Fethiye had a diverse and multicultural existence long before tourism and shopping malls arrived.
On first sight there is little evidence to support this claim today but some of the town’s past still remains, behind the modern facade.
A bustling harbour town
The harbour town had for many years built up a close relationship with the nearby island of Rhodes and a number of local families became wealthy through trading.
Commodities exported included acorns (for the paint and dye industry,) timber, tobacco, sesame and chickpeas.
Consequently, there was a small but flourishing middle class and several of Fethiye’s well-to-do families can be traced back to those times.
Some of their sons were sent to Rhodes for their education after 1923.
From Makri to Fethiye
In 1934, the town of Makri was renamed ‘Fethiye’ in honor of Fethi Bey, one of the first pilots of the Ottoman Air Force, killed on an mission in 1914.
Farming and livestock
It the 19th century and first eight decades of the 20th century, the people that lived around Fethiye in the hamlets and villages were mostly farmers and shepherds.
Their agricultural produce was transported to other parts of Turkey, as the area around the town has always been a fertile and productive area, renowned for its produce.
Mining for chrome
There was also a number of active chrome mines in the hills between Fethiye and Göcek, run by the French and British until the 1960’s, when they were nationalized.
Ships collected the ore from the jetty at Şat, the spit of land between Fethiye and Çalış.
Arguably there were three major incidents contributing to Fethiye’s transformation in the 20th century: the departure of the town’s ethnic minorities: Rum (Christian Ottoman population) in particular, who finally departed in 1923, the devastating earthquakes of 1957 and more insidiously, during the 1960s, the development of a road and transport system that benefitted Marmaris, which is nearer to the business centre of Izmir and Rhodes.
A once vibrant community
At the height of the town’s prosperity, in the 19th century and first decade of the 20th century, there were two mosques, a church and a synagogue.
These were the meeting places for the Moslem, Christian and Jewish communities.
The loss of the church’s Greek Orthodox Christian congregation in 1923, and subsequently the Jewish residents in the late 1940’s, resulted in different uses being found for their places of worship.
For part of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the church was a marriage hall.
Later it became a cinema, a political meeting hall and more recently a furniture shop.
Now it is empty. The photograph (above) shows where it is to this day.
Older people can remember that whilst a cinema it still had the pulpit and font.
The walls, windows and a few pieces of carved marble are all that remain of its previous incarnation.
Across the road and equidistant with the church and the mosque lies an area that was once home to the synagogue (Havra) in its surrounding garden.
Only the massive palm trees remain.
When the last Jews left Fethiye, and the end of the 1940’s the building became a hall in which local school children had Musamere; a kind of concert.
There is no evidence of the synagogue now as it was badly damaged in the 1957 earthquake and later demolished.
A new ‘New Mosque’
The ‘New Mosque’ was also damaged and new one was built opposite the old State Hospital.
The ‘Old Mosque’ remains
The one place that still serves its original purpose is the Old Mosque, on the edge of Paspatur (the walking streets).
Built in a traditional whitewashed style, at the same time as the Hamam or Turkish Baths, it is one of the few buildings that are reminiscent of the original town buildings.
Building for a new town
The 1957 earthquake and more recently huge areas of man-made landfill, eradicating acres of wetlands, followed by massive residential development, have permanently changed the face of the town.
However, surrounded by other classically Mediterranean/Aegean-style buildings, the old mosque and Paspatur still forms the hub of the old town.
Walking around here and in the back streets that link Paspatur and Kesik Kapı, it is possible, with a some imagination, to get a feel for what ‘old’ Fethiye must have once been like.
The Karagözler districts were built after the earthquakes, as were the buildings between the Fish Market and the Governor’s Offices and the residential area between the main roads in and out of the old town.
Researching Fethiye’s past
To discover what old Fethiye was like we spoke with Isık Taban.
Now retired, she used to be the Registrar for the municipality, marrying hundreds of couples in her time.
Over the years she has researched the town’s 20th century history and collected many oral accounts from elderly residents.
She has turned their fascinating narratives into two books of short stories. Unfortunately for non-Turkish speakers they have not (yet) been translated