In a corner of southwestern Turkey, around 10 kilometres south of the harbour town of Fethiye, lies Kayaköy ghost town.
An abandoned village, clinging to the rocky hillside, overlooking the inhabited valley below.
The ruined stone buildings; once a thriving village made up of people’s homes, places of worship, work and education, are a sad reminder of the past.
Of lives uprooted.
Although in recent years, Kaya village has become a slightly more popular tourist attraction, it’s still a really peaceful place for us to go and while away a few hours.
No mass tourism, here. And hopefully none to come.
A hanging valley, it’s elevated position offers a bit of relief from the intense heat of Fethiye in summer.
The air is fresher and clearer.
And in cooler seasons? Well, those are the times that we can really wander and explore.
For us, Kayaköy is right up there with the best things to see and do in Fethiye!
Why Was Kayaköy Abandoned?
But how did Kayaköy become the ghost town it is today?
For purposes of this article – loving and appreciating Kayaköy – this is a very short, potted history.
There’s so much important reading you can do around this subject for yourself.
Previously, during the Ottoman Empire, Kayaköy was known as Levissi. And the abandoned town you see from the road, today, was a predominantly Orthodox Greek village.
Whilst the Greek Orthodox Christians lived on the hillside, Muslim Turks lived in the lower part of the village, farming the land.
They lived side by side from around the 14th Century until the early 20th Century.
During the First World War, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire became inevitable. And Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, rallied troops to victory in the subsequent Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923).
The war ended in 1923 with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.
In January, 1923, prior to the conclusion of the treaty, the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek & Turkish Populations was signed in Lausanne.
The convention was an agreement by both Greek and Turkish representatives that there would be a population exchange.
1.6 million people, in all, were uprooted from their homes and lives – everything that they knew – and forced to settle elsewhere.
Some of those 1.6 million people were forced to leave their homes in what is now Kayaköy.
Hence, ghost village.
The Fethiye earthquake of 1957 further destroyed the village. What you see today is a result of those events, plus a century of creeping nature and erosion.
Although it is fictional – the village is called Eskibahçe in the story – the novel transports us to daily life in the village before the population exchange.
For me, Louis de Bernières is the master of bringing characters and locations to life. And of portraying, in vivid detail, how war tears apart that daily existence.
It’s highly recommended!
A Wander Through The Ruins Of Kayaköy
Our first visit to Kayaköy was in 1998 when we first came to Fethiye on holiday.
A typical scenario for many visitors to Turkey…
We made friends with some local people. Before we knew it, we were in the car with them, being taken around the sights and beyond.
A wander around the ruins followed by a barbecue at Cin Bal Restaurant. It was all the makings of a truly memorable experience.
Since then, as it’s a part of Fethiye, Kayaköy (sometimes spelt Kaya Köyü) is still a big part of our life here.
Clambering through the narrow streets of the ghost village, it’s a mix of emotions that are felt as you climb its streets and alleyways.
For some people, they feel it is an eerie place.
For us, it’s more a feeling of melancholy.
And New Life
And, with that melancholy, also the pleasure of witnessing new life in springtime.
Daisies, poppies and other wildflowers carpet the floor and peep from the crumbling walls of stone houses and fallen rocks.
Springtime is our favourite time of year to be in Kayaköy.
Wild sage and thyme grow further up the hillside.
And wild, leafy greens such as wild radish leaves grow along the roadsides.
Pomegranate trees and fig trees grow amongst – and inside – the ruins. As well as on agricultural land.
Spot The Tortoise
Not forgetting the wildlife, too, of course.
Surrounded by forest, Kayaköy is home to cicadas, snakes, scorpions and wild boar, amongst other creatures.
But don’t worry!
In spring and summer, the wildlife you’re most likely to come across amongst the abandoned houses and churches is these little chaps.
Always lovely to come across a tortoise on your explorations.
Guaranteed to raise a smile.
