We unpack the campervan and move our lives into Michael and Muge’s beautiful duplex apartment on the Cukurbag (Kas Peninsula) on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
What bliss to have such space and home comforts after nearly 6 months on the road and over 15,000km travelled. We decide to stay for a minimum of a month so that we have a chance to get some real work done on the script, cleaning the video and photos, project planning, networking etc and of course to give ourselves a break from life in the campervan during the coldest days of winter.
The duplex is set in beautiful gardens and has a stunning view across to the Greek island of Meis, or Kastellorizo as it’s known in Greece. It is very quiet on the Peninsula as most of the villas and apartments are holiday lets so they are deserted during winter. We do however meet one neighbour; Fleur who has built her own house next to where we are staying and has lived here for many years so is good source of local information and gossip! She invites us round for dinner and to meet another neighbour called Keith…a great night had by all!
Our days are spent working, eating, sleeping and cycling around the peninsula…perfect! In fact for several weeks we rarely leave the peninsula except to visit the local market and supermarkets. Many British live in the area and we get invited around to Alison’s apartment for a full Sunday roast (even though it’s Saturday!) including delicious apple crumble, we also meet Tony there as well as Belma and Altug who run Kas Explorers, which is a local diving company.
Kas stands where the ancient Lycian city of Antiphellos once stood and there are Lycian tombs carved into the mountainside overlooking Kas as well as others scattered around the harbour area, in the area used for the Friday market and on a central roundabout. Sadly many have been broken up over the years and used as building materials whilst others stand in private gardens.
Two weeks after arriving we finally make it away from Kas and its peninsula and go to the village of Ã‡ukurbag with Alison. This is a small village in the hills above Kas with a stunning backdrop of mountains and is full of almond tress. We are there to meet Alison’s friend Chris who bought a very old, nearly abandoned house several years ago and restored it. We are interested to talk to him about his experiences and to see the property. It turns out that rather than being abandoned it had been left to decay for many years. Part of it is made from traditional mud bricks and wood, which is a recipe for disaster in such an earthquake prone zone. He explains that many of these old buildings have to be reinforced with concrete and sometimes a metal band is fixed around the house to hold the whole building together. He tells us that although many buildings in this area may appear abandoned they do in fact have an owner. Often a family will keep a house until their child is old enough to marry at which time they will receive it as a wedding gift. Others can appear abandoned because the owners go to their mountain pastures with their herds to a void the sweltering heat of the summer months and do not return to their homes until the winter. Chris also tells us that some years ago there was an influx of foreigners (in particular British) buying property to restore or land to build on but now the Turkish laws have tightened and it is harder for a foreigner to take full possession of land or property here now.
We say goodbye to Chris and head into the village and near the mosque we discover some very old and abandoned houses and farm buildings. They have some beautifully carved wooden details inset into their windows and balconies whilst some of the doors are an incredible hotchpotch of scraps of wood!
We stop on the road that descends the mountains into Kas to take some panoramic pictures of the spectacular view that stretches from the peninsula over to the harbour of Kas. We discover some very ruined and derelict buildings there, there is very little left to them except for a couple of doorways and what appears to be shelves built into the walls of one. The stone used is a bright orangey red colour and the only inhabitants are some goats with extremely large ears!
01/02/2010 Kayakoy and Fethiye
We wake to find that once again we have no electricity. All the electricity cables on the peninsula that run above ground are being installed under ground, which results in lots of power cuts. As much of our work involves the internet and computers at the moment we decide to leave for the day and to check out the abandoned town of Kayakoy near Fethiye.
It takes much longer to get to Fethiye than we had expected. The distances are so vast in Turkey that we keep getting caught out. We find our way to Kayakoy via the small back street that rises high above the harbour of Fethiye near to the town’s ruined fortifications. As we rise higher we stop at what we think is an abandoned bunker but is, we are later informed, an old water depot that was once used to collect rain and spring water.
