St Nicholas statue in Myra
Photo: Cem Karan Historic Ruins & Antique Sites of Turkey
Used by permission
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When Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, the city, named a metropolis in the 2nd century, was one of the most important cities in Lycia. It was the regional capital and had administrative authority and influence. Myra was three miles east of Andriaki, the port at the mouth of the Andriacus River. St. Luke visited and St. Paul, the apostle, changed ships here on his way to Rome.
Myra, with a population up to 50,000, sat in a valley rich with trees, vines, and flowers. The area is still an important agricultural region, with many orange groves, fruit orchards, and greenhouses growing tomatoes, eggplant, and other vegetables.
After Nicholas' death Myra became a popular pilgrimage center and many new churches were built. However, fortunes shifted with Arab raids, flooding and earthquakes causing the city to be nearly abandoned by the early 11th century. As the people left, silt coming down the hills built up each year until the city nearly disappeared. The saint's relics were removed to Bari, Italy, in 1087. Filled with silt, the harbor was of limited use, and Andriaki disappeared under the sand. Its ruins are visible at Çayagzi, which sports a lovely long sand beach along a shallow bay. Cruise ships and pleasure boats now dock along the quay.
Before the Greek-Turkish population exchange in 1923 Myra was a small Christian hamlet with a population of 400. The two main roads, built by the Russians around 1830, formed the town's central crossroads. The town square had shops, three cafes and a market. There were two churches, Ayios Nikolaos and the subterranean chapel, Ayios Sion.*
Myra has some of the most spectacular Lycian ruins—the ancient rock tombs and the amphitheatre which is still used for festival productions. Myra lies between the modern town Demre, also known as Kale, and the sea.
Nicholas as Bishop of Myra
There were 400 Christians living in Myra. There were no Turks. The main activities were in trade and agriculture. Everyone in Myra originated from Castellorizo. They had come to Myra to find better opportunities. The language spoken was identical to the Castellorizian idiom.
Myra was about 1 hour's walk from the sea. It lies on a fertile plain. Before arriving in Myra from the coast one crosses this beautiful plain irrigated by three rivers—the Tsaï, or Myros, the Anthami, and the Limnionas or Vromolimnionas.
Outside the town, there were no roads, only this broad plain. In the town, there were no mahaladhes. We knew exactly where everyone lived. All the roads radiated out from the central crossroads in the middle of the town. These 2 main roads had been built by the Russians in my grandfather's time, in about 1830. There was only 1 square—Plateia ton Myron—which had shops, 3 cafes and a market.
There were 2 churches in Myra—Ayios Nikolaos, where the saint's tomb is to be found, and Ayios Sion, which was a subterranean chapel. Ayios Nikolaos is located 1 kilometre from the centre of the town. It was built by Theodosius II. The town's cemetery was located here.
There was also a small primary school that catered for about 30 students up to year 4. After 4th class, we completed our studies on Castellorizo.
I worked with the abbot of the monastery which was attached to Ayios Nikolaos. I remember Kyrillos Romanos, who was the last abbot. I left Myra in 1914 to avoid conscription in the War.
Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra: The Life and Times of the Original Father Christmas by D. L. Cann, Novalis/Twenty-Third Publications, 2002
Describes the culture and places of the Graeco-Roman Empire that was home to St Nicholas
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