2023 Turkey – Day 9 – Around Demre

The history of Demre is deeply intertwined with the rich tapestry of civilizations that have left their mark on this region of Turkey. The town’s origins date back to ancient times when it was part of the Lycian civilization, which flourished in the area around the 5th century BC.

During the Lycian period, Demre was known as Myra, an important city and one of the six leading cities of the Lycian League. The Lycians were known for their advanced culture, distinctive language, and unique funerary architecture, particularly their elaborate rock-cut tombs. Myra served as a significant political and economic center in Lycia, contributing to the region’s prosperity.

In the 4th century AD, Christianity began to spread across the Roman Empire, reaching Myra as well. It was during this time that the Church of St. Nicholas was constructed in the town. St. Nicholas, who would later become the inspiration for the beloved figure of Santa Claus, served as the Bishop of Myra and was revered for his generosity and acts of kindness. His tomb in the Church of St. Nicholas became a revered pilgrimage site for Christians from both the Eastern and Western world, and it continues to attract visitors seeking to pay homage to the saint’s memory.

Over the centuries, the region went through various changes in ownership and influence, with Myra falling under Byzantine rule after the division of the Roman Empire. During the Byzantine period, the town’s significance as a Christian pilgrimage site continued to grow, and it became an important ecclesiastical center.

However, like many other parts of Anatolia, the area faced challenges and invasions during the Middle Ages, particularly by the Seljuk Turks. By the 13th century, the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate had established control over the region, leading to the eventual decline of Myra’s importance as a major city.

In the following centuries, the town went through periods of Ottoman and Turkish rule, and its name evolved to “Demre,” which is the name it is known by today.

The historical significance of Demre was rekindled in modern times when archaeological excavations revealed the impressive ruins of Myra, including the well-preserved Lycian rock tombs and the Church of St. Nicholas. These discoveries have made Demre a popular destination for both history enthusiasts and religious pilgrims, adding to the town’s allure as a cultural and historical gem on Turkey’s southern coast.