 500 houses in ruins and two Greek Orthodox churches. The churches are the most remarkable sites in the ghost town.

They have faded frescoes and vaulted ceilings and arches. The surviving parts of the churches still show the former glory of the village. The village is under the protection of the Turkish government. In the middle of the ghost town, there is a fountain from the 17th century. There are projects from the Turkish government for the future development of the village.