The Ghost Village Of Kayakoy

Kayakoy ghost village lies a short distance from the bustling and popular resorts of Fethiye and Olu Deniz. It is deserted, it is lifeless, the houses are crumbling and the streets are empty.

However, there is an aura and an overwhelming presence that hovers over the village. Some visitors might not sense it, but I did and it washed over me in waves.I truly believe that because I researched the history before going, I was able to appreciate my visit even more.

I was able to imagine the tragedy that caused the citizens to turn on their friends, abandon their homes, their dreams and everything they knew.

Kayakoy might be a ghost village but imagination and research certainly makes it come alive.

Houses of Kayakoy

Turn of the 19th century – Kayakoy Village

At the beginning of the 19th century, Kayakoy was in full flow. Schools, churches, shops and business operated in harmony. Life was good. The village was thriving as a community.

The twist and most important part of its history lie in the fact that within the village, Greeks and Turks lived side-by-side. The Greeks called the village Levissi while the Turks called it Kayakoy.

Outside their religions and schooling, the Greeks and Turks integrated with each other, sharing the same common goal and that was to get through life one day at a time.

Kayakoy

The Ghost Village of Kayakoy and Birds without Wings

Understanding the past and daily life of this ghost village is important. One man put it into better words than I ever could. I strongly advise reading a book called “Birds Without wings” by Louis de Bernières, the same man who wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

Now, Louis has never said that the location of the book is Kayakoy however; I want to quote him in an interview by the Guardian newspaper. 

‘I went to south-west Turkey and there’s a ghost town there. It used to be a mixed community, as described in the book more or less, and they obviously had a wonderful way of life, quite sophisticated. An earthquake finally destroyed the town in the Fifties, but it really started to die when the Christian population was deported. It was walking around that very special place that gave me the idea .The town, called Eskibahce in the book, will be recognizable to those who know Turkey, ‘but I’m not going to go round telling people’.

Kayakoy Turkey

The Turkish-Greek Population Exchange

The loss of the First World War, the end of the Ottoman Empire and the attempted Greek occupation of the Anatolian region, all combined to force the decline of Kayakoy. Greek Christian citizens were forced to go to Fethiye harbour for deportation and Muslim Turks were expelled from Greece.

Most of the returning Turks did not want to settle in Kayakoy. Of the ones that were already there, well they left when the earthquake hit. The point is though, a combination of historical events forced people to leave their friends, neighbours, homes and uproot their children. Whole lives changed forever when the signing of the treaty for the Turkish Greek Population exchange, took place.

Kayakoy Turkey

Present Day Kayakoy

Nowadays, the ghost village is one of the biggest tourist attractions for Fethiye and the surrounding resorts. A few locals sell food and souvenirs to passing tourists and there are some occupied houses away from the main bunch of deserted properties on the hill.

horse riding in Kayakoy

With an effort to move on from the past, UNESCO named Kayakoy a world friendship and peace village. Walking around the village is interesting but you will appreciate it more,  if you research the history beforehand.

Kayakoy church

Tours and Getting There

There are many tours operating from Olu Deniz and Fethiye but everyone I know,  who went on them complained of a lack of time and lack of historical knowledge by the guide. Instead, there are regular local buses from Fethiye that will get you there in ten minutes.

Turkey - Kayakoy

Delving into the history of Kayakoy and then walking around the deserted village was one of the best highlights of my southwest coast trip. To be able to stand there and imagine life for the Greek and Turks who lived side-by-side, it does make you realize that religion does not have to play a part in friendships.

The ghost village of Kayakoy

Unfortunately, the citizens of Kayakoy were pawns in a big game fought by the higher authorities. War tore their village apart and the same mistake is still repeated today in many other countries and villages all over the world.

Camel in Kayakoy

Readers Question : Have you been to Kayakoy? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Kayakoy Fethiye

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Natalie

Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an eccentric,Internet addict with a passion for history. I really shouldn't travel because I can not read maps and always lose my way! But hey, that never stops me and it is part of the fun! Leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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Comments

  1. Alan says

    Not only did we enjoy it as much as you but we also bought land, had a house built and lived there for almost 6 years. We only returned to the UK to enable my partner to receive medical treatment and we’re looking forward to returning there in the autumn.

