Tucked away from southwest Turkey’s popular beach resorts is an eerie attraction like no other. The Kayaköy ghost town is not merely a collection of several abandoned buildings, but several hundred. Today, the town remains a haunting reminder of tragic events that transpired throughout the country a century ago.
Situated about 8 km south of Fethiye, Kayaköy is now an officially sanctioned tourist site. It’s not only completely legal to visit, but you’re bound to encounter plenty of other travelers as you explore. With that being said, the overall site is massive, making it quite easy to escape the crowds and venture well off the beaten track.
Originally an ancient Lycian city, Kayaköy, then known as Levissi, became a majority Greek Christian town around the 14th century. It prospered for centuries until, almost overnight in 1923, its population shrank to zero.
This situation was the result of a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. But while many of Anatolia’s Greek towns were repopulated with new arrivals, Kayaköy was left untouched. Supposedly, it was believed to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed there several years prior.
Keep reading to learn more about exploring the Kayaköy ghost town, along with a summary of the events which led up to the population exchange.
Further below, you can also find a mini-guide to central Fethiye. And check the very end of the guide for info on transport and accommodation.
Visiting the Kayaköy Ghost Town
There are two main entrances to the Kayaköy ghost town – one situated near the Upper Church and the other by the Lower Church. They’re just a several-minute walk apart from each other on the main highway.
Whichever way you choose to enter, you can walk through most of the city and loop around to come out the other way. Note that if you’re arriving by bus, you’ll likely get dropped off near the Upper Church entrance. This is the route described below.
Buying your ticket and walking along the old cobblestone alleyway, dozens of abandoned structures will suddenly come into view. While they appear quite ancient, most were only built in the 18th century. Decades after the abandonment, they were heavily damaged in a 1957 earthquake.
In addition to hundreds of houses, Levissi once contained around twenty religious structures. And the largest of them was Taxiarkis Church, now called the Upper Church, built sometime in the 1800s.
Disappointingly, the church was entirely fenced off during my visit. First encountering a locked gate in front of the courtyard, I walked around to seek out a possible entrance.
While the other side was indeed blocked off, the large gap beneath the fence was just wide enough to squeeze through.
Clearly, this church, with its vaulted ceiling and vibrant frescoes, would’ve been quite impressive in its day. Looking closely, you can also see some remnants of the mosaic flooring.
The church is currently closed for restoration purposes, and it will be interesting to see what archaeologists ultimately do with it.
Exiting the church, it won’t be long before you find a smaller chapel nearby – one of many scattered throughout the ghost town.
Still in the northeast part of town, be sure to climb up the ruined castle. While there’s not much left of the fortress itself, it offers one of the best perspectives of the valley below. From here, the true extent of this massive archaeological site will fully come into view.
Levissi was home to around 10,000 people at one point, with as many as 500 structures still standing. With so many possibilities, no two people’s visits will ever be exactly alike.
For those just visiting for a few hours, you can try the following route: from the Upper Church and castle area, gradually make your way south, and then head west until you reach the ‘High Chapel.’ After taking in the views of the sea, head north downhill, passing by the Lower Church before arriving back at the highway.
Of course, you’ll want to make plenty of detours to check out any interesting buildings that catch your eye. Be sure to download the Maps.me app before your visit, as it provides a helpful layout of the town.
As many abandoned buildings as there are, most of them have been stripped clean, and are completely void of furniture or decorations. Once you’ve stepped in a couple, you pretty much get the idea.
With that being said, you’ll occasionally spot some unique buildings that are worth going out of your way for. And that’s a big part of the fun.
As evidenced by wandering the ruins today, Levissi was clearly once a thriving town. So what, exactly, are the circumstances which led to its sudden abandonment?
The Greeks had been present in Anatolia since before recorded history. Much later, Christianity came to the region as early as the 1st century, becoming the prominent religion in Byzantine times.
Islam would eventually become the region’s dominant religion with help from the Turks, who conquered much of Anatolia by the 11th century.
