The City of Myra is the ancient Greek capital of the Lycian Union, which was a geopolitical region in Southern Turkey during ancient times. The land above and around Myra is inhabited today, but is known as the city of Demre. Records of the inhabitation of Myra date back to 168 B.C. It is located on the South Western Coast of Turkey, on the river “Myros”. After 800 years as an important pilgrimage site, as well as a Christian and Lycian Capital, the City of Myra was buried under 18 feet of mud from the Myros River. All that remained was the large Amphitheater, the necropolis rock-cut tombs and the Church of Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus.
According to Strabo in his text “Geography”, Myra was one of the six leading towns of the ancient Lycia, and was also one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean during its time. The Lycians were an ancient society who inhabited the area of present day Turkey, and the union was comprised of about 20 cities, which strived for independence as well as freedom for all individuals.
Even though the amphitheater, church and tombs are clearly visible from the surface, the discovery of Myra is credited to Charles Fellows. He is a British Archaeologist and discovered the site in 1840, after studying documentations about the ancient Lycian Empire and their ruined cities. The study of ancient sources written by geographers like Strabo, as well as mentions of the Lycian Union in Homer’s Iliad and Herodotus’ works allowed Fellows to locate Myra, along with the five other cities which dominated the Lycian Union. Showing that even though these works may be bias, the interpretations of factual evidence can still lead to great dsicoveries.
Archaeologists first detected the buried sections of the ancient city in 2009 using a ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies underground. They used this method rather than test pits to find the most promising locations to dig while ensuring that no artefacts would be harmed in the process. Over the next two years they open excavated a small 13th-century chapel which features a 13-foot fresco depicting Jesus, John and Mary holding scrolls with Greek Biblical texts. This is very unusual to be found in Turkey, but is due to the Christian conversion of the town by St. Nicholas. The chapel's structural integrity suggests that Myra may still be largely intact underground.
Two burial sites, the river necropolis and ocean necropolis, have been carved into the cliffs towering above the town. Lycian tombs were always placed at the top of hills or on the cliffs as there was a belief that the dead would be transported to another world by a wing liked creature. The two tombs have been dated to approximately 4 B.C. The river necropolis is also known as the “Painted Tomb” due to Charles Fellows‘ report that it was painted red, yellow and blue upon discovery. The tomb owner, family members and servants are depicted on the entrance of the tomb and inside the tomb are carved panels showing the deceased reclining at a banquet and his wife standing with their children. Fellows also documented several painted sculptures inside the tomb. Scattered on the ground around the theater are numerous carved heads and theatrical masks that once decorated the facade of the second-century A.D. stage building. Much of Myra is under modern buildings in Demre, so archaeologists are unsure where they will dig next. They are currently buying property from local residents to prevent illegal excavations.
Ceramics unearthed at the chapel and at St. Nicholas’ Church indicate that Myra remained unoccupied until the 18th century. Also, judging from the findings in so far, it seems there may…