Our first impressions of Kayakoy are total amazement. We knew it was an abandoned town but we have never come across a place where everything has been abandoned at the same point in time so all the buildings are in the same state of decay. Normally you see a process of abandonment i.e. buildings at different stages of ruin due to the gradual abandoning of a place, however in Kayakoy the whole town was abandoned on the same day back in 1923.
A brief history of Kayakoy
The ancient Lycian settlement that once stood here was called Karmylassos. Most of the buildings and monuments from this early period, with the exception of some very old tombs, were destroyed over the years by earthquakes, erosion and newer settlers using them as building material. In the 1700s Kayakoy (known then as Levissi) was built on the site of this ancient city. In 1856 nearby Fethiye, which at that time was known by the name of Makri or Megri, was devastated by an earthquake and much of its displaced population came to settle in Levissi. Again in 1885 the population of Maki (Fethiye) came to Levissi (Kayakoy) as their city was severely damaged by fire. Most of the stone buildings seen today date back to this time 1860-1890. From this period Levissi prospered and its Ottoman Greek inhabitants lived peacefully and successfully with their Turkish Muslim neighbors who mainly lived on the valley floor.
In 1923 after WWI and the Turkish War of Independence the ‘League of Nations’ supervised an exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece under an agreement signed by both countries governments. The intention of the agreement was to try and avoid future civil disturbances, others could say it was the first forced ethnic cleansing of the 20th century. The result was that all the Ottoman Christians who had lived in Levissi (Kayakoy) for generations were forced to leave their homes and lives and to resettle in Greece, a country that they neither knew nor spoke its language. The Greek Muslims returning from Western Thrace in Greece generally preferred to settle in the valley where they could be nearer to their agricultural land and as there were fewer of them they were allowed to. This left most of Kayakoy (as it is always referred to today) uninhabited. (We discover more reasons why they didn’t wish to re-inhabit the houses of Kayakoy when we return to the area 10 days later.. read on!).
Kayakoy is paradise for us; everywhere we look there are abandoned buildings. Unfortunately the sun is quite low in the sky and directly behind the town so any filming of the area will be against the sun. We therefore explore the area, scrambling up rocky slopes with plants covered in thorns trying to find a high point from which to get a good general view of the town minus electricity cables, modern buildings etc. Rather than filming the town now we concentrate on other abandoned buildings in the valley. It is so beautiful and really feels like spring has arrived with the birds singing and bees buzzing around all the wild flowers.
On leaving Kayakoy we stop in the village of Hisaronu to ask for directions to the coast road and O my God what an awful place. Thank goodness we are there off-season as it is full of English pubs, tourist shops, cocktail bars, burger joints, clubs, all of which are of the cheap, tacky variety! We leave quickly and find our way from here to the coast.
Our map tells us that there is a road going down the coast, that for a short stretch becomes a dirt track…what a total exaggeration! The road climbs very steeply at the beginning and there are very tight bends. with breath taking views. It is obvious why they call this the Turquoise Coast…the water is so vivid. This turquoise colour against the white sandy beaches, mountains and steep cliffs give the impression of the Caribbean rather than Turkey… such a shame that the water is so freezing.
We continue down the coast often with a high, sheer drop down to the sea. We pass an ancient Lycian sarcophagus that has had what looks like a chicken hut attached to it as well as a wood store. It never fails to surprise us how these ancient tombs and monuments are integrated into people’s lives, whereas in Western Europe they would be in museums here they are used as building materials and incorporated into dwellings, farms and town infrastructure. We continue on along the stunning coast road until we notice that the road appears to be disappearing. We ask a lad with his horse if we can continue on this road, he tells us no but we try anyway…and we can’t, so we have to turn back! Unfortunately this means we have to back track all the way to Fethiye.
After our brief excursion out of the Kas area the weather goes rapidly down hill and doesn’t stop raining all day every day. Apparently this is very unusual for the area. It feels that it is a re-run of the great floods when Noah had to gather all his animals up and take them in his ark to Mount Arrat (here in Turkey!) There are some incredible storms too, which regularly cuts off the electricity. Nothing to do except to stay in and work and be grateful that we are not in the camper van!
