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Minutes from the Mediterranean, Lake Köyceğiz is a beautiful backwater lost in time. Cornucopia devotes 40 pages to the lake, its people, its unique basket houses and the house that Ali Rıza Pasha built. Text by Patricia Daunt, photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg
Speeding east along the coast road to Antalya, it is easy to miss the great Lake of Köyceğiz hidden among the orange groves on your right. Visitors at nearby Dalyan sail regularly back and forth between the famous spit of sand where turtles nest and the ancient ruins of Caunus four miles away. They may even visit the mud baths at the tip of the lake. But they seldom venture into the lake itself, strangely insulated from both the highway and the tourist throng and a fragile area of ecological significance.
It was chance that took me to the lake at Köyceğiz 40 years ago, shortly after the devastating earthquake which flattened Fethiye. I was pressing towards Muğla on the route taken by Sir Charles Fellows, described in the diaries of his travels for the London Dilettante Scoiety in the late 1830s. But I had no time to look for the ‘Derebey castle at Koogez’, or the ‘fine country house with outlying gables, rather Georgian… half hidden by trees’ glimpsed there by Freya Stark and recorded in 1956 in The Lycian Shore.
For all that, fate in the form of a puncture detained me under the burning August sun on a dusty bend of the track between old Dalyan and modern Köyceğiz, a stone’s throw from the lake. Under the westernmost crags of Taurus, which were thrusting out to sea on either side like giant pincers, with pines clinging to both ridge and flank, I was stranded in a world of white feather reed heads bowing to their reflection in golden brown water. Attempts to fit a spare wheel which also turned out to be punctured were disrupted by a cloud of dust as lines of swaying camels, led by donkeys, made their way past me with the day’s harvest of cotton roped to them in brown bales.
Help came, per miracle, when a roguish-looking black man with a Cherry Blossom polish to his skin and a mouthful of dazzling teeth arrived to tend his nets and eel traps. With no further ado, he picked up the tyres and walked with me to the village of Eski Köy. In the coffee shop, while repairs were in progress ‘Arap Ali’, aka Ali Çetin, told me his story.
His ancestors had come form the Congo via the Algiers slave market. Having earned their freedom, they and the local women they had married settled near Eski Köy to farm and fish eels. According to him, that was the norm. In some generations some of the children were black and others were not. There was never any prejudice, and there was evidently none that afternoon…
This article was the first in a series of three articles in Cornucopia 20. Also see Artist in Residence and The Basket Houses
The whole of the Köyceğiz area is famous for its dwellings of woven wood. The best surviving ones are in Hamitköy, on the lake’s western shore. These unique primitive habitations, now abandoned for concrete apartments, probably date back to antiquity
The sad, heroic history of Gallipoli is written in every gully and ridge of the beautiful peninsula. William Gurney combs the battleground for clues
When Sultan Abdülaziz embarked on his unprecendented state tour of Europe in 1867, no expense was spared in making him welcome. What most impressed him, it seems, were the musical extravaganzas: visits to the opera, glittering concerts and massed choirs trained to sing his praises in Turkish
Ateş Orga reviews Moshinsky’s Mozar in Turkey
If the thought of offal makes you wince, be bold. Overcome your fears and your efforts will be handsomely rewarded. Berrin Torolsan goes head over heels for offal, with a range of dishes for the timorous and the die-hard.
More cookery features
Sema Menteşeoğlu returned to Köyceğiz in 1992, after thirty years, to find her family home in perilous disrepair. She set about putting house and estate in order. Patricia Daunt and the photographer Fritz von der Schulenburg record a work in progress
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