Myra was an ancient town in Lycia where the small town of Demre is situated today. It was located on the river Myros, in the fertile alluvial plain between Alaca Dağ, the Massikytos range, and the Aegean Sea. Saint Nicholas lived in Myra at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, and politically part of the Roman diocese of Asia.
The ancient site of Myra, modern Demre or Kale, lies 45 km from the tourist resort of Kaṣ. A defensive wall around Myra has been dated to the 5th century BCE. In the 2nd century BCE Myra was one of the six important Lycian League members. The temple of Artemis Eleuthera was reportedly Lycia’s largest building, with an inner colonnaded court containing an altar and a statue of Artemis.
In 42 BCE after Brutus had massacred the population of Xanthos he sent Lentulus Spinther to extort funds from Myra for the campaign against Augustus and Anthony. Spinther broke the defensive chain across the harbor entrance at Andriace and Myra acceded to his demands. Andriace, 5 km south-west of Myra, was Myra’s port and a major trans-shipment point for ships carrying grain from Egypt to Rome and other parts of the Empire.
In 18 AD the popular Germanicus and his wife Agrippina visited Myra a year before his suspicious death; statues were erected in their honor at the port of Andriace. Emperor Hadrian visited Myra in 131 AD and commissioned a large granary at Andriace, as he had at Patara. The presence of a significant Jewish community at Myra was confirmed by the recent discovery of an ancient synagogue at Andriace. Christianity came early to Myra.
In 60 AD the Romans imprisoned Saint Paul and sent him to Rome for trial. Saint Nicholas, commonly known as Santa Claus, served as bishop of Myra in the 4th century AD. In the 5th century AD Emperor Theodosius II made the prosperous city of Myra capital of Lycia.
Over time as the harbor at Andriace silted up, economic activity declined. In 808 AD Muslim Caliph Harun ar-Rashid besieged and conquered Myra.
Lycian well-preserved rock-cut tombs dating back to the 5th-3rd century BCE are carved into the south cliffs of the city acropolis above the theatre about 2 km away from the city center of Demre. The necropolis near the theatre is clearly visible and difficult to miss. These rock-cut sepulchers are built in the style of ancient Lycian wooden dwellings and shrines with doors, windows and reliefs. Many contain elaborate façades and inscriptions, some depict reliefs of funeral scenes and the daily life of the deceased. A few temple tombs have steps carved out of the rock leading to them. One ground level tomb depicts a conflict between to warriors.
The other river necropolis about 2 km to the east from the theatre is very hard to find and difficult to access. The very good preserved theatre was carved directly out of the hillside rock and surrounded with two concentric vaulted galleries used for shops and stairs to access upper areas. This theatre seated 13.000 spectators. Inscriptions are still visible. In the center of the wall above the stairs is a depiction of Tyche with the inscription “Fortune of the city, be ever victorious, good luck”. Another at a shop confirms “the place of the vendor Gelasius”. The stage building façade includes numerous theatrical masks and scenes referring to Zeus, as well as Medea with her children.
Myra archaeological site is open daily, in summer season (April - October) from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, and in winter season (November - March) - from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The admission fee is 20 TL.
The ancient site of Myra is well-signposted from the city center of Demre, where one also can visit the Byzantine church of Saint Nicholas. Near the site of Myra are several car parks, tourist shops, small restaurants and cafés. Near the entrance of the site is a visitor center where you have to buy an entrance ticket.
If you like to visit the scanty remains of the ancient harbor of Andriace, laying under water, you have to go to the small harbor and make an arrangement with a fisherman to make a boat tour around the ancient remains. Don’t take the large tourist boats because they don’t visit the remains of ancient Andriace.