Kayakoy - The Gemstone of South West Turkey

Kayakoy is a gorgeous little unassuming country village nestled in the mountains behind Fethiye. It has changed little in the 15 years that I have known the area and continues to provide welcome relief from the tourist drag, to those who venture here. Kayakoys beautiful, abandoned stone houses on this hillside are the village’s main drawcard.

A Little History
Kayakoy has had many names over the years. Its Greek name was Levissi and its Turkish name was Karmylassos. For centuries both Greeks and Turks lived here together harmoniously and both names were used. The Turkish population worked mostly in agriculture and kept animals, while the Greek population kept themselves busy with craft and trade. However the Greco – Turkish war generated bad feeling between the two nationalities and ultimately tore this little town apart.

Sunset at Kayakoy in Turkey

Population Exchange
In 1923 a population exchange was arranged, returning Anatolian Greek speaking Christians to Greece and introducing Turkish speaking Muslims from Western Thrace to Kayakoy. The people introduced to the area were not impressed with the local conditions and relocated to other regions of Anatolia.

Kayakoy, Turkey

Ghost Village
This almost complete abandonment of the settlement left it to fall into disrepair and created Kayakoys nickname ‘Ghost village’ The ancient buildings which formed Karmylassos / Levissi still stand quietly on the hillside and are wonderful to explore. The village is known to have existed since the 14th century, but some architecture has been dated back to Byzantium times. The buildings are exposed to the elements and the effects of the 1957 earthquake have meant they are only ruins now but it is still possible to identify the buildings and make out certain features. The village had two churches, as well as several chapels, fountains, windmills, schools and about 1000 houses. 

Lower church, Kayakoy, Turkey

The houses were built up the hillside in order to not block the light and views of other houses. Fireplaces are still evident, as are animal pens and outdoor toilets. The stone houses were mostly two storey buildings containing two rooms, but further spaced out, larger houses were built, higher up the hill. 

Inside the lower church, Kayakoy, Turkey

The churches are especially interesting features of Kayakoy. It is possible to walk around the inside of the larger and lower church, which was used as a mosque recently until the 1960’s and features an inscription of 1888 around the doorway, which is believed to indicate the last time the church was restored. The smaller church, higher up the hill, is not so well preserved, but worth the walk for the view. 

Friendly Goat, Kayakoy, Turkey

It is easy to see how Louis de Bernieres was influenced by Kayakoy and felt inspired to write Birds Without Wings in 2004. Whenever I have visited I have had the village pretty much to myself, but wandering around, it is easy to imagine how the village was when busy with people. The abandoned houses are like an outdoor museum and are crying out to have their stories told. It is beautifully silent, but the silence can also seem eerie, depending on your mood. The afternoon breeze is wonderful, should you be wandering around ahead of sunset. Just mind your step as the ground is very uneven in places.

Modern day Kayakoy is farming territory, although the village has also become used to the increase in tourism to the region and has several small cafes and restaurants now too. And if you’re wondering about the latest name change… Kayakoy means ‘stone village’ in Turkish, so was the logical new and current name. Locals refer to it as ‘Kaya’ for short.