Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Deserted villages

On one of the hottest days Turkey had experienced in 60 years, I visited one of the country's literally deserted places. Kaya Köyü is reached via the Mediterranean resort town of Fethiye and is described in my Rough Guide book as 'the largest late-medieval ghost town in Asia Minor'.

In 1923, following three years of war, Kaya Köyü's Greek Christian residents were exiled and the village has been uninhabited ever since. The Muslims who were supposed to replace them apparently found the land far inferior to what they were used to and refused to move in.

The roofs of the village's 400 homes have long caved in, exposing the interiors to the elements. Kaya Köyü's three churches are in a similar state: the Panayia Pyrgiotissa basilica dates from 1888 and is notable for its mosaic floor, as well as a charnel house full of human bones (the departing Greeks are said to have taken the skulls with them).

While other villages have been turned into holiday homes and short-let accommodation - this is a particularly beautiful part of the coast, boasting one of the world's most stunning beaches nearby - Kaya Köyü has been left untouched. There was hardly anyone else in sight and, with the sun beating down, it made a particularly desolate scene.

In France, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane has been left as a monument ever since 10 June 1944 when the SS killed more than 640 residents and refugees either as a form of reprisal or warning. The men were separated into five groups and killed with machine-gun fire, while women and children were corralled in the church, which was set ablaze.

In 1994, Geoff Dyer visited the site for an article in Esquire, collected in Anglo-English Attitudes (1999). 'The sign at the gate admonishes SOUVIENS-TOI: REMEMBER. Beyond the gate you see the ruined walls of a few houses,' he writes. 'Propped against one of these, a large sign admonishes SILENCE... One kind of time stopped here on an afternoon in 1944 but a different, slower kind - that sculpts hills and silts rivers - has taken over.'

You can create deserted villages, too, as Anselm Kiefer did in Barjac, southern France, where, for more than 15 years, he established a studio and outdoor exhibition space for his work, a sort of city of art. Director Sophie Fiennes captured the climax of his project, before the German artist struck camp and moved to Paris. The title of her 2010 film came from the Book of Isaiah, echoing Dyer: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.

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