Previously known as Karmylassos, Kayaköy is a popular UNESCO World Friendship and Peace Village. The sign at the entrance states there to have been 400 stone houses built in such a way for each house to have an excellent view of the fertile valley below. A population of approximately 2000 Ottoman-Greeks lived here from the second part of the 19th century until after WWI and the Turkish War of Independence. Kayaköy was abandoned around 1923 by the Greek Orthodox Christians who returned to Greece during the population exchange between the Greek Muslims and the Ottoman Christians.
When we heard about the old Greek Ghost Town of Kayaköy located only 8 km from Fethiye, we knew we had to see it. So we boarded a half hour dolmuş (mini-bus, pronounced dol-mish) ride from Fethiye to get there. We took a road which climbed through scented evergreen pines into a sleepy town at the base of the ghost town.
When our dolmuş driver stopped in the middle of the road and motioned us to get out, we were confused. All we saw was a hill to our left, and to our right a weathered country café with grazing cows and chickens beside it. Noting our bewildered expressions, the driver smiled and said, “This is Kaya.” We followed his gaze up the hill on our left and laid our eyes on the empty village for the first time. Looking up, we saw silent grey houses sprinkled along the side of a lonely hill. Dappled green pines cast shadows on the crumbled stones, and naked doorways and windows exposed a carpet of rocky vegetation inside.
Immediately, the children were ecstatic to begin exploring and we climbed the steep hill from the road to the first stone house. Lucy and Edmund pilfered scattered red and purple wild flowers along the path. Out of breath, I tried to keep up with the children who seemed to exhibit a velocity and sure-footedness I no longer had. The exercise of clambering up the hill and clinging on to branches from the fragrant earth brought me back to when I was 19 years old hiking through the woods in Ontario towards a shrine at Madonna House, searching for God. The silent presence of the abandoned homes lingering for their owners to return was strangely beautiful.
The children had such a delightful time climbing and discovering the empty village. Susan walked around pretending to be an archeologist. With wide eyes, she spoke excitedly about how she imagined what the old stone constructions used to be. The children were so happy! Peter (our boy who has asthma) showed an impressive stamina in his climb from one broken dwelling to another. He was energized by his exploring and exclaimed that he loved to climb. Not once did he need his puffer, giving me a clearer certainty that the children were getting closer to the age of longer adventurous hikes. Watching the children reminded me that movement came hand in hand with learning.
We climbed one of the stone houses to get a better perspective of the village and saw that each home seemed to share similar sized one or two-story rooms with a cistern on the ground floor. In the centre of the village was a large church with remains of cobalt blue paint on its walls and a mosaic stoned courtyard. The elaborate structure of its ceiling still clung to memories of celebrations held years ago. I imagined spirits of a vibrant close-knit community living in peace before the wars, the circle of life accented by seasons and family traditions.
Higher up the hill we stopped to take in the expanse of the village, and we were silenced by the evocative song of afternoon prayer emanating from the valley below. We stood there listening to the prayerful song haunting the sky, sensing a peaceful presence with its aching loneliness.
After a couple of hours exploring, the late afternoon light called us home. We made our way back to the entrance where we met a gentle woman named Fatima standing at her table of souvenirs. She gave gifts to the children and we reciprocated her generosity by purchasing little gifts for our loved ones back home. Fatima’s natural hospitality welcomed us with tea and bread to snack on while we shopped and waited for our dolmus. Her eyes contemplated our children with yearning, explaining to us how blessed we were because she had no children. Fatima was married for 25 years and wished to have at least one child. We parted with a blessing of hugs and kisses.
On the dolmus back to Fethiye we had the pleasure of meeting two Australian sisters named Rosemary and Robyn. They were both in their late 60’s and they were backpacking for 5 weeks in Turkey. Originally they had planned to travel to the Middle East and Egypt for those 5 weeks, but due to the revolutions and unrest, their travels redirected them to Turkey. I was impressed by their vibrance and joie de vivre. They inspired in me a vision to one day take a trip with my sister that way. Robyn and Rosemary shared stories of their adventures and love for Turkey.
The children grew tired on our second dolmus ride back to our apartment from Fethiye to Calis. They were quietly content from the adventures of the day. Edmund, comfortably nestled in my arms whispered, “Mom, I love Turkey. I really really love Turkey.” I smiled in understanding because I loved Turkey too.
Written by Jenn
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”