New life for a Turk­ish ghost

Rus­sell Crowe’s lat­est movie stirs hope of a vis­i­tor boom

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LINDA COOK­SON

Traf­fic rum­bles un­hur­riedly past Bu­lentin Yeri, a tra­di­tional road­side pan­cake house in south­west Turkey’s Kaya Val­ley. The wall bor­der­ing the road is topped with a jaunty pa­rade of rust­ing corn-oil tubs stuffed with traf­fi­clight chilli pep­pers and pink trum­pets of hibis­cus.

Bulent’s fam­ily has run this small restau­rant for 18 years, and the head­scarfed lady sit­ting cross-legged in front of the open fire, ladling bat­ter on to an iron grid­dle, is his mother. Lo­cals are so­cial­is­ing around low ta­bles and snack­ing on kat­mer pancakes — a spe­cial­ity of the house, spread with a con­coc­tion of sugar and sesame paste. So far, so cus­tom­ary. But what is re­mark­able is what lies across the road: a steep moun­tain­side ter­raced with layer upon layer of de­serted stone build­ings. Derelict churches, roof­less houses and bro­ken cis­terns shim­mer like a mi­rage as the sun beats down on the ru­ins and slants through the win­dow­less gaps. This is the ghost vil­lage of Kayakoy, de­serted since the Greco-Turk­ish pop­u­la­tion ex­change of 1923, when its Greek Or­tho­dox oc­cu­pants were “re­turned” to Greece. Empty now, it stands sen­try-like on the hill­side, sep­a­rated by a cen­tury from the rhythms of mod­ern daily life, a si­lent wit­ness to a lost past. The peo­ple eat­ing pancakes be­low and the pass­ing trac­tors with their trail­ers of pomegranates are part of an­other world.

Since 1988, when it was des­ig­nated a pro­tected arche­o­log­i­cal site, Kayakoy has in­creas­ingly at­tracted at­ten­tion. Its haunt­ing sad­ness was the in­spi­ra­tion for Louis de Bernieres’s 2004 novel Birds With­out Wings, in which it be­came the model for the vil­lage Eskibahce. Since then, it has be­come a regular coach-trip des­ti­na­tion for tourists.

But it is now tak­ing a big­ger step into the in­ter­na­tional spot­light with the re­lease of Rus­sell Crowe’s film The Wa­ter Diviner, in Australia late last year and in Bri­tain and US last month. Set in 1919, the film tells the story of an Aus­tralian farmer (Crowe) vis­it­ing Turkey in search of his three sons, all miss­ing fol­low­ing the An­zac land­ing at Gal­lipoli 100 years ago. The pe­riod time cap­sule of Kayakoy of­fered the ideal lo­ca­tion and some of the closing sec­tions of the movie were filmed there.

Shoot­ing took place in the north­ern spring last year, and lo­cals were still buzzing with gos­sip when I vis­ited later that sum­mer. There was dis­ap­point­ment that, for his di­rec­to­rial de­but, Crowe (per­haps not a pan­cakelover) had brought his own cater­ing vans, but de­light that two well-known Turk­ish ac­tors, Yil­maz Er­do­gan and Cem Yil­maz, had key roles. There was fas­ci­na­tion — es­pe­cially among older res­i­dents – in hav­ing been able to watch the ghost vil­lage rise from the dead, and see life be­ing breathed back into its long-ne­glected streets. Lo­cal crafts­peo­ple had helped make wooden stalls for a bustling mar­ket scene, for in­stance. But, above all, there was hope that the film would en­cour­age peo­ple vis­it­ing this part of Turkey’s ex­quis­ite Turquoise Coast to ven­ture in­land and dis­cover the charms of the Kaya Val­ley.

A sleepy hotch­potch of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and farm­steads snug­gled into the back­drop of the Taurus Moun­tains, the val­ley is just 9km from the sea — equidis­tant from the bustling har­bour town of Fethiye to the north and (to the south) the much-pho­tographed blue-la­goon re­sort of Olu Deniz, where I was stay­ing. Although breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful, Olu Deniz’s seafront is very com­mer­cialised: there are break­fast joints galore and paraglid­ers are scat­tered like DayGlo Smar­ties across the blue skies. But my ho­tel, the el­e­gant Beyaz Yunus (White Dol­phin), is a gor­geous hill­side retreat, its gar­dens brim­ming with but­ter­flies and bird­song. As far from the madding crowd as I could have hoped, it proves the per­fect jump­ing-off spot for a drive into the si­lent heart of Turkey’s re­cent past and the peace­ful­ness of its ru­ral present.

The coun­try­side of the Kaya Val­ley is given over to agri­cul­ture, and the pace of life is slow. Pomegranate and fig trees line the road­sides. Crum­bling stone walls en­close sil­very olive groves, vine­yards and small hold­ings of cour­gettes and pep­pers.

Driv­ing feels won­der­fully time­less as you pass rustic sta­bles and cow­sheds where small groups of cows or oxen stand around sleep­ily in dry straw. An old shep­herd sits smok­ing his pipe un­der a carob tree.

Kayakoy, the “new” vil­lage that sprawls be­low its ghost coun­ter­part, is equally at­mo­spheric, with its stone drink­ing foun­tain, tra­di­tional tea gar­den and al­ley­ways flut­ter­ing with wash­ing lines and pa­trolled by am­bling chick­ens. What es­pe­cially in­trigues me is the clus­ters of gal­leries and arts and crafts stu­dios that have be­gun to ap­pear, many in re­cently ren­o­vated old build­ings close to the ru­ins.

“It’s a cir­cle,” Bulent says philo­soph­i­cally, as I tuck into one of his spe­cial pancakes. “The Greeks in the ghost vil­lage were crafts­peo­ple — that’s why their houses stayed empty when they left. Stuck on a steep hill­side, with­out gar­dens or sta­bles, they were of no use to the Turk­ish farm­ers who were of­fered them.” He smiles hap­pily. “Now the artists are re­turn­ing at last.”

I look up at the ru­ins and think about the days when their nar­row streets hummed with life, church bells rang and the school play­ground swarmed with chil­dren. Then I pic­ture them re­vi­talised by ac­tors and crew as the vil­lage’s bro­ken shell was briefly re­an­i­mated. Those streets are all empty again. But how lovely to think that the in­com­ing artists and crafts­peo­ple, the spir­i­tual heirs of Kayakoy’s ghosts, are now bring­ing their own form of re­newed life to the vil­lage. • go­turkey.com

THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

Clock­wise from top, ghost town Kayakoy; a woman makes go­zleme; Rus­sell Crowe in

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