But even after the conquest of Constantinople and the theocratic rule of the Ottoman Empire, Anatolia remained home to a diverse mix of cultures, ethnicities, and religions. In fact, in Ottoman times, non-Muslims made up around 20% of the population.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, in the early 20th century, when the Ottomans lost much of their European territory in the Balkan Wars. And during World War I, Christian minorities came to be viewed with great suspicion due to their presumed loyalty to Greece.
Following a similar model used against the Armenians, Turkish forces began slaughtering and deporting Greeks throughout the country. And from around 1914-18, Levissi lost thousands of residents.
The Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I only complicated matters. After the war, the Allied countries were set on taking over Anatolia and dividing it amongst themselves. As groups like the Greeks looked to the Allies for protection, they were treated even more harshly by Turkish nationalist forces set on driving out the invaders.
The Greco-Turkish War then took place between 1919-22, ultimately resulting in Greece’s defeat and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.
By then, nearly a million Anatolian Greeks had already fled to Greece. And as part of the Lausanne Treaty signed at the end of the war, the two sides agreed to exchange the remaining Greeks living in Turkey with Muslim Turks residing in Greece – many of whom were undergoing persecution themselves.
Interestingly, the criteria for determining who was a Greek or a Turk wasn’t based on ethnicity or language, but solely on religion. At the turn of the century, there had been around 4.4 million Christians living in Anatolia. But by 1924, the year after the exchange, the number had dwindled to 700,000.
The exchange was lopsided, to say the least. Over 1.2 million Greeks left Anatolia (not including those who’d fled earlier) in exchange for around 400,000 Muslim Turks. While most former Greek towns were repopulated by Turks, Kayaköy was a rare exception.
As mentioned above, the new arrivals were said to be spooked by the thought of those massacred there just recently. Other sources, however, say that the settlers merely felt the location was too inconvenient.
Wandering the ruins today, the Kayaköy ghost town would be a lot more spooky if it wasn’t so hot and sunny.
After a couple hours of exploration, I approached the ‘High Chapel’ at the top of the hill in the distance. The highest landmark of Kayaköy, it receives a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. And for good reason. Not only does it offer a clear panoramic view of Kayaköy, but also the Mediterranean sea in the distance.
Supposedly, one can walk down toward the nearest beach from the High Chapel in about thirty minutes. While I gave it my best shot, the trail seemed to disappear after around 15 minutes.
I could only move onward by walking through thick overgrowth. And with the beach not even visible, I decided to turn back, estimating that it would take around an hour to reach.
Perhaps there’s an easier way down that I didn’t discover, but it just didn’t seem worth it. There are plenty of other places to swim in southern Turkey.
Returning to the High Chapel, I headed north downhill. There are more interesting buildings to see around here, while the main highlight of this area is the Lower Church. Formerly known as Kataponagia Church, it was built in the 17th century.
But this church was locked too. And it happened to be in plain view of the ticket gate staff, so finding a way in wasn’t an option.
Returning to the main road, the explorations aren’t quite finished. Around here you’ll find a well-preserved fountain in addition to other impressive but unmarked structures.
Also along the main road are all sorts of open-air cafes and souvenir shops. There’s supposed to be a historical museum around here as well, though I wasn’t able to find it.
Arriving back at the bus stop where I got dropped off, I soon discovered that the posted timetable is meaningless. While buses to Fethiye are supposed to depart every thirty minutes, I had to wait well over an hour before one appeared.
All in all, I spent about 2.5 hours exploring the Kayaköy ghost town. Even with the unreliable bus schedule, you should be able to explore the site with plenty of time left over to see central Fethiye’s main highlights later that day.
Fethiye Mini Guide
Fethiye is a pleasant coastal city that’s especially popular with British expats. While it does indeed seem like a nice place to live, the city center only contains a handful of landmarks for tourists.
Rather than a destination in its own right, Fethiye should be thought of as a base from which to visit nearby Lycian ruins, beaches and of course, Kayaköy.
While Lycian sarcophagi can be found all throughout the region, nowhere else will you find one right in the middle of a modern road! A sign and some small metal pillars protect it from unsuspecting drivers.
It’s a nice and all-too-rare example of history coexisting with modern development. Elsewhere around town, you’ll come across a few other sarcophagi in front of restaurants or public buildings.
