Kayaköy, an escape from hectic city life
WILCO VAN HERPENI am excited, happy and angry at the same time. Excited and happy because I went to Kayaköy near Fethiye. Angry? Because I went to Kayaköy… Let me first tell you this: During one of your first coming holidays, you have to go to Kayaköy; it is a magnificent place.
Just a one-hour drive away from the airport of Dalaman you find the little village Kayaköy. For years, I had heard stories about Art Camp and the beautiful ghost town, but I never had the opportunity to visit Kayaköy. Last week, I finally went and was impressed by the beauty of the village and the friendly people working and living there. Kayaköy became a village where people who got fed up with busy and hectic Istanbul moved to in order to have a better life. The first day when I was there, there was a funeral in the village. Well, it was not actually a real funeral, but the 52nd day after the funeral.
In Turkey, people commemorate several important days after a person passes away. The 52nd day is called “Burun düşmesi,” which means “the nose’s fall.” It gave me a strange feeling to know that in Turkey people commemorate something like this, for me it was the first time that I heard about it. During this “Burun düşmesi” parents, relatives and friends of the family prepare a meal for anybody who visits them. The people who pay a visit to the family show their respect to the family and by visiting show the family they are supporting them.
The day I arrived in the village, I witnessed this tradition. It is strange to walk around in such a setting. People are, generally, not sad at all while visiting the house of the deceased with all of their relatives.
Babies, old people, you name it; they were there. Generally, there was a kind of relaxed and skittish feeling, although one of the villagers had passed away. For me, this was a big difference than what I am used to and was something I had to get used to. People were laughing; children were playing and running around. It looked more like a meeting point than a funeral tradition. In the Netherlands, you take care not to smile, laugh or make any “popular” comments. Dying is a heavy and loaded part of life in the Netherlands, we like to live, but not die and therefore carry this heavy psychology with us during the time of the funeral.
The old city on the mountain slope
The reason why most people visit Kayaköy is the old city that was built on the mountain slope. All the houses were abandoned in the 1920s when Turkey and Greece had a population exchange.
Turkish-Greek people had to leave Greece and went to Turkey, while Greek-Turkish (Rum) citizens had to leave Turkey and settle in Greece. The people who started living in Kayaköy did not take over the houses of the Rum people who used to live there, but built their own new houses in the valley. You might wonder why the Rum people put so much effort in building their houses on the steep mountain slopes and the answer might be a surprise for you. The people who used to live here earned their money with trade and from agriculture. The vast plane with its rich soil was very valuable for them.
Therefore, they did not want to build their houses there so they could use every square meter for their crops. The houses missed their owners and time started nibbling little pieces from the roofs and walls. It was the devastating earthquake of 1957 that destroyed the city. The roofs, made of wood and mud, collapsed and all that remained were the walls that, until today, remind us of the life that once was there.
What are they doing with the area now?
Walking around the old city, especially during sunset or sunrise is a wonderful experience, but be careful after a heavy rainfall; some of the walls of the houses might collapse and getting a wall of almost one meter thick on your head is not a very pleasant experience. The planning of the city is remarkable; all the houses, and there used to be around 400 houses in Kayaköy, have been built in such a way that not one single house blocks the view of the houses next to or in front of them. There was still respect for your neighbors, something you cannot say, unfortunately, anymore of the modern architecture. People living in an apartment in Istanbul suddenly are confronted with yet another project of a 20 or 30 stories high building. The view they had is gone; the garden does not receive any light anymore…
The whole city, including the 400 houses, two big churches, a school, a customs building and numerous chapels are under protection of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism nowadays. But what puzzles me is that you declare an area protected area and??? Well, what are they doing with the area now? Nothing…
One year ago, they closed the two churches because there was a risk of the buildings collapsing. They were to start a project to restore the churches, but until today nobody has come and nothing has happened. Besides that, you declare an area protected, but walking around in Kayaköy, you can see that it will just take a couple of more years and there will be no old city of Kayaköy anymore. Walls are collapsing, big fig trees grow in the buildings, pushing the walls to their limits until they collapse under the pressure of the trees. Kayaköy needs care; Kayaköy needs a good doctor who will take care of the patient. I know there are a lot of places that need care, but you have to put priorities straight and I think the area of Kayaköy is one that deserves attention. I will write more about it next week and I promise you, it will surprise you.
But first of all, I would like to see people who really and in a professional way will either restore or at least take care of the city so it will not completely disappear. Whether you like it or not, the mübadele (population exchange) of Greeks and Turks is a part of Turkish history and that part is very well and beautifully visible in Kayaköy…