  2. says

    It is a fascinating and atmospheric place – perhaps like you I have been influenced by ‘Birds without Wings’ and found it fleshed out the ‘ghost’ inhabitants of years gone by for me. Don’t know if you are still here for 30th but Louis de Bernieres is here for a dinner/discussion at Izela for which there are still some tickets available at 70TL via and for funds of FIG (Fethiye International Group). Louis is also doing a guided walk on 2nd May followed by tea and booksignings but I don’t think there any of the limited tickets available for the latter. I am so looking forward to exploring the site with de Bernieres and doing some paintings afterwards.

  3. says

    Great photos Natalie, we have visited Kayaköy several times and I always feel a sense of awe there. Louis de Bernieres visited last year for a book reading and will be there in a couple of days for another reading and a “nostalgic” walk through the village with some residents.
    HobbitTR wrote about..Kayaköy “Ghost Town”

  4. phil + Di marina gateway says

    i really enjoyed reading that and the photo’s make it so real it made me think long and hard about yoran village and what life must have been like back then
    you gat the same feeling washing over you there aswell, life must have been so hard for them the difference is yoran still has a spark of life left in it

      • phil + Di marina gateway says

        its up by the temple not far from us maybe ive spelt it wrong its very old and run down but some of the houses are still lived in they pulled a lot down for the new road . across the road from the temple behind the carpet shop theres bits of it there aswell and a field of peach trees
        its the same tale as kayakoy turks and greeks lived side by side untill the greeks were deported in the population exchange
        religion dose have a lot to answer for seeing how we all pray to the same god
        we met a greek lady in Altinkum a few years ago her grandfather was deported as a boy she came over for the peace march she tries to come every year
        yoran was also hit by the earthquake in the 50,s maybe louis de bernieres book was about yoran we will never know

  5. John Laughland says

    Dear Natalie. Great blog here and super photo’s well done. Do you mind if I help you with some facts? I hope not.
    First the UNESCO thing. Often reported but not true I’m afraid. I asked them.
    Now, the thornier issue…The deterioration of the houses started because the roofs were of bushwood and straw bound with mud and coated with crude gypsum mortar, they needed constant maintenance. With no maintenance they soon began to disintigrate. At the same time the Turkish villagers began to pillage all timbers within the houses and churches. Doors and windows first, then the frames and eventually even the lintols,
    ; that, of course, led to some of the stone walls collapsing above the doors and windows. In the churches the villagers were looking for hidden gold so dug up the floors and dug into the walls where their tapping found hollows. What they found was the empty clay pots which had been built in for acoustic reasons. Yes, the earthquake caused some damage directly but most of the damage was indirect…the Government gave permission for the folk of the town to take the large cedar beams to rebuild their houses. Any iron was also taken over time for its value as scrap or for utilization in buildings. The marble of the churches has been stolen in recent times purely for decorative purposes.
    You are right about the “Greeks” and Turks living in harmony but not in what we now call “the ghost town” that was entirely “Greek”, the Turks lived on the flatland or on the slopes of the northern hills.

  6. says

    There’s definitely something fascinating about deserted towns and villages around the world – and that top photo really creates an intriguing atmosphere that complements your post well

    • says

      Hi KP – Just noticed your comment and want to apologise for my lack of response. Not sure how I missed it and I make a point of replying to everyone that leaves comments for me. Glad you like the first photo
      Natalie wrote about..French Street in Istanbul

  7. John Laughland says

    This is a poem from the book “Fethiye Faces and Places” by Faruk Akbas

    Memory of an Exodus

    Seventy years had passed
    and now this gray old one
    was recalling the exodus

    and from that tired old brain
    her first memory
    was of the cats

    “The cats were crying”
    she said
    “The cats were crying”

    Of course, of course !
    The dogs followed the people
    the cows and goats were sold
    but the cats stayed

    And a thousand cries
    and a thousand why’s
    ate into the mind of a young child
    and stayed there

    and will stay another five years or ten
    and will then be gone
    like the people
    forever

  8. says

    Hi Natalie,I loved your piece on Kayakoy. I’m going for a week in Sept and had started reading Birds Without Wings. I can already feel the sadness, life is sioux unfair. After reading about it looking forward even more to my holiday.

  9. David Race says

    There is a similar village called Karakaya in the hills behind Gumusluk, near Turgutreis.
    As at Karakoy, the houses are deserted and apart from a few that have been renovated, derelict.
    There are several deserted churches nearby at Gumusluk, Kadikalesi and Akyarlar. I suspect a similar history to the one at Karakoy and it would be interesting to find out more.