Not far away from the sarcophagus in the south part of town is a fine example of a Lycian rock-cut necropolis. Known as the Amyntas Rock Tombs, they belonged to the ancient Lycian city of Telmessos (not to be confused with Termessos in Antalya Province).
The Lycians were carving these impressive tombs since at least the 5th century BC. But after centuries-long occupations by the Greeks and Romans, they’re the only truly original Lycian constructions that survived.
While most of the tombs here can only be admired from a distance, the largest and most significant of the group can be entered. It requires a small fee of 10 TL, after which you’ll need to walk up a 200-step staircase. The views of the city when you turn around are definitely worth it.
The tomb belonged to a man Amyntas whom we know little about. We only know his name from an inscription, which also mentions him as the ‘son of Hermagios.’
While smaller Lycian tombs were modeled after wooden Lycian-style houses, the large facade of this tomb takes the form of an Ionic temple. Dating back to around 350 BC, it was carved when the ancient Greeks already had a considerable influence over the region.
As Fethiye’s most famous landmark, expect a steady stream of visitors, with many coming to relax around sunset. Aside from the disappointing graffiti inside the burial chamber, the tomb facade remains in great condition.
Archaeology lovers should also be sure to check out the Fethiye Museum in the center of town, a small but free museum with a nice collection.
In addition to Lycian artifacts and sarcophagi, the museum houses things like stelae and statues from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras.
The museum is especially worth visiting for those making day trips out to the nearby archaeological sites of Tlos, Letoon or Xanthos.
And speaking of day trips, the Lycian/Byzantine city of Patara is also within easy reach from Fethiye. The Saklikent Gorge, meanwhile, is highly popular with nature lovers.
Those doing extended stays in Fethiye should be sure to check out the weekly market which takes place every Tuesday.
Fethiye’s daily fish market is also unique, as you can choose fresh fish and then have it cooked for you at an outdoor restaurant. Otherwise, all the seafood restaurants along the marina specialize in British-style fish and chips!
While Fethiye is situated right along the water, you’ll have to travel a bit to reach the nearest beach.
One of the most popular beaches is Ölüdeniz, home to numerous hotels and resorts. Another option to the north of town is Çalış Beach.
Additionally, the Fethiye region is said to be one of the best places to try paragliding.
Getting to Kayaköy from central Fethiye is pretty straightforward. Many of the buses bound for Ölüdeniz stop there. But not all of them do, so be sure to confirm with the driver.
The buses leave quite regularly. If you’re staying in the town center, the nearest bus stop is near a mosque in the western part of town. It’s marked on the Maps.me app as ‘Dolmus station.’
In my case, the bus had departed just before I got there. But the driver of another bus was kind enough to give me a lift to the main otogar (bus terminal) for free. And from there, I quickly transferred to a Kayaköy-bound bus.
As mentioned above, when returning, the timetable at Kayaköy’s bus stop is unreliable. But one should turn up eventually.
Fethiye is one of many cities in western Turkey to utilize an electronic transport card system. The problem is that there are no machines with which to top them up! Fortunately, unlike in other cities, drivers here seem to accept cash as well.
There’s an abundance of hotels in the Fethiye area, though most of them are on the pricier side.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation, there aren’t too many options, but I recommend HZD Apartments. For around $14 a night, you’ll get a spacious private room, while each floor features a basic shared kitchen. While there was no private bathroom, there are multiple bathrooms on each floor. And with few other guests there during my visit, this wasn’t an issue at all.
The owner is quite friendly and hospitable, and can give you helpful information about things to do around Fethiye. Oddly, though, this is the only hotel I stayed at in Turkey that did not provide towels. You can, however, buy a cheap one at the nearby Carrefour.
Most people travel to Fethiye by bus. It’s easily reachable from places like Kaş or Denizli/Pamukkale. There are also direct coach buses to larger cities like Bodrum, Antalya, Izmir and Istanbul.
Numerous regional buses or minibuses can take you to neighboring towns. But with no comprehensive timetables online, your best bet is often to show up to the otogar (bus terminal) and ask.
The otogar is situated about 1 km east of the city center.
For those wanting to visit Fethiye from far away, the nearest airport is Dalaman, about an hour’s drive.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.