Kayaköy Is A Sizable Ghost Village
There are around 500 dwellings climbing up the hillside of Kayaköy. Some with their corner stone hearth still intact.
If you’re exploring in cooler weather, you can really take your time to wander around the former streets.
And no need to get thirsty.
You can top up your water bottles at the functioning 17th century Eski Çeşme (old fountain) before you climb through the village.
Some of the stones along the pathways have worn smooth over the years. Decent footwear is recommended as the stones can be slippery. Especially in wet weather.
Depending on how far you want to go, there’s a bit of climbing and clambering to be done.
But the climbs are worth it because you’re rewarded with fantastic views over the ruins below and the valley beyond, right out to the village of Belen and the old forest road back to Fethiye.
High Chapel Views
At the top of the hill, you’ll also see a little chapel – the high chapel.
This is visible from the road and has a cobbled, stepped pathway leading up to it.
Make the effort to climb up here, if just for the views.
Again, you’ll get stunning views back down over Kayaköy and its abandoned buildings (see top photo).
But, on the other side of the hill – a surprise for some people – are far reaching views over the Mediterranean Sea.
Two Greek Orthodox Churches
Perhaps the most significant landmarks in Kayaköy ghost village are the two large churches: the Lower Church (Panaghia Pyrgiotissa or Kato Panagia) and the 19th Century Upper Church (Taksiyarhis).
At the time of writing, both churches are closed to visitors for safety reasons.
There had been an announcement in 2020 that both churches were to be restored.
Obviously, the pandemic came along. So we wait to see what will happen with these beautiful buildings.
Lower Church – Aşağı Kilise
Fortunately, over the years, we’ve been able to visit the Greek Orthodox churches of Kayaköy many times.
If you want to get up-close-and-personal with the intricately carved wooden doors of the Lower Church, you can view those in Fethiye Archaeological Museum.
Inside the Lower Church, you can still see the vibrant colours on the vaulted ceiling and around the stone-carved entrance to the sanctuary.
We can only imagine what this church will look like, if and when it is restored. It certainly deserves to be.
On our most recent vist to Kayaköy, all that was visible of the Lower Church entrance was through this little hole in the perimeter wall.
You can see the traditional Greek black and white pebble mosaic flooring which is also so prevalent on Rhodes – part of the Greek Dodecanese islands.
The Upper Church Of Kayaköy
From the Lower Church, the pathway to the Upper Church is easy to follow.
You can see your destination nestled onto the hillside ahead of you.
As you climb up through the ruins, you will pass a small chapel with stone crosses either side of its doorway.
Pass this to the right and you will reach the entrance to the church courtyard; currently closed.
Again, the courtyard has the beautiful black and white pebble mosaic patterns.
In the past, this courtyard has hosted world music festivals and exhibitions.
The ghost village once more being brought to life. And respect given for what was and is.
On the day the photo above was taken, a female group of Georgian folk singers sang inside the church.
None entered the building until they had covered their hair. This is still a sacred building for them.
Whilst the Upper Church is off limits, if you want to get a better view of it, climb a little higher away from the entrance.
Kayaköy Beyond The Ghost Village
Most tourists visit Kayaköy either from Fethiye, the resort of Ölüdeniz or from nearby Hisarönü and Ovacık.
But, it is also a place visited by locals from around the area, too.
Bars & Restaurants In Kayaköy
Bülent’in Yeri has been around for longer than we can remember.
It serves up a great gözleme. Or you can sit under the shade of apricot trees at Antik Restaurant.
And, in recent years, more restaurants have opened which also advertise their vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Some places host live music events, too.
Roots has hosted well known Turkish musicians in the past. Such as the fantastic Turkish psychedelic band, BaBa ZuLa – one of our favourites!
Sundays are when the village will be especially busy, with local visitors enjoying breakfast and barbecues.
Hiking Around Kayaköy
If you’re in the area during cooler months and want to take in some walks around Fethiye, Kayaköy is also a good stomping ground for hikers.