The Greek island of Meis (Kastellorizo) 11/02/10
We decide to extend our stay in Kas as the work load sometimes feels like it is growing rather than shrinking and the weather is pretty terrible so better to be productive than in the camper van cold and wet! As our visas run out sooner than the visa for the camper van we decide to take the boat to the Greek island of Meis (Kastellorizo) so we can get a new visa as well as to explore the abandonments over there. Unfortunately in the winter it is only operated for those wishing to do the ‘visa run’ so you can only stay there for 2 hours before having to return, which is a real shame.
Meis has gone by several different names in its history, including the Italian of Castellorizo, and Castelrosso, as well as the Turkish of Meis and the Greek of Kastellorizo. Its current official name however is Megisti, we shall refer to it as Meis as we are staying in Turkey and are more accustomed to hearing this name.
We sign the camper van in at the agency who then hand it over to customs, otherwise Geppe is not allowed to leave Turkey without the vehicle which is signed into his passport. We board the ferry and make our way to the open-air top deck as the weather has finally broken and it is a beautiful day. We get chatting to an Indian lady and her English husband who live near Kas and they tell us about abandoned rural buildings and farms on the way from Kas to Demre. These were abandoned when the Greeks had to return to Greece and the returning Turks didn’t want to re-inhabit them because apparently there is a rural superstition that says it is very bad luck for a Muslim to live in the house of an infidel or non-believer. Two British ladies join us on the top deck and Julia overhears their conversation and soon realises that they are Irene and Tricia. Julia has been emailing Irene (a friend of Fleurs) to get in touch with Tricia as she is the local history and anthropology expert and we are interested in interviewing her for the documentary film. Tricia is on her way to Meis to complete research for her new book about the island. We all chat for most of the ride over whilst lounging on big orange bean cushions and we arrange to meet the following week to do the interview. We buy a signed copy of her book ‘The Road to Ruins: Lycian Turkey to Kas’ (ISBN: 978-975-01963-3-1), which we recommend as a good introduction and insight into the ancient and modern civilisations that have lived in this part of the world.
The first impressions of Meis are stunning. The houses and buildings that line the harbour front are all painted bright colours and there are the remains of a castle and tombs on the left as you enter and a small beach to the right.
A Brief History of the island of Meis / Kastellorizo / Megisti
Many people have wanted to dominate this little island due to it having the largest and deepest natural harbour in this part of the Mediterranean Sea. Its first known inhabitants were the Dorians from around 1100BC and it might even have been inhabited in Neolithic times as there are a few ancient tombs, which are very difficult to access. Then came the Byzantines and the Romans.
In 1461, the Catalan Company took Castellorizo. In 1470, it passed to the King of Naples. In 1480, fear of an imminent Turkish invasion caused all the inhabitants to leave, and so the Turks were able to capture the town and the castle without opposition. In 1498, the King of Naples won the island back. In 1512, the Spanish flag was hoisted over it, and in 1522, when the Turks captured Rhodes, Castellorizo sent men to its defence and it remained in Christian hands.
In 1570, the next masters- the Venetians- arrived then the Ottoman Turks in 1635 followed by the Venetians again in 1659. The Ottomans returned in 1792 and then there was a short period of Greek independence during and after the Greek War of Independence in 1821, 10 years later it came under the Ottoman sovereignty again. Despite all this the population remained Greek in spirit and culture and in 1913 they expelled the few Turks that were there and asked to be part of Greece.
WWI had a devastating impact on the island. In 1915 the French took over the island but passed it onto the Italians in 1920. During this period of French and Italian occupation much of the Greek population left, never to return. During WWII the island was briefly held by the British but a few days later it was taken by the Italians then in 1943 the British returned to liberate it after which the Germans bombed it very heavily. The local people were evacuated to Palestine and Australia. In July 1944, a fuel dump caught fire and spread to an adjacent ammunition dump, thereby destroying many of the remaining houses on the island. In 1948 the island formally rejoined the Greek state. At the start of the 20th century there were around 15,000 people living on the island now there are only 275.