The church to honor Saint Nicholas and contain his tomb was built in AD 520 on the foundations of the older Christian church where Saint Nicholas served as bishop. Over time the river changed course and the church filled with silt and was buried (the pictures show it is fifteen-to-twenty feet below ground level). In 1862 Russian Tsar Nicholas I restored the church, adding the tower and making other changes to its Byzantine architecture. The church is regarded as the 3rd most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia. It is noted for the remarkable wall frescos, its architectural and its religious significance. The northeast annex arcade contains the only example of the Nicholas cycle in Turkey. These photos are from 2005 and 2009, taken by J. Rosenthal, M. Porter and C. Myers. Click for larger views.
Several tombs have been alleged to have been St. Nicholas’ original tomb. The one on the left is often identified as the original tomb, as the side is smashed, however, the cover shows two figures, neither a clergy person. The middle one is also damaged, with a broken top, and sometimes identified as the correct tomb.
The tomb below is also named as St. Nicholas’ original tomb. Tsar Nicholas I, who restored the church in 1862, had the Troparion to St. Nicholas carved into stone and placed over this tomb.
These frescos were recently restored The Council of Nicaea
The northeast aisle arcade was opened to the public in 2009 (it wasn’t open when we visited in May 2009—a boy helped by taking photos with my camera through the space underneath the locked doors at each end). The aisle has many frescos from the 12th century, including some of the life cycle of Saint Nicholas—the earliest and only such cycle to have survived in Antalya.
The restoration of the church, and particularly the wall paintings, has been carried out with support from the Antalya Administration (2002), the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (2001), the World Monuments Fund—Samuel H. Kress Foundation (2000), and most recently by the Aristotle S. Onassis and Vehbi Koç foundations (2003–2006). The site was included in the World Heritage List in 1982. The work of inventorying the murals and architectural spaces is carried out by the Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture under the direction of architect Cengiz Kabaonlu. Preservation and restoration is under the direction of T. Ridvan Isler. Historian Nilay Karakaya, Erciyes University, analyzes and interprets the wall paintings that have been recorded and restored. Professor Yildiz Otüken, Hacettepe University, Ankara, is Director of the excavations and publishes the reports.