The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism have announced that an auction will be held on 23rd October 2014 to rent the ‘ghost town’. The deal is a 49-year lease, which will include permission to turn one third of the town into a 300-bed hotel, and covert the middle section into houses to rent, shops and tourist attractions. The successful bidder will also bear responsibility for restoring and maintaining the rest of the historic town.
This is not the first time such a proposal has been made and an auction held. As on previous occasions, the news has prompted a passionate debate.
A tragic history
The town of Livissi, as Greeks call it, was home to Greek Orthodox Christians for many centuries. Their stone houses overlooked the beautiful green and fertile valley of Kayaköy, which they shared with their Muslim neighbours.
Following the First World War and the Greco-Turkish War (the Turkish War of Independence), political relationships between Greece and Turkey reached a new nadir.
In 1923 the two countries signed the Treaty of Lausanne, agreeing to an exchange of the Christian and Muslim populations. Altogether approximately one and a half million Christians and half a million Muslims were forced to leave their homes and countries.
Eventually those from Livissi and Makri (Fethiye) created a new town, Nea Makri in Greece; the location reminded them of their lost home. Although Muslims from Greece did come to the valley of Kayaköy, for a variety of reasons over which there is still much debate, they didn’t repopulate the town.
The recent past and now
Various projects have been devised over the decades to ‘use’ the ruins. This included the joint Turkish/Greek plan to make a ‘Peace and Friendship Village’ in the 1990s. However, all were to no avail and the buildings continued to crumble and large parts of the mosaics in the churches disappeared.
In 2010 a plan once again grabbed media attention. The Culture and Tourism Minister at the time, Ertuğrul Günay, said a project would be prepared for the ‘Kaya Village’ based on ‘use and preservation’.
Günay said, “[Kayaköy] has been neglected for many years. The Chamber of Architects has prepared a project for this region; our ministry also has a plan. We must preserve and make use of such a historical treasure as Kayaköy.”
An auction followed but nothing happened. Another auction will now be held on 23rd October for a project to build a 300-bed hotel on 220 dönüm (approximately 220,000 m2). Part of the ‘deal’ will be to restore some, or all, of the town. There are no plans or information in the public domain at the present time.
There are many different opinions in Turkey about what should happen to Levissi, ranging a memorial to past tragedies, stabilised but not developed, to suggesting that the town should be ‘returned to life’ and such a project is the only way to fund it.
Others say the project is structurally, geographically and financially impractical and others say that, like previous plans, it won’t happen, so there is nothing to worry about.
Greeks with close links to the town have strong opinions about the town’s future. Mrs Despina Damianou, a Greek academic and president of the Kayakoy/ Fethiye Association for descendants who live in Athens, and whose family came from Livissi, reflects the views of many from both countries when she suggests a sensitive maintenance programme, keeping the town as a historic symbol of the two peoples.
An on-going concern is the lack of any plan to protect, or restore the many chapels and the two large and architecturally significant churches. Closed to the public in May 2013 following a structural survey declared the buildings to be unsafe both churches have yet to be either repaired or reopened. This is despite information from the Turkish Ministry of Culture, clearly displayed on the church gates saying that they would be restored and reopened by May 2014.
But some are looking forward to enhancing the tourism potential. One of these is the Fethiye Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, Akif Arican. He is part of the chamber’s ‘Rescue Kayaköy’ committee, who said in a recent interview that following the restoration “Kayaköy will become an international brand and that Fethiye will have a window opening on to the world.” He continued, “With the help of this venture, Fethiye tourism will come to the place that we deserve. This valuable work in our district will provide major contribution to country’s tourism.”
Whatever happens after 23rd October, it is certain that this debate will continue long into the future.