    • Nat says

      oh David, Karakaya is another thing to add to my bucket list then. It is growing bigger every time I hear about a place. I have just started getting into the history of Turkey and it is interesting what you discover

  10. says

    I love this story! I’ve visited a few ghost towns in my travels but normally they’ve been deserted for fairly good reasons (the local employer shut down, etc). But there’s such a fascinating history behind this place. Can’t wait to visit it one day!

  11. Casper da Silva says

    Great article..I love Kayakoy especially the outdoor Turkish grill restaurant Jimbal. A great concept where they bring you the marinated meat and you grill yourself ..You can really make a night of it.
    Another great little place i visited was a wine house I think it may have been called “The Wine House” howver to much wine has clouded my memory the serves a variety of different wines from all sorts of berries.

    Lets hope Kayakoy retains its charm unlike it neighbours!

  12. John Laughland says

    Cin pronnounced Gin and meaning exacxtly that. Bal pronounced Bal and meaning Honey. The original owner Achmet used to make booze from honey.

  13. says

    Kayakoy!!! I tried going there from Fethiye…by foot…up a steep and winding hill. Somehow I’d gotten it into my head that it was just 2km but when I consulted my Lonely Planet book after an hour, well, it was much further. I gave up halfway, went back to my hostel and vegged out in the pool as I was wiped out.

    Next time I go to Fethiye, I’ll just take a minivan and check it out. The photos are stunning. Such an eerie looking place.
    Waegook Tom wrote about..More Batter, More!: A Guide to Korean Street Food

      • Lisa Thomson says

        Have been visiting Kayakoy many times over the years, we speak to people who travel to Fetiye, Hisaranou and Olu Deniz who have never visited Kayakoy (just lie in the sun!) but we love to explore and have enjoyed Kayakoy so many times and its wonderful atmosphere! We heard recently it was closed off, not sure whether due to the recent earth quakes or to protect, does anyone know if you can still walk around for our visit in Sept?

  14. trev says

    hi see glad i picked up on ur blog am visiting Kayakoy in august and have just ordered the book , will enjoy it even more now , we visited a ghost village in corfu last year , sorry the place name eludes me , it was wonerfull

  15. says

    What a great post. The photos brought the village alive for me. I know it’s a ghost town, but I’m trying to say I could feel the place- an eerie feeling. I could feel the pain there. I wonder if that’s what you were saying when you mentioned the aura you felt. I felt that way when I visited the buildings on Ellis Island when they first opened it to tourists years ago.
    santafetraveler wrote about..Meet the travel bloggers: Runaway Juno

  16. Annette says

    Natalie, I ran across your blog while searching another topic, and it popped up again today. I blog as well – OpalsFromAbroad – and also wrote about Buzcada and the book, Birds Without Wings. I felt certain that the village in the book must have a real life counterpart here in Turkey. Thank you for writing about it. I will add it to my travel destinations as I continue to explore this wonderful country. I enjoy your writing.
    Annette wrote about..The Church of the Redeemer and the True Cross

  17. EM says

    My partner and i visited this place whilst staying in Olu and it was one of the best days spent in Turkey!
    We went on a small tour with just 5 others organised by a local guy who gave us so much information on the drive up there that we couldn’t wait to arrive. You are correct that it was a better experience knowing the history first and like you I really did get a strange feeling once there, both me and my partner said there was an atmosphere.

    We had lunch in the little cafe there, it was really simple food and I remember we were sat on cushions on the floor around a really low table and afterwards we both laid in one of the hammocks that seemed to be dotted around and almost fell asleep! Brilliant day.x

  18. Caroline Jones says

    Hello Natalie,
    Lovely to read your blog on Kayakoy.
    I have been on a few occasions (one earlier this year). We sail along the coast and stop at Coldwater Bay. In the morning we take the walk up the hill starting at 6.30am and when we reach the top of the hill it is magical looking over into the abandoned Greek village just as the sun is rising. There is always a line of smoke/mist in the valley like a veil hanging over it. This really is an amazing place and you describe it very well.
    Interesting to hear about the book – I shall have to read that now! Thanks x

  19. Hannah says

    Hello, just came across this article and I found it very interesting. I was just wondering if anyone knew about an Armenian population inhabiting this village and if the clearing had anything to do with the Armenian genocide? I know it was mostly due to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but it seems coincidental that the treaty happened in 1923, the recorded year of the genocide. Thanks.

