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Situated in the Antalya Province of Turkey, Myra in Lycia is an ancient city located in a fertile plane between the Massikytos Hills and the Aegean Sea. All that is left of the city are its remains which are about two miles to the north of today's Demre. The greater part of this ancient city is covered by alluvial silts and by Demre. The large plain on which the city stood is nowadays covered with greenhouses growing tomatoes. As today, the whole area was farmland in ancient times and a huge volume of trade was conducted here both locally and for export.
There are ancient ruins here consisting of a Roman theatre and a stunning necropolis. The Greco-Roman theatre has 35 rows of seats. The façade used to be highly decorated with scenes from mythology and theatrical masks. The amphitheatre is in surprisingly good shape today as its corridors are well preserved together with an inscription which reads "Place of the vendor Gelasius". With a certain amount of imagination, scenes from the past can easily be conjured up in the mind.
To the west of the site there is a steep honeycombed cliff which has tightly packed tombs cut out of the rock. There are two groups of tombs, one above the theatre and one to the east at a place called the River Necropolis. Charles Fellows described the tombs as being painted in bright colours - reds, blues and yellows - when he discovered the city in the mid 19th century. It is incredible to think of the entire cliff face as having been a riot of colour.
The cliff is pockmarked to the west of the theatre with more rock tombs in an asymmetric pattern. Here ancient steps carved out in the rock can still be seen leading to the tombs. Scenes cut out in the rock portray funeral scenes as well as the everyday life of the deceased.
On the eastern side of the hill is a monument called the Painted Tomb. This tomb is the size of a house with an incredible group of eleven figures standing life size in relief.
Exactly when Myra was founded is unknown. Before AD100 there is no mention of it in literature. However in later writings it was said to be one of the six most important cities in the Lycian Union. The others were Tlos, Xanthos, Patara, Pinara and Olympos. The outer defensive wall of the city is said to date back to the 5th century BC.
There was once a great temple at Myra, dedicated to the Goddess Artemis Eleuthera. This was said to be the most splendid building in Lycia and was in built amidst stunning grounds. The gardens were beautiful and there was an inner columned courtyard together with a statue of Artemis and an altar. Nothing remains today however as the 4th century bishop St Nicholas in his quest to stamp out pagan worship decreed that the temples in the region should all be destroyed.
The Church of St Nicholas is a short distance from Myra and is worth a visit if you choose to oliday here. A sarcophagus of St Nicholas is inside although his remains were actually taken to Italy. The present church dates from about the ninth century although it was added to later in 1042. A monastery was added soon afterwards.
During the 1960s onwards much restoration and excavation took place. Wall paintings have been restored and the church's floor has been exposed. Beautiful marble mosaic tiles can be admired as well as interesting wall paintings.
The church used to be a popular centre for pilgrims both from home and overseas. In 1982 the church and the surrounding area were declared a 1st degree archaeological site. The whole area is considered incredibly important in terms of archaeology and ancient architecture and has been tentatively placed on a list to be considered as a World Heritage Site.
The port of Myra is called Andriake and this was founded at about the same time in history as Myra at the Androkos river estuary. Andriake was one of Lycia's most important ports and the most impressive historical building here is the ruin of the Granarium (The Granary) of the Emperor Hadrian. This large building was erected as long ago as 117AD.
A plague caused the deaths of one third of Myra's population in around 542AD. After flooding, earthquakes and Muslim raids, Myra stood abandoned by the 11th century. However what remains is impressive and of great interest to anyone with an interest in history or archaeology.