is one of the most important towns of ancient Lycia, located near the
mouth of the Andriacus River on the Mediterranean Sea in southwest Turkey.
Its early history is unknown. St. Paul is known to have visited
the city, and in the 4th century St. Nicholas
was its bishop. The Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II
made Myra the capital of Byzantine Lycia until the city fell to the caliph
Harun ar-Rashid in AD 808. The western scarp of its acropolis, dating
from the 5th to the 3rd century BC, was sculptured into a large number
of rock-cut sepulchres, imitating wooden houses and shrines, with pillared
facades and reliefs. At the foot of the acropolis are the remains of a
magnificent theatre, one of the largest and finest in Anatolia.
St. Nicholas Church
The present-day town of Demre - Myre in antiquity - boasts
a very touching historic and architectural feature: St. Nicholas Church.
Born in Patara in about 300 A. D., St. Nicholas studied in
Xanthus and became bishop in Myra, where he preached until he was martyred in 325 A. D.,
during the Diocletian persecutions. He was buried in this church built along Byzantine
lines: three apses preceded by an atrium and a double narthex, with frescoes and mosaic
flooring. Immediately after his death, visitors to his tomb were miracously cured; that is
how Myra became a scared place and destination of pilgrims. Destroyed and rebuilt several
times, the church was sacked by vandals following on the Arab incursion in 1034. It was
then surrounded by a protective wall by order of the Emperor Constantine Monomacus IX and
his wife Zoe. Lastly, in 1087, Italian traders took the saint's bones to Bari, where he
was proclaimed patron of the town. Legend has it that when the Italian traders opened the
sarcophagus containing the saint's remains, they were overwhelmed by a strong scent of
myrrh, which emanated from his bones. By virtue of another legend, St. Nicholas became the
patron saint of children to whom he brings Christmas presents.
This is a place of great interest for
Christianity if it is also true that St. Paul met with the apostles for the
last time before going to Rome. A couple of kilometres north of Demre, the ruins include a
score of tombs arranged on the cliff in a jumble overlooking the sea; perhaps this is the
most amazing collection of rock tombs in the whole of Anatolia. Myra comes from the Greek
word «mirra»; we know for certain that it dates back at least as far as the V century B.
C. and was one of the most important towns in the Lycian Federation. Its superiority
lasted in time; in fact, during the Byzantine era Theodosius II promoted it to capital of
Lycia. Unfortunately, its promotion coincided with the Arab predations that commenced
during the VII century and continued for over two centuries. In 809, Myra was conquered by
Harun el- Rashid and the city was gradually abandoned.
Evidence of its glorious past are the rock tombs dating
back to the Lycian era and the Graeco-Roman theatre. On the subject of its unique
necropolis, it was a Lycian custom to bury their dead high up because they believed that
in this way they were more easily transported to heaven. These funeral monuments date from
the VI to the III century B. C.: built isolatedly or cut out of the rock-face; several of
the façades have flat or sloping roofs carved to imitate wooden beams supported by
pillars, suggesting that they are copied in form from wooden temples; the Greek temple is
revealed by the rich decorated architraves. The richness of decorations - some still have
traces of colour - and in particular the magnificence of sculptured bas-reliefs, usually
portraying the dead person surrounded by his family, testify to the exceptional taste and
artistic sense of local artists for the time.
The same decorative taste can be found in the theatre,
built in Greek style, that is, against a hill with fourteen flights of steps dividing the
cavea in thirteen sectors, with twenty-nine rows of seats in the lower part and nine in
Here too the stage wall featured bas-reliefs with garlands,
friezes and theatrical masks
Simena, which can be reached by the coastal road from Demre
or Üçağız Köyü, with its history and natural beauty is, like Teimiussa, one of the
most enchanting Lycian sites. Its tombs, its well preserved medieval fortress, and its
underwater ruins, shrouded in mystery by the blue of the sea, together with its
present-day fishing village, all merge to produce a colourful scene.
We have no significant information about Simena's history.
We know only that in Roman times it was a member of a small federation of which its
neighbouring city. Aperlae, was the head. Without doubt, however, the town was founded
Lycia's smallest theatre is located in the magnificent
medieval fortress on the hill. Carved from living stone, this tiny theatre, with only
seven rows of seating, held between 250 and 300 people. Most of the remaining ruins belong
to ancient houses which, with a few changes, are still used today as village dwellings.
