You may wish to see an introduction to this section first.
About three miles to the eastward of the innumerable islands and creeks of
Kakava, we came to the mouth of the
Andraki, a small brackish river that
washes the ruins of the antient and celebrated city of Myra. About three miles up this river stand
the ruins of the city of Myra; and near
them a village, which still retains that
Francis Beaufort, Captain of HMS Frederikssteen, a frigate of 32 guns: Karamania; or a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor, and of the Remains of Antiquity collected during a survey of that coast, under the orders of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, in the years 1811 & 1812 - Published in 1817
Myra was located in a fertile alluvial plain near the mouth of the River Demre; today the modern town of Demre (or Kale) which is just a couple of miles south of ancient Myra, is very prosperous for its many greenhouses where the farmers grow cherry tomatoes.
(left) St. Nicholas as Santa Claus; (centre/right) details of the floor of the church dedicated to the saint; they bring to mind those of many churches in Rome, e.g. S. Maria in Cosmedin
present race of Greeks consider it as a
place of peculiar sanctity. Here, say
they, St. Paul preached; here, is the
shrine of St. John; and above all, here,
are deposited the ashes of St. Nicolo, their patron saint. Their claim, however, to this ultimate step of the climax
may be doubted; for both Venice and Bari dispute
the honour of having carried away his
body. My time would not permit me
to examine this great emporium of precious relics; but Mr. Cockerell, a gentleman well known to the literary world by
his interesting discoveries in Greece (..) found there the ruins of a considerable
In addition to its vast necropolis and its imposing theatre, Myra had no doubt many temples; of these however no evidence is left since Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the early IVth century destroyed them all (although at that time the law permitted the coexistence of different beliefs). The bishop was to become one of the most popular saints.
St. Nicholas': Byzantine details: (left) a capital; (right) window of the apse
St. Nicolas is a favourite saint of the
Greeks, and his shrine is greatly revered. Our
captain and crew were all dressed in their very best
to make their cross, and had brought with them a
bottle of oil as an offering. (..) The holy place consists of half of a ruined church
of the Lower Empire, and by the side of it a small
chapel in which is the tomb. The entrance to it is so
low that we were obliged to go down on our hands
and knees to get in. The Greeks knelt down, bowed
their foreheads to the earth, made crosses and said
prayers; then, putting some parahs on a tray, took
some small candles from a bundle beside it, and stuck
them round the tomb. The ceremony being over, we
took some earth from near the tomb to keep as a relic,
and fell into conversation with the papa of the shrine,
Nicola by name, native of Salonica.
Travels in southern Europe and the Levant, 1810-1817. The journal of Charles Robert Cockerell
A church was built on the site of the saint's tomb, but the current building is the result of many additions and modifications and in particular of an improper restoration paid by Czar Alexander II in the XIXth century. Myra, as did most of the Lycian towns, declined because of pestilences and Arab raids.
In 1087 seamen from Bari stole the remains of the saint and brought them to their town where they are kept in the Cathedral which is dedicated to him (the Venetians had done the same in Alexandria with the body of St. Mark).
Turkish authorities claim that the seamen took another body and that the true relics are still in St. Nicholas' inside a sarcophagus which is shown to the mainly Russian pilgrims who visit the site.
I went on with Dimitri and the captain to see some
remains of which the papa told me, at no great distance, but
the other Greeks were afraid to accompany me or even
to show me the way. However, I found the ruins of a
theatre in astonishing preservation, and some highly
interesting tombs. Cockerell
During Hellenistic times a theatre was built by cutting the rock at the foot of the acropolis in order to obtain rows of seats.
Theatre: (left) access to the upper rows built after the 141 AD earthquake; (right) view of the "cavea" (seating section) and of the box with seats reserved to the town authorities
I was quietly taking measurements of them when several Turks appeared. They
seemed highly to disapprove of our operations. While examining some statues I heard one of them
exclaim : 'If the infidels are attracted here by these
blasphemous figures the temptation shall soon cease,
for when that dog is gone I will destroy them.' Then
some of them went away and presently came back
with a larger party. While I was above in the upper
part of the building, they suddenly seized the arms of
Dimitri and the captain, and ordered us to follow
them to the aga, who lived at a distance of no less
than six hours off. (..) There was, fortunately,
still one elder of the village to be consulted, and he
was ill at home. The chief of our captors went off to
consult him, and a quarter of an hour later returned a
different man, his rage assuaged, and willing to accept
the captain's assurance that I was an Englishman. He
then returned me my arms and begged that I would go
where I thought proper. Cockerell
A tremendous earthquake struck Lycia in 141 AD, but the region soon recovered: the theatre was rebuilt by making use of large vaulted structures which ensured a greater resistance to seismic activity.
