Ancient Greek theatre of Myra, with the rock-cut tombs of the ancient Lycian necropolis on the cliff in the background.

Myra is an ancient town in Lycia, where the small town of Kale (Demre) is situated today in present day Antalya Province of Turkey. It was located on the river Myros (Demre Çay), in the fertile alluvial plain between Alaca Dağ, the Massikytos range and the Aegean Sea.


Historical evidence

Although some scholars equate Myra with the town Mira in Arzawa, there is no proof for the connection. There is no substantiated written reference for Myra before it was listed as a member of the Lycian alliance (168 BC – AD 43); according to Strabo (14:665) it was one of the largest towns of the alliance.

The Greek citizens worshipped Artemis Eleutheria, who was the protective goddess of the town. Zeus, Athena and Tyche were venerated as well.

The ruins of the Lycian and Roman town are mostly covered by alluvial silts. The Acropolis on the Demre-plateau, the Roman theatre and the Roman baths (eski hamam) have been partly excavated. The semi-circular theater was destroyed in an earthquake in 141, but rebuilt afterwards.

Rock-cut tombs in Myra.

There are two necropoli of Lycian rock-cut tombs in the form of temple-fronts carved into the vertical faces of cliffs at Myra: the river-necropolis and the ocean-necropolis. The ocean necropolis is just northwest of the theater. The best known tomb in the river-necropolis (located 1.5 km up the Demre Cayi from the theater) is the "Lion's tomb,"also called the "Painted Tomb." When the traveller Charles Fellows saw the tombs in 1840 he found them still colorfully painted red, yellow and blue.

Andriake was the harbour of Myra in classical times, but silted up later on. The main structure there surviving to the present day is a granary built during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (117–138 CE). Beside this granary is a large heap of Murex shells, evidence that Andriake had an ongoing operation for the production of purple dye.[1]

In early Christian times, Myra was the metropolis of Lycia. The town is traditionally associated with Saint Paul, who changed ships in its harbor. Saint Nicholas of Myra was the bishop of Myra in the 4th century, is said to have been an ardent opponent of Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, although his name does not appear among the signatories of that council. Myra became the capital of the Byzantine Eparchy of Lycia under Theodosius II, who reigned from 408 to 450.

Siege of 809

Saint Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).

After a siege in 809, Myra fell to Abbasid troops under Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The town went into a decline afterwards. Early in the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (ruled between 1081 and 1118), Myra was again overtaken by Islamic invaders, this time the Seljuk Turks. In the confusion, sailors from Bari in Italy seized the relics of Saint Nicholas, over the objections of the monks caring for them, and spirited the remains away to Bari, where they arrived on May 9, 1087, and soon brought that city visitors making pilgrimage to Saint Nicholas.

The church of St. Nicholas at Myra

The original tomb of St. Nicholas at the basilica in Myra.

The earliest church of St. Nicholas at Myra was built in the 6th century. The present-day church was constructed mainly from the 8th century onward; a monastery was added in the second half of the 11th century.

In 1863, Tsar Alexander II of Russia purchased the building and began restoration, but the work was never finished. In 1963 the eastern and southern sides of the church were excavated. In 1968 the former confessio (tomb) of St. Nicholas was roofed over.

The floor of the church is made of opus sectile, a mosaic of coloured marble, and there are some remains of frescoes on the walls. An ancient Greek marble sarcophagus had been reused to bury the Saint; but his bones were stolen in 1087 by merchants from Bari, and are now held in the cathedral of that city.

The church is currently undergoing restoration. In 2007 the Turkish Ministry of Culture gave permission for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated in the church for the first time in centuries.


  1. ^ Gerhard Forstenpointer, et al., "Purple-Dye Production in Lycia – Results of an Archaeozoological Field Survey in Andriake (South-west Turkey)." Oxford Journal of Archaeology 26, 2 (2007):201–214.

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Coordinates: 36°15′50″N 29°58′18″E / 36.26389°N 29.97167°E / 36.26389; 29.97167

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