Abandoned Greek Village in Turkey on Auction Block by Turkish Government


One of the world’s spookiest “ghost towns”— abandoned almost a century ago by thousands of fleeing Greek residents, is on the auction block for development and transformation into a tourist site by the Turkish government. The town of Kayaköy, known in Greek as Levissi was a thriving town of about 10,000 people— with a half dozen Greek Orthodox churches, more than 500 homes and a majority Greek population up to the early 1920s.


The Muslims, who lived on the surrounding valley floor of the Kaya (“Rock”) Valley, tended to be farmers, while the Christians, who inhabited the hillside, were mostly artisans; the two communities were closely linked by trade and helped each other in times of need. Christian and Muslim women exchanged food and sweets at weddings and religious festivities; Muslim musicians played at Orthodox festivities and took part in wrestling matches during Easter celebrations; children played together in the lanes; and men of both religions congregated at local cafés, fingering their worry beads, smoking water pipes and playing backgammon.

Today, the site is an eerily compelling and moving reminder of the sad aftermath of the First World War and subsequent Greco-Turkish War, which resulted in the massacres of tens of thousands of Greek Christians who had lived in what is now modern Turkey for centuries. Like millions of others, the Greeks of Kayakoy were part of the population exchange of 1923 and were forced to relocate to mainland Greece.

Meanwhile, the Muslim farmers exiled from Greece at the same time found the land in Kayakoy inhospitable and soon left for other areas of Turkey, leaving the hillside village abandoned for a second time. In 1957, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake delivered Kayakoy its final coup de grâce, destroying most of the town’s buildings. Homes and businesses around the valley floor were later restored or rebuilt, but the hillside homes and buildings have been left untouched.

The hillside of Kayakoy remains deserted, never having recovered – either culturally or economically – from the mass exodus in 1923. The homes, schools, shops, cafés, chapels and churches have been left to crumble, unprotected from looters or the elements. The Turkish Ministry of Culture rescued the hillside from mass development by granting it museum status a few years ago.


The Turkish Culture Ministry has announced that it will partially open the archaeological site to investors and the restoration project will include a hotel and tourist facilities that will encompass one-third of the village. Part of the agreement is that the company that wins the contract— a 49-year lease of the space, will also have to spend millions restoring parts of the village and make it tourist-friendly.

But the plan has been met with concerns that any development work will mean the town, a valuable part of the country’s cultural and historic heritage, will lose its authenticity.

Louis de Bernieres, the British novelist most famous for his novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has voiced cautious reservations about the Turkish government’s plans. His second novel, Birds Without Wings, took inspiration from the village (Eskibahçe, the fictional setting for the novel, was based on Kayaköy). He said the development “could either be a wonderful rebirth, or a terrible act of vandalism, depending on how sensitively it is done.

“The town cannot take motor traffic, as the streets are too narrow, and putting in infrastructure might cause damage,” he added. “The restorations should be as authentic as possible, so that the former way of life is evident.”

Birds Without Wings (published in 2004) is set in Turkey, and portrays the people in a small village toward the end of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Kemal Atatürk, and the outbreak of the First World War. <–Click the link to get the book.

Locals and ex-pats have started a Facebook group called Save Kayaköy, and a petition calling for the 500 ruined houses, five churches and fourteen small chapels to be preserved as a historical monument. “We do not think that any restoration can be undertaken without causing major damage to the site,” the petition states.

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said it hopes to rent out some of the village in order to bring its historical and cultural fabric “back to life”. A spokesman said that it would not be building any new hotels in the region but that “Kayaköy’s buildings and houses will be restored to their original appearance and design.”

“The ministry is not pursuing mass tourism policies but is rather focusing on restoring and renovating the culturally significant site to its original state and attracting tourists in line with this vision,” the spokesman added.

Further reading: Journey to Levissi, a Greek village on Sale in Asia Minor from Kathimerini’s English and Greek editions, including an emotional video (watch until the end) that shows people on each side of the Aegean attached to the village in one way or another, including a Greek woman in Athens, whose family fled the town in 1923.



  1. Pingback: The Pappas Post 20 Amazing Photos of an Abandoned Greek Village in Turkey Whose Residents Fled Almost a Century Ago - The Pappas Post

  2. Marianne Kraaijeveld on

    Thank you for sharing this information and video with us. I am in shock. I had no idea of this. I wonder if you could ask UNESCO to take care for the village. To restore it and mass tourism would destroy this. Out of respect of the people who had to leave their home and their neighbors and friends, it should remain as it is. What a terrible shame.Bless All citizens. My respect to All. Marianne Kraaijeveld, Chania, Crete, Greece. I shall share this article on my Fan Page about Greece. Greece 4 U

  3. Marianne Kraaijeveld on

    Thank you for sharing this article with us.
    I am in shock after reading your article and watching the video.
    Renovation and mass tourism will destroy all.
    Not only the houses, but also the memory of all the poor people who had to leave all they had.
    I wonder if UNESCO can place it on their list.
    I required meanwhile to join the Fan Page Group ,,Save Kayakoy,, and I have shared all information on my Fan Page about Greece: Greece 4 U.
    Bless all the citizens, my respect to All.
    Marianne Kraaijeveld, Chania, Crete, Greece.