Particularly noteworthy are the ruins of a bath with
polygonal wall construction, which is situated on the shore. Its inscriptions reveal that
it was dedicated to Emperor Titus (reigned 79-81 A.D.) by the people and the assembly of
the federation formed by Aperlae and the towns linked to it, Simena, Apollonia and Isinda.
Because some of the harbour foundations, walls and ruined
sarcophagi are today submerged in the sea, Simena and Kekova, the island opposite, are
together often called Batık Kent "Sunken City".
According to the statements of Strabo, Myra was one of the
six large cities of the Lycian League that had the right to three votes. However, no
important information about the city is to be found in literary sources prior to the first
century B.C. The earliest known Myran coinage dates to the third century B.C. From ruins
spread over a wide area in the eastern hills of the plain of the Myros river (Demre Çay),
and from tombs and Lycian inscriptions, it is evident that the city is much older, going
back at least as far as the fifth century B.C.
Myra was on excellent terms with Rome. It is known for
example, that Octavian was honoured as "the Emperor of Land and Sea, the Protector
and Benefactor of the Universe" that Tiberius was deemed a god by the local
population, and that statues were erected in honour of the Emperor Germanicus and his wife
Agrippina after they visited Myra in 17 A.D. St. Paul stopped here and changed boats on
his way to Rome in 60 A.D.
The second century A.D. saw Myra honoured with the title
metropolis, and this was a time when the city was the scene of great development. Wealthy
and generous Lycians like Jason of Cyaneae, Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, and Licinius Longus
of Oinoanda, rose to positions of high rank, and they reserved the bulk of their financial
aid for Myra.
Under Byzantine rule, particularly in the fourth and fifth
centuries, Myra was again an important religious and administrative centre. It was the
capital of Lycia during the reign of Theodosius II (402-450 A.D.) As the place where St.
Nicholas lived in the early fourth century, established his bishopric, and performed a
series of miracles, it has had a special renown from the Middle Ages until the present
The city lost its power as a result of Arab raids that
began in the seventh century A.D., and suffered extensive damage yet again when the river
Myros overflowed its banks. It now lies beneath a mound of rubble.
Myra is reached by passing between greenhouses and orange
groves that stretch all the way from Demre. On arriving at the site, the first thing that
catches the eye is Lycia's largest and best preserved theatre on the southern slope of the
acropolis. Still well suited to its original purpose, it is used from time to time today
for festivals, Turkish wrestling matches, concerts and the like. In addition to being set
into the natural slopes, it is in the form of two concentric semicircles to suppor the
cavea. Its vaulted galleries served as both exit and entrance, and in the summer provided
places where spectators could cool off from the heat of the sun. One corner of the west
gallery contains a fascinating inscription reading, "Place of the peddler
Gelasius" . It is likely that in this little place he had marked off for himself,
Gelasius sold food and drink to spectators just as they are dispensed in the snack bars in
modern cinemas and theatres. In the cavea, which is divided in two by a broad diazoma,
there are 29 rows of seats below and 6 above. The theatre was thus equipped to hold
9-10.000 people. The stage building is partially intact up to the second floor. From the
stone blocks now piled up inside the orchestra, it is clear that a showy facade decorated
with statues and rich architectural elements once stood here.
Myra's necropolis occupies a notable place in architectural
history because of the variety of tombs it contains. Today, a large portion of them, often
the subject of posters and cards, have been grouped together on the rocky slopes on both
sides of the theatre. Nearly every centimetre of the rocks was put to use, adapting
Lycia's traditional wooden architectural forms, with great mastery, to stone. Plain
examples stand alongside elaborately decorated and carefully planned ones that conform in
shape to houses or temples. Taking a look at the principal examples, one of the most
notable is a house-type tomb on the lower level beside the theatre; carved at the centre
of its pediment are two running warriors carrying shields. A little higher, at
approximately the middle of the group is a tomb decorated with a relief. The subject of
the relief is a family assembly, with the tomb's owner reclining on a couch at the centre;
his wife, sitting on a chair behind him attended by her servants; and in front, his
daughter and son who holds a bowl in his hand. The subject of a relief on the side
consisting of two figures, is most likely a farewell scene between the father, who is
preparing to go into battle, and his son. The father, standing proudly, outfitted with his
battledress and spear, takes this helmet and shield from his small, nude son beside him.