    • says

      Never heard or read of any reference to Armenians here Hanna. Much of the West and South west coast were Greek villages and I think the Armenians were based more in the south east and also around Istanbul. The desertion of the village was purely down to the population exchange. Also I think you need to check that date. Are you sure that is correct?
      Natalie wrote about..Where To Stay in Cappadocia

      • Hannah says

        Yes I think you are right re Armenians based more in the SE of Turkey at this period of time. I have been doing a lot of research into the exchange and it seems to be a product of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and the Young Turks, in other words, a dispute between Muslim and Christian people. Seems like Greece may have been another ‘thorn in Turkey’s side’ as Armenia has been described to be at that time. This meaning that the population exchange was perhaps more related to the traumatic events happening at this period of time (pogroms) than it seems. It seems that the Armenians and Greeks were treated in a similar manner for the same reasons. And they both shared the determination to be independent and suffered for it. I have also read that Armenians were first to inhabit Kayakoy but this seems strange as the architecture looks very Greek. Perhaps a small population of Armenians lived there, but it was largely a Greek village.

        Also, there is a typo in my last post, I meant to say that 1923 was the LAST recorded year of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). 1923 is also the year of the population exchange. Both historical events are related to the actions of the Ottoman Empire and to the rise of the Young Turks. I am writing a dissertation on these events next year. Anyway, thanks for getting back to me, it is all very interesting.

        • says

          Hhm – not sure I would put Armenians and Greeks into the same category when you are writing your dissertation. I think they are two completely different stories that just happen to intertwine through the same timeline. Read about the Greek invasion of Smyrna and the push by the Greek army further inland. That should spread some more light on the situation.
          Natalie wrote about..The Man Who Tattooed Himself For Turkey

  20. Alex Anderson says

    I have travelled extensively throughout Turkey and must say that it is my favorite country in the world! It has been three long years and I will be going back nect Monday. Most of my time has been spent in Diyarbakir, Mardin, Urfa, Malata, etc. This time however I will be exploring the coast and staying with friends in Cesme; the ghost village seems to be about 4 hrs from there so I will be trying to make it there. Thank you for sharing.

    • Nat says

      I would say it is longer than four hours Alex. At least six if you have your own transport, more if using buses.

      Congrats on going to Cesme with your girlfriend. Never been but heard some wonderful things about it

  21. Burak says

    Hey Natalie, we are thinking of visiting Kayaköy in our free 2 hours between buses while we are in Fethiye on our way from Dalaman Airport to Kabak.

    Do you think that would be too much of a rush? Taking a return trip with a cab (or bus?) would approximately leave us 1-1.5 h to see the village. Maybe also to have a quick visit to the tomb of Amyntas. Do you think it is worth making this visit for such a short time?

    • says

      It could be done but would be a rushed visit. Depends on how much you really want to explore. I loved just following the paths and going where they led me but if you are constantly clock watching, you probably won’t explore it fully. Also there are restaurants in the area that serve delicious and tender Tandir lamb and it would be a shame to miss those.

      Even though you will be doubling back on yourself, try to find some time during your stay in Kabak. According to Google maps, it is approximately a 40 minute drive. Alternatively visit it on the way back.

  22. Jeni says

    Hi Natalie,

    Interesting article, thank you. I visited last year whilst I was in fethiye, but I went at 4pm so a little too hot! I’m going again this year to Olu Deniz and hoping to visit again and then hike back. I’m not sure I enjoyed enough of the town last time, I did see a couple of chapels – and direction you recommend to walk in?

    Also I understand that there are some restaurants inside the town – is that correct as I seemed to completely miss them last time!

    Oh and thanks for reminding me to read Birds without Wings, I was reading the thread last time which is a little connected.

    Jeni

    • says

      Hi Jeni, we just walked and walked and walked in no particular direction. There are restaurants as well. There was one across the road from the old mosque but we followed signs and ended up in a restaurant serving juicy and tender lamb tandir. It was beautiful

  23. Raman says

    Hi Natalie
    I just returned after a 2 week trip to Turkey and just fell in love with the country and its people! I would rate it among one of the top 10 countries to see before you die! We visited Istanbul, Cannakale, Izmir, Antalya and Cappadocia. I started reading ‘Birds Without Wings’ by Louis De Bernieres on my return and while searching for ‘Eskibache’ I came across your blog. I wish I had read both your blog and the book before going. I do hope I get a chance to see the beautiful Turkey again sometime

    Raman

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