Along Turkey’s D400 road, which travels through the towns of the ‘Turkish Riviera’, there are a number of historical sites that are well worth stopping off and visiting. During our travel day between Cirali and Hoyran (we spent 10 days road tripping alongside the ancient Lycian Way,) we decided to go exploring and managed to squeeze in visits to three amazing places: Myra, Limyra and St Nicholas’ Church. These can be found in or around the town of Demre.
Roughly 5km from the town of Finike, close to Demre, you’ll find the ruins of the ancient city of Limyra. Not particularly well signposted, we worked out we’d arrived when we drove past a beautiful amphitheatre right by the side of the road – opposite a field full of goats (and a rather scary large dog).
Parking up, we discovered a small, empty ticket office near a large ancient wall, but couldn’t find anyone to offer directions or information. Wandering around we came across a couple of signs and maps in Turkish. This allowed us to get our bearings a little, but with gates and barbed wire all around, we just weren’t sure where we were allowed to go.
Playing it safe we didn’t go beyond the wall, but even from there we were able to see how vast the city must have been from the ruins that went out from the base of the hill.
But the map did show us that these ruins were just a small part of the city and that most of it, including the former acropolis, were a step climb upwards. With the heat and my bad legs we decided to stay at the bottom, but even so we were able to see some of its beautiful tombs, and of course its amphitheatre.
Limyra is considered one of the oldest settlements and was once home to the powerful prince Perikles. Mainly known for its Lycian tombs, these are dotted all over the hills and even come right down to the side of the road. Although smashed open over the centuries by grave robbers, you can still see the intricate details that were put into their design and the remains of the prince’s tomb can still be seen up on one of the hills.
Just like our trip to Rhodiapolis, we didn’t see any other visitors while we were there, which we found so surprising when the site is so beautiful. Another hidden gem, I’d definitely recommended stopping off and exploring Limyra before it gets overrun with tourists like Myra…
As soon as you arrive it’s easy to guess that Myra is one of the most visited Lycian tourist attractions. There’s not just a car park but a coach park, and to get to the entrance you have to walk along a street of tacky souvenir shops. I felt like I was back in South East Asia!
Restaurant and shop owners try to ‘lure’ you into their car parks and pushily persuade you to buy their wares, eat their food or book on one of their ‘brother’s tour boats’. But it’s worth running this gauntlet to see Myra’s amazing rock tombs and epic amphitheatre.
Entrance to the Myra Archaeological Site costs L20, and once you’re through you can then make your way down a dusty road (now full of tourists rather than salesmen!) to either site. Broken remains of the amphitheatre’s stage line the pathways, many detailed reliefs with faces carved into them, including the head of Medusa!
As large tour groups turned right to the amphitheatre we decided to first check out the house-style rock tombs. Thousands of years ago these had been painstakingly hewn into the rock walls and still look beautiful today. They were designed to look like Lycian houses of the time and you can still see the amazing decoration on many, with scenes from battles and funerals played out around the entrances.
We then headed back to Myra’s amphitheatre – the largest in Lycia. It’s truly impressive to stand in and look around – especially as the stairs to its two galleries still stand, allowing you to enter the theatre as the spectators once did.
To avoid the worst of the crowds, I’d recommend you plan your visit for the start or the end of the day.
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas’ – yep, the St Nick that later become known as Santa (thanks Coca-Cola!) – was born in this region and was actually the local bishop. His church is now one of the biggest attractions in the town of Demre, even though it’s not actually the original building he once preached in.
Costing L20 to visit, St Nicholas’ Church, also know as St Nicholas’ Museum, actually has little in common with the 4th century original, as it was rebuilt in 1043 and then again in 1862. Even still, many worshipers, particularly Russian Orthodox, still make pilgrimages here to pray at St Nick’s sarcophagus – even though his remains were actually stolen by raiders from Bari, Italy centuries ago!
But although the links are tenuous, many still come here to pay homage to the saint, throwing paper prayers over the Plexiglas-shielded sarcophagus or simply to see the church’s architecture and design.
Outside the church doesn’t look like much as it’s protected by a plastic canopy, but inside you can find beautiful vaulted ceilings and faded frescos – the most impressive of which is the Communion of the Apostles found in the dome of the north transept.
It doesn’t take long to wander around but is still worth a visit. However, I’d highly recommend avoiding the giant tourist trap shops around the entrance selling lots of garish St Nick’s tat!