The middle relief depicts two youthful warriors standing with spear and shield in hand.
The reliefs can be dated to the end of the fifth or the beginning of the fourth century
Another group of rock-cut tombs on the eastern part of the
hill is in a place called the "River Necropolis". One of the house-type tombs
located here, the so-called "Painted Tomb" has a relief consisting of figures
and is mentioned prominently in archaeological literature. It is approached via stone
steps. In the relief at the entrance to the tomb, stretched out on a couch at the left, is
a man, the father of the family, holding a wine cup in his hand. Directly opposite, shown
with her two children at her side, is a seated woman who must be the man's wife. On the
rock face outside the porch, another segment from the daily life of the same family is
shown. Moving from left to right, first there is a standing figure, the father, dressed
and holding a long staff in his hand; on the right in her turn is the mother, holding her
daughter by the hand. Next in succession are a female servant carrying a jewellery casket,
a young man facing left and leaning on a staff under his armpit, and a small male child at
the very back. Fellows states that these figures were painted blue, yellow, and red when
he conducted his research in the area in 1840. Unfortunantely, no trace of this paint is
Also in this group is a tomb with a two-columned temple
facade and a pediment on which a struggle between a lion and a bull is depicted. As with
the Painted Tomb, here a relief on the entrance shows a family gathering, the father
reclining on a couch surrounded by the seven members of his family. Unquestionably, the
most unusual and eye-catching feature of the tomb is a relief showing two fantastic
figures, one on either side of the door. These creatures are composites, their upper
torsoes those of women with headdresses shaped like lions' heads, their lower portions are
shaped like a lotus blossom.
On the high acropolis north-east of the theatre are the
remains of dwellings, towers, a church, and the walls of the city, which remain from
several phases, from the fifth century B.C. to the Byzantine era.
This mountain town in the Lycian region was built on
terraces opening onto the steep and rocky slopes of a high hill. After successful
excavations and restoration work carried out in recent years by Turkish archaeologists, a
beautiful town has emerged, with a well organized plan that gives the appearance of an
The "nd" in the name "Arycanda"
provides linguistic evidence that the city's past goes back as far as the third century
B.C. The oldest existing textual references date to before the fifth century B.C.
From what we have learned from coins of the Lycian League
type that have been recovered, Arycanda lies within the general historical currents of the
Lycian region and was one of the twenty three cities bound to the League.
Arycanda's principal official buildings, which are not
enclosed by city walls, are situated on terraces. A stadium in the form of a running track
is located on the uppermost terrace. Measuring 106 m. long and 17 m. wide, it is much
smaller than the norm. A few step-like seats on its north side are all that remain of the
stadium. On a lower terrace is a small but rather well preserved theatre of Greek plan.
The cavea section, which lies in the natural slope of the land, consists of twenty rows of
seats. At the edge of every row are holes for awnings which unfurled to protect the
spectators from rain and sun. The stage building appears to be of separate construction,
with architectural features that date it to the second century A.D.
On the terrace below this theatre is a second century A.D.
odeon with a long mosaic-floored portico. Almost square in plan, the odeon is an extremely
ornate building with its orchestra, seats, and walls all faced in coloured marble. From
the south it opens onto the portico in front via three large doors.
To the front of the odeon is the city's wide, flat agora
enclosed on three sides by a portico.
On the north-west slopes of the city at the west end of the
137 metre-long stoa lies the bouleuterion, the building in which the people's assemblies
met. Inside the building, which is set into a slope, rows of seats for the members of the
assemblies are cut into living rock. Vote chits made of fired clay, which, according to
the number of holes piercing them, indicated "yes", "no", and
"abstain", were unearthed during excavations in the bouleuterion. They provide
the best possible proof of the existence of democratic government hundreds of years ago.
Other ruins worth seeing are vaulted tombs constructed to
temple-plan and with podiums, which are found in the necropolis of the theatre.
South-east of the eastern necropolis are the remains of a
large complex consisting of a gymnasium and a spacious four-chamber bath.