A mosquito awakes me around 4 a.m. and ruins my cozy sleep. I close the small porthole and suffer in sweat till first daylight, grabbing short naps. After breakfast, I immediately hook up my mosquito net, quite an affair since it is a one person’s net and my bed being a double. It takes a few ropes, knots, and safety pins to secure my tent, but I’m happy with the result. See what happens tonight.
We now approach an island with abandoned ruins, Gemiler Island, south of the Fethiye Peninsula. There are remains of a sizeable Byzantine settlement on the island though many of the buildings are in ruins. According to local folklore, it was a pirate stronghold for some time and given its location on this lonely stretch of coastline, where a look-out on the high hills above could signal the approaching ships – quite obvious, of course.
Here we get time for a swim. The water looks very tempting and I am told the temperature is rather pleasant, but I’m afraid it is too cool for me. I don’t want to take any chances for if the cold grips my back, I may not be able to do the walking as planned and that would just be too bad. But for the aficionados, the swim looks like a real treat. How I envy them!
After lunch the dinghies take us around the bend to the next inlet and put us ashore. This inlet looks like a picnic ground though! Naively I was under the impression that we had the coast to ourselves, but on this side it is simply cramped with boats in all sizes and shapes. On land we are met by our local guide, Ivşak, and the minibus takes us for a short sharp curvy drive over the next mountain to the abandoned town of Kayaköy. This ghostly place makes me quite curious.
Kayaköy is the Turkish name for what once was the thriving Greek city of Karmylassos, counting over one thousand houses, two churches, fourteen chapels, and two schools. It was completely deserted in 1923 when its inhabitants were repatriated to Greece through a massive population exchange between Turkey and Greece following the Greek War of Independence. This place that had been inhabited since the year 700 AD now stares at me with hollow eyes in crumbling buildings. It has an eerie feeling as if the people left this place only a few years ago while at the same time they could have left hundreds of years ago. The silence is almost palpable and it occurs to me that the houses stand there like large tombstones.
We only hear our own footsteps but further down the valley goat bells signal the presence of human life. Our first eye-catcher is the Lower Church with surprising pebble mosaic floors, colorful painted walls and architraves, and a rather well-preserved iconostasis. The late afternoon light makes the sanctuary almost come alive.
We tread through narrow streets with abandoned houses on both sides, peeking inside here and there on our way up. Most of the houses have one or two stories, each level having only one or two rooms, whereas the ground floor seems to have been used as storage space. There are empty cisterns at the entrance to most of the houses and it appears that the top of the cisterns was sometimes part of the living quarters or used as a patio.
We pass a small chapel and stop again on a rather impressive courtyard covered with pebble mosaics whose designs remind me of those from the Greek islands in black and white with a slight touch of red. This courtyard overlooks the haunting houses below with in the left corner a water cistern that is fed through channels running down from the Church behind us. I find the inside of this orthodox church as sparse as the village. The iconostasis has not survived; its stones probably reused somewhere else. Most of the walls are a pale blue, with faint outlines of a few old frescoes in the upper reaches of the dome, all in all, better preserved than in the church below.
When the Greeks left this town, the Turks believed they had put a spell on it and never moved into the vacated houses. Only recently people are settling again as Kavaköy is now a preserved site. Some houses are being carefully restored and turned into simple teahouses or homely restaurants and I find it exciting when we stop for a tea break at one of these places. It looks very inviting and the owner is taking pride in his work, although slow in progress. He reuses old materials whenever available, like the original wooden beam that holds the roof. It has decorative carvings on the edges and the entire length is covered with a painted landscape carrying a Greek inscription. One single central pole holds this heavy beam in place and with it the entire roof. Amazing! The house is sparsely furnished but very inviting and tastefully decorated. The wooden ceilings and floors add to the atmosphere while the smell of dinner on the small stove gives it a strange liveliness.
We continue our walk over uneven pavement and steps, among fig trees and between broken walls with traces of paint and gaping chimneys that remind me of the most fancy ones at Topkapı Palace.
The other side of the mountain runs down all the way to the shiny sea and our path winds that way. The slope is steep and the steps are high, so we proceed with care. Forty minutes later we are down to the beach where our boat is waiting for us. The motor is started and I throw a last glance at the remains left by Gemiler’s early occupants before returning to my cabin for a quick shower. The tiredness ebbs away, making place for a happy feeling of having witnessed something special today.
Our last two guests have arrived meanwhile and our group now is complete, eight in all, and we end the day in animated discussions.