Turkey, Ancient Myra and Modern Antalya

(Amphitheatre of Myra)

In the Antalya province of Turkey, which is in the Mediterranean, is the small Turkish city of Demre. However, its history goes very far back to the Fourth Century before Christ when it was the Greek city of Myra. From then it was transformed to a Roman city…St. Paul changed ships there en route to Rome…then Byzantine, later the Ottoman Greek city of Lycia and the small Turkish town of Kale. The name was changed to Demre in 2005.

(Lycian tombs in Myra)

In 325 A.D., Lycia became a Roman province and Myra became its capital. As the Metropolitan See of the province, it was the home of the bishop and the bishop at that time was none other than Saint Nicholas. He was one of the fathers of the First Council of Nicaea in that same year.

Saint Nicholas of Myra (15 March 270 – 6 December 342), who is known as Nicholas of Bari and, because of the many miracles attributed to him, as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of sailors, repentant thieves, brewers, children, merchants, archers, and students in Europe. But his lovely habit of secretly giving gifts, has created the idea of the Santa Claus, or Saint Nick.

Church of St. Nicholas, Myra. In the 4th c. A.D., a bishop named Nicholas  (aka Nicholas the Wondermaker, was a native Lycian of Greek descent)  transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital. Until a recent Byzantine chapel was unearthed, the sole remnant of Myra’s Byzantine era was the Church of St. Nicholas that was 1st built in the 5th century A.D. and reconstructed.
(Church of St. Nicholas from the 8th Century)
(Here I am outside the Church of St. Nicholas with statue)
(Tomb of Saint Nicholas-Photo by Sjoehest)

The ancient Greek sarcophagus of marble was used to bury St. Nicholas but his bones were stolen in 1087 by merchants and taken to Bari, to the Basiliaca of St. Nicholas. The Church gained permission in 2007 from the Turkish authorities to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This was the first time in many centuries.

(Ancient ruins in Myra as you enter the Amphitheatre)
(Ancient ruins in Myra entrance to Amphitheatre in detail)
(Carved masks at the Amphitheatre of Myra)

A famous site in Myra are the rock-cut tombs. Many of them are situated above the theatre and more on the east side in a place called the river necropolis. Some of them have carvings depicting the everyday life of the person buried.

(rock cut tombs above the Theatre)

In 1840, discoverer of the city, Charles Fellows said he found the tombs painted red, blue and yellow.

(Rock cut tombs on the west side of Myra from 4th Century B.C.)

Antalya is the fastest growing city in Turkey. Because of its combination of great beaches and traditional Turkish customs.

(Beach club in Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea)

Antalya was originally named Attaleia (Ἀττάλεια). The King of Pergamon, Attalos founded the city and gave it his name. In Greek today it still bears this name. In Turkish it was first Adalia and then Antalya.

To visit, Antalya is a great summer destination. With more than 300 days a year with sun, and shielded by the Taurus mountains from the northerly winds, the climate is hot, dry and wonderful for water sports, swimming and for exploring the interesting places, such as Myra, which are close by.

I visited there in 2005 and loved the experience. I flew from Istanbul to Bodrum and drove south. The motorways are very good and safe and there are many rest stops, restaurants and accommodations along the way. Another alternative is to arrive to Istanbul and then take a direct flight to Antalya.


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