Theatre: the scene and a detail of the decoration (a similar one can be seen in the image used as background for this page)
Myra was among the most important of
the Lycian cities, and its ruins appear to be little injured by age. The city must have extended far over
the plains, in front of the rock, which has now the
theatre at its foot, and a multitude of beautiful tombs
cut in its cliff; I say this, judging from the very reasonable arguments advanced by Mr. Cockerell, that
the size of the theatre is a good indication of the population of a city. The theatre at Myra is among the
largest and the best built in Asia Minor: much of its
fine corridor and corniced proscenium remain.
Charles Fellows - An Account of Discoveries in Lycia - 1841
The new theatre and in particular its stage had a very elaborate decoration, mainly based on theatrical masks; the size of the theatre and its decoration testify to Myra's prosperity.
The tombs are generally very large, and all
appear to have been for families; some having small
chambers, one leading to the other, and some highly
interesting from their interior peculiarities of arrangement. The external ornaments are here enriched by
sculptured statues in the rocks around; (..) but
the tombs are mostly without any inscription whatever. Fellows
Myra has probably the most impressive rock-cut tombs of Lycia, although they are not as popular as those of Kaunos. They are grouped near the theatre and just below the acropolis.
Rock-cut tombs below the acropolis
Within the porticos of several of the tombs (for
many of these, like those at Tlos and Pinara, have a
lobby or porch) are bas-reliefs in better preservation
than those in other cities. Some of these have additional interest from retaining the colours with which
they were painted. Fellows
Unlike the tombs of Kaunos and Telmessos, those of Myra do not resemble a small Greek temple, but in a large number of cases they have a square or rectangular shape which is divided into four or six partitions. The lintels are decorated with rows of rolls, a reminder of the logs used by the Lycians for building their homes.
Relief on a tomb near the theatre
The sculpture upon the tombs is of the finest age for ease, simplicity, and
beauty of proportion. Fellows
One of the tombs has a very finely carved relief portraying scenes of the life of the dead, including the funerary banquet attended by the deceased himself (the person lying on a couch). The scene to the left shows the deceased father bidding farewell to his son. Between the two scenes there are two young warriors, a likely reference to the man's gallantry.
Roman family tomb
In addition to rock-cut tombs Myra retains a very different funerary monument, which most likely was used to place there the sarcophagi of an important family. It is now surrounded by marshland, but archaeologists have identified a high podium beneath the visible structure.
Roman tomb: view of the interior
The tomb was located along the road linking Myra with Andriake, its harbour at the mouth of the river; today it is close to the road linking Demre with Kas.
On the north side of the entrance of
this river are several ruined houses, sarcophagi, and tombs; and on the other
side stand the remains of a spacious Roman granary. The front wall is of plain
cut stone, and nearly perfect; it is two
hundred feet long and twenty high, with
a pediment at each extreme. Beaufort
The destiny of Andriake has been very similar to that of Patara and Kaunos. The ancient Romans were able to dredge river beds to prevent their obstruction; the stopping of this practice led to the silting of the harbour; its site is today a marsh which according to the season varies in size.
Hadrian's granary: (upper left corner) Emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina; (upper right corner) the emperor's name: HADRIAN(I); (lower left corner) relief from another building; (lower right corner): the purpose of the building: HORREA (warehouse)
The following inscription extends along the
whole of the front; the letters are large,
distinctly cut and no where defaced.
HORREA IMP CAESARIS DIVI TRAIANI PARTHICI F DIVI NERVAE
NEPOTIS TRAIANI ADRIANI AVGVSTI COS I I I. The granary is divided into compartments, each of which had a door to the front. Over the centre door are two
busts of a male and a female; and two
marble slabs apparently belonging to
some more antient edifice, are inserted in
the wall; one bears a long Greek inscription, the other represents, in low relief, a female with a sceptre and crown,
reclined upon a sofa; near her a male
figure, also crowned, holds a cup in his
right hand; and emblematic figures fill
up the remainder of the tablet. Underneath is a Greek inscription, which,
as well as the figures, has been much abused. Beaufort
The harbour of Andriake was enlarged and provided with new facilities by Emperor Trajan in order to use it as a logistic base for his military expeditions at the eastern border of the Empire. Emperor Hadrian, who was less keen on war matters, built a very large granary, which apparently was not significantly damaged by the 141 AD earthquake. A similar granary was built at the same time at Patara with the objective of increasing the reliability of wheat supplies to Rome. In a relief the Emperor is portrayed next to his wife Vibia Sabina; it is a rare opportunity to see the royal couple: their marriage was an unhappy one and they had no children.
Hadrian's granary: (left) view of the front; (right) one of the eight sections of the granary