Kalkan does not seem to have been a place of settlement in antiquity (then known as Phoenicus), though it was the place of the only safe harbour between Kaþ and Fethiye and would have offered safety to ships during rough weather. Indeed, a fierce battle was once fought in the bay after Roman and Rhodian ships, unable to attack the neighbouring Lycian port of Patara due to bad weather, found short-lived safety in Kalkan’s bay. Read about the battle here. Today’s ships still find safe harbour in Kalkan when the seas are rough.
The Lycian coast was famous for its piracy and Kalkan bay no doubt provided a convenient hiding place for pirates to suddenly pounce upon the many heavily-laden merchant ships sailing by.
Kalkan became an important port during the 19th century – even more so than Fethiye or Antalya, its two larger neighbors. It was settled 150 to 200 years ago by people of both Greek and Turkish origin subject to the Ottoman Empire and was known by its Greek name “Kalamaki.” Camels brought goods to Kalkan from the nearby Xanthos valley and from as far away as the mountain highlands near Elmali. Cargo ships were then loaded in Kalkan’s harbour to sail for the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire carrying charcoal, silk (you can see many mulberry trees in Kalkan today), olive oil (still produced in Kalkan) and wine, as well as cotton, grain, sesame seed, flour, grapes, acorns used for dye, and lumber from the vast cedar and pine forests.
By the early 20th century Kalkan had become quite a sizeable village. At the turn of the century it had its own customs house and in 1915 there were reportedly seventeen restaurants, a goldsmith, a shoemaker and several tailors. The first local elections were held in 1928 and in 1937 the present elementary school was opened.
Kalkan in the 1950′s
Following World War I, the exchange in population between the new Turkish Republic and Greece took place in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence. Most of the Greek origin people then living in Kalkan left Turkey. Some went to the nearby Greek island of Meis, but most were resettled near Athens. They were resettled as a community (like most Greek immigrants from Turkey) and named their new town “Kalamaki”, after Kalkan’s previous name.
Kalkan circa 1960
Trading continued until it faded away in the 1950’s due to the improvement of the Turkish road system and the adoption of overland transport. With no more sea trade, the population of Kalkan trickled away as people moved to larger coastal cities to find work. Luckily, Kalkan was saved by the arrival of wealthy English yachtsmen in the 1960′s and tourism eventually became the main economy of Kalkan. Because of this, Kalkan has retained its historic charm. Strict building and preservation codes are enforced and many of Kalkan’s buildings are listed. Because of the determination to keep Kalkan beautiful, Kalkan has a specialness to it lacking in many other towns along the coast.
Despite the changes tourism has brought to the people of Kalkan, traditional life still continues for many of the local residents. Historically, many locals of Kalkan have owned land both in Kalkan and in the nearby mountain village of Bezirgan, set in a beautiful valley 17 km from Kalkan. Today many of these residents continue to follow the pattern of their ancestors, spending summers in the coolness of the mountains and winters near the warm coast.
Kalkan’s Ottoman Greek origin can still be seen in its distinctive architecture which is very similar to the architecture of the nearby Greek island of Meis (Castellorizo). There is also a Greek Orthodox church by Kalkan’s harbour which has been converted into a mosque.
As you walk about Old Kalkan you will notice much historic architecture. This architecture is very special, of the traditional ‘Kalkan Style’, and is well-preserved and protected.
Old Kalkan’s houses line narrow streets winding up from the harbour and are quite beautiful, often covered in bougainvillea. They are characteristically built of stone with small shuttered windows and timber balconies, whitewashed walls and contrasting woodwork. and often have courtyards and gardens. Narrow passages criss-cross between the houses. To combat the heat of summer, houses were built for coolness. Balconies, terraces and courtyards were constructed to create cool, comfortable areas, while small windows could be tightly shuttered from the hot noon sun. Windows and balconies of the upper floors face the sea to take advantage of any breezes.
Old Kalkan buildings are usually two stories high, unless the road is very steep. In this case there is sometimes a mezzanine. Behind the pediment (the hallmark of the traditional Kalkan house) is the red-tiled roof and chimneypot. Ground floors are usually used as shops or for storage while residents live on the floors above.
Decorative elements can be seen in the sills placed between the floor levels and the tops of windows and on the corners of buildings enhanced with pilasters and pseudo column capitals. Adorned pediments grace facades, and dentils and cornices decorate eves.