The forest road will take you through Belen and across the valley floor where you will pass the homes of residents of Kayaköy.
Whilst there are lots of new villas springing up (legal or otherwise), you can also see the old village dwellings, farm animals and local villagers going about their business.
Again, springtime is perfect – weather, wildflowers, and lambs and kids and calves and chicks.
And, if sheer drops and dramatic scenery are your thing, head over to Afkule where you can see a Greek monastery carved into the cliff face.
Shopping In Kayaköy
Mercifully, at least for now, Kaya village is not awash with the type of souvenir shops that sell fridge magnets and the like.
At the moment, there are some small stands selling bohemian-style jewellery.
Some sell clothing and home decorations, too.
Elsewhere in the valley, there are artisans who have an online presence, making ceramics and other goods.
We Love The Idea, But…
We’ve all got those stories we’ve heard that we oh-so want to be true.
It’s oft said and written that Kayaköy is designated as a UNESCO World Friendship And Peace Village.
Unfortunately, this appears to be an urban myth – there’s certainly no evidence of this on UNESCO’s pages.
However, whatever the myth, in real life, a lot of real people work towards that friendship and peace.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bortholomew visited Kayaköy in the past.
We’ve attended music festivals in Kayaköy where Greek musicians have performed.
And, many local Turkish people around Fethiye are fiercely defensive of what happens to Kayaköy – protecting its importance.
21st Century Kayaköy ‘Ghost Village’
There is development in the Kayaköy ghost village museum area, now.
A handful of former dwellings have been restored and made into homes. There’s also a small hotel.
This one’s a tough call for us. What type of restoration do we want?
The abandoned buildings can’t be left to decay and disappear. That, we do believe!
So, something needs to be done to protect the future.
But what form should that future protection and restoration take?
We hope those in the know make decisions that ensure Kayaköy’s special place in history. And in the daily lives of residents of the village and surroundings.
As for you; if you’re going to visit Kayaköy Ghost Village and the area around it, take it in, breathe it in.
And we hope you love it as much as we do!
Kayaköy Ghost Town – FAQs
Kayaköy has museum status and operates as an open-air museum. As such, there is a fee to enter. In 2022, the fee is 15 TL (Turkish Lira), payable at the ticket booth.
As we mention in the article, it is possible to walk from Fethiye to Kayaköy either via the old forest road or via the Lycian Way route.
There is a local dolmuş that goes from Fethiye to Kayaköy. Most go via Ovacık and Hisarönü. Look for the sign in the window. It will say ‘Kayaköy,’ ‘Kaya Village,’ or, sometimes, ‘Kayaköy Ghost Village.’
In winter, the dolmuş runs every hour. Every 30 minutes in summer. Check with the driver what time the last dolmuş is as this changes during the season.
In summer, the dolmuş will take you all the way down to Gemiler Bay.
You can also take a taxi or hire car to Kayaköy. Local taxi offices will have a price list outside so you can see what the fare is.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can make the steep climb up the mountainside from Ölüdeniz to Kayaköy. The path brings you out at the top of the abandoned buildings.
If you are going by dolmuş, you’ll need to get one to Hisarönü first and then take another one to Kayaköy. Or you can go by taxi.
Around the valley there are small hotels in Kayaköy as well as camping, glamping, tiny houses, bungalows and villas. Some have pools.
If you are arriving to this area by air, your nearest airport is Dalaman Airport.
Whilst most tourists visit Kayaköy in the summer months, for us, the best time to visit the abandoned village and surroundings is springtime, autumn and winter.
This is when the weather is cooler for clambering around the ruins and going on for further hiking.
If we had to choose, we’d say the best time to visit Kayaköy is springtime. Carpets of wildflowers, lush greenery, newborn lambs and calves, comfortable temperatures for exploring.
If you’re in Kayaköy in high season, the ruins are quite exposed to get here early morning or late afternoon if possible, when it’s a bit cooler.