The Ancient City of Myra, Demre, Turkey
If you are hoping to see some of the most interesting Lycian tombs in Turkey, we recommend the Ancient City of Myra, located in the town of Demre.
Along with its unique rock graves carved into the cliffs above, Myra is well-known for its acropolis and Roman-style theatre. A city dating from antiquity, Myra has accumulated a rich history and culture over the centuries and was considered to be one of the six leading cities in ancient Lycia. Also thanks to its location along the Lycian Way, the well-preserved ruins of this former Lycian capital have become a popular attraction for both local and foreign tourists alike. A visit to Myra is a truly wondrous step back into history.
The exact origins of Myra’s existence remain unknown, although parts of its ruins are thought to date back to as far as the 5th century B.C. That’s around 2,500 years ago! Detailed carvings and inscriptions are a giveaway to Myra’s Greek and Lycian heritage, whilst the architecture of the glorious theatre will remind you of the Roman influence here. Located next to the river Myros, and surrounded by fertile land, Myra was once a prosperous city that reaped the benefits of agriculture. The city experienced considerable development in the 2nd century A.D. and was named the capital of Lycia in the 5th century, up until it was conquered by the caliph Harun al-Rashid in 808 A.D.
Fast forward to today, Demre is still thriving as an agricultural region, with tomatoes being the top produce and citrus fruit growing in abundance. The majority of the former city has been covered by alluvial silts, although numerous ruins are visible across Demre thanks to excavations. Upon arriving in Demre, signposts will guide you to the entrance of Myra. Once you enter the archaeological site and explore the ruins from higher elevations, the two worlds begin to collide, as hundreds of pearly white greenhouses emerge around the outskirts of the ruins.
At first glance, the open-air theatre itself looks deceptively small, but in fact, it was the largest in the whole of Lycia. Once inside, your perceptions will undoubtedly change, and it’s hard not to imagine how it came to life centuries ago during the times of gladiators. Thanks to a period of restoration, visitors can enjoy this semi-circle-shaped theatre by sitting in the seats like a spectator once did, or by (carefully) wandering around the well-preserved structure. It is here when standing at the top of the theatre that you can enjoy scenic panoramic views of Demre.
Equally drawing your attention (if not more) are the intriguing rock graves with facades emulating wooden architecture. These unique Greek and Lycian tombs are mysteriously scattered among the steep jaggedy slopes of the cliffs above. Even so, there are two main necropolises that can be found here; one to the south and one to the east of the acropolis. The social statuses of the tomb owners were reflected by the differences in designs, although these are hardly visible nowadays. Take your time to spot the different tombs and marvel at how they came to be.
Did you know? In the 4th century, a priest named Nicholas was appointed as the Greek bishop of Myra. Due to his generous and caring nature, he was well-regarded by the Lycian people. Following his death, he was named a patron saint and is the real man behind the legend of Santa Claus (or Sinterklaas in Dutch). A church was built in his name, which can be found a short distance away from Myra’s ruins. Many tourists and pilgrims flock to St. Nicholas Church to pay homage to this legendary saint.
The Ancient City of Myra can be found approximately 1.5 km from the town centre of Demre, which is located on the Kaş-Finike road. As well as a few shops along the entrance, opposite Myra’s ancient ruins are several cafes where you can enjoy a tasty hot or cold beverage while processing what you have just experienced.