  4. The playing down on the title of this article on what befell this town, falls completely inline with the Turkish position. The word “Abandoned” makes you believe that this town was abandoned by its Greek inhabitants during the 1923 exchange of populations.The correct word that should be used, is “Cleansed”. In fact, most, if not all of its Greek inhabitants had befallen what most consider as part of the “Greek Genocide” of the Ottoman Greeks, starting in 1914. By 1922, the remaining Greeks of Livisi, and of the neighbouring village of Makri had all succumbed to a genocide at the hand of the Turk.. The population exchanges of 1923 played little , if any on the plight of most Greeks in these lands, as all the killing and persecution had already cleansed the lands of any remaining Greek. These are the facts and realities, yet, the media distort or play down history and fact….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayak%C3%B6y

    • Dear Bill– First of all, I invite you to search “Asia Minor Catastrophe” or “Greeks of Turkey” on this site and see exactly how much “ink” we have dedicated to these events. No distortion. Second of all, the title “abandoned” refers to the fact that the village was, in fact, re-populated by Muslims, and eventually abandoned by them in the 1950s following an earthquake.

  5. I have to say I'm pretty impressed this article is very well written with no bias. It further shows how what we learned in the brainwashing Greek schools contradict the true history of the Ottoman Empire. This "Greek" village was allowed to thrive under Ottoman times and Muslims and Christians lived in peace side by side. Keep up the good work.

  6. The “true” history of the Ottoman Empire is that “Muslims and Christians lived in peace side by side”? Not quite so simple, I’m afraid. The Greeks, like all other non-Muslims, were assigned the status of subjugated “dhimmis” under Islamic law. They had no choice but to live “peacefully”, since they were slaughtered whenever they tried to free themselves of Turkish rule. And why the scare quotes around the word “Greek”? Do you deny the fact that most of the “Christian” inhabitants of the region were ethnic Greeks?

  7. Yes I'm aware they were dhimmis, but apparently you are not aware what rights dhimmis had. Do a little research on how dhimmis had equal rights on property, only the men had to pay tax, allowed to have their churches, and even had their own courts. Doesn't sound very "barbaric." And even any system in the world today would slaughter you or imprison you if you tried to free yourself from it. It's called the law of the land. And I deny that Christianity had anything to do with ethnicity. Before the Ottomans it was the Byzantine Empire, which was the Eastern Roman Empire. There was no Greece. There were Christians that spoke the Hellenic language, but they also spoke Latin as this was the official language of the empire.

  8. Vasili Kakavitsas If the Ottoman system was so civilized and egalitarian, why did the “non-existent” Greeks revolt against it? Clearly, they were not as happy living under the Turks as you would’ve been. As for Latin, it was scarcely spoken in the Byzantine Empire by the time Heraclius established Greek as the official language in 620. (Greek had always been predominant in the East as the indigenous language of the region.) And the Byzantines were not simply “Christians” without an ethnic identity; they saw themselves and were seen by others as distinct from other Christian peoples of the Empire like the Armenians, Georgians, Slavs etc. Individual members of such groups could and did assimilate as Ῥωμαῖοι, of course, but this was invariably a result of their linguistic and cultural Hellenization.

  9. John George The "non-existent" Greeks that revolted were anarchists and thieves that would ravage and loot villages, like Katsantoni. Others like Kolokotroni were generals in the Ottoman military and turned on them because they were paid by the British. And before Constantinople fell in 1453, the city's population had declined to a mere 50,000 from 500,000. This was a result of people abandoning the city due to King Palaiologos' heavy taxes. So the people were starving before the Ottomans showed up. And yes Heraclius established Greek as the official language in 620 because it was the main trade language. He wasn't even Greek, he was Armenian. The Empire was made up of many nationalities – Thracians, Macedonians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, etc. The Greeks composed only a small portion of this multi-ethnic Empire and evidence shows that they did not posses much of the power either, for we know exactly who were the Byzantine Emperors, and we know they were not ethnic Greeks.

  10. Vasili Kakavitsas “The Greeks composed only a small portion of this multi-ethnic Empire.” So they did exist, after all. Most of the “nationalities” you mention, with the notable exceptions of the Armenians and Syrians, had been Hellenized long before the advent of the Byzantine Empire. Your suggestion that the Greeks constituted a small and insignificant element of the Byzantine population is simply uninformed; Greek language and culture dominated the Empire throughout its history. Furthermore, the “multi-ethnic” character of the early Empire contrasted sharply with the solidly Hellenic identity of the late Byzantine period. The Byzantines habitually referred to themselves as Γραικοί despite their official self-designation as Ῥωμαῖοι, and were invariably identified as “Graeci” by the Latin West which disputed their Roman pretensions. Even the term “Hellene”, which had been deprecated for its pagan connotations, was revived as an ethnonym by the Byzantine intelligentsia starting from the tenth century. And the fact that a number of emperors were not of ethnic Greek origin does not negate the Greek character of Byzantium, any more than Queen Elizabeth’s German ancestry makes England non-English. But I’m curious; do you call yourself a Greek American or a “Greek-speaking Christian but not Greek” American?

  11. Thanks JOHN GEORGE for setting it straight…lately it seems undermining any Greek achievement in history has been looked at as a minor achievement and no big concern…sadly it has also reflected on the history classses In the states too. Every year
    It shorten the time spent on Greek history in class. I believe it’s a lot to do with the current
    Situation in Greece and the population there.
    I hope in the future we can recover with such disregard as a proud history and people of
    Many achievements that are till this day still recognize as current and for the future. So to conclude let’s not allow any current government trying to erase our Greek history
    To try to undermine to what is true and written and known but accept the facts that we still
    Exist and will do so in every corner of Earth
    You will find a Greek….or of Greek decent. ..
    Still proud….prideful..and Educated..

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