The charming city of St. Nicholas Myra

Myra is worth visiting with its legends, historical places, and beaches.

On the streets of a city that rests its back against the Taurus Mountains, a delicious scent wafts in the breezes between the mountainside and the sea. It is said that sailors of passing ships, like bees attracted to flowers, were lured by this perfume blowing on the wind and would steer their ships toward the shore. These waters belong to the city of Myra and its harbor Andriake. Myra, named for the fragrant but bitter gum tree which is called sarisakiz in Turkish, derives from the word “murru” of the Akkadeans or the word “mirra” or “myrrh” of the Lycians, both of them ancient peoples who once settled in this Mediterranean coastal area. The name myrrh passed to Greek, then to Latin and to English.

Myra, today known as Demre, is located very close to the mouth of the Kekova Bay, 25 and 48 kilometres from Finike and Antiphellos (Kaþ), respectively. The ancient city, whose remnants can still be seen next to the modern town of Kale, was once named among the six powerful cities that each held the right to three votes in the Lycian Federation.

During the period of Byzantine domination, the city maintained its leading position in terms of religion and administration. Though the Demre River (Myros) contributed to the development of sea trade, it also brought successive raids by pirates and other invaders. In an effort to prevent the raids, the Myraeans chained the mouth of the river in the Andriake harbour.

During the 8th and 9th centuries, the city resisted Arab invasions. In 1034, again due to an Arab invasion, the Church of St. Nicholas was destroyed.

The combined discomforts of the Arab invasions, frequent overflow of the river flooding buildings with mud, and constant earthquakes led to the eventual abandonment of the city.

ARCHBISHOP OF MYRA: ST. NICHOLAS

St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, was the Byzantine Archbishop of the area and included among the important historical figures who lived in Myra in the 4th century. He was well known for his gift-giving, especially to the children at Christmas. The St. Nicholas Church, where he had spent considerable time during his life, and where he was buried, had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Presently, the church has been protected against the elements with a special roof. The church with its floor mosaics, arched sanctuary and rooms, and sarcophagus, is visited by thousands of tourists every year.

STONE TOMBS OF LYCIA

The skirts of the Myra Acropolis are full with stone tombs that, when viewed from a distance, resemble pigeon nests. Many of these were carved out of the surface rock of the steep hillside near the theatre. Most resemble houses, though a few are in the form of a temple. They are divided into two groups: the Sea Necropolis, on the steep east and west skirts of the theatre, and the River Necropolis on the north-east side of the hill. Most of the funerary tablets were written in the Lycian language. The tombs are covered with reliefs. Several Roman buildings on the north and a castle on the south point of the harbour are also of note. But the most remarkable building is the Emperor Hadrianus grain storage found on the south side. Andriake is no longer the harbour of Myra. Similar to what happened to the ancient harbour city of Ephesus, river deposits gradually filled the harbour until it was far from the sea. Today the harbour location is one and a half kilometres inland.

One of the greatest structures in Myra that remains standing today is the theatre, which reflects its Hellenistic origins, although it was restored during the Roman era. The theatre is 110 m in diameter and has 29 rows across the bottom and six rows across the top. There are 14 aisles from bottom to top, thus dividing the seats into 13 sections. The side of the building facing the audience is full of columns, niches, statues, reliefs and remarkable decorative elements. Parapets surround the orchestra, indicating that the theatre was used as a circus and arena. Myra, with its legends, unique history, natural beauty and fishermen along the seashore, is a delightful venue well worth seeing.

Based in beautiful Cappadocia, Turkey, I run my own travel agent offering private tours all around the country and I do love guiding my guests on tours.

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