The Mediterranean coast of Turkey is breathtakingly beautiful and home to some of the most picturesque ruins in the world, relics of the numerous civilisations which once flourished here.
Airport car hire is the best way to see it all so pick up the car at Antalya Airport and head west along the coast road. It’s a fresh, easy drive and will take you through numerous ancient towns such as Phaselis, Olympos, Kekova and Finike, still thriving since Greek and Roman times and making perfect stops on the drive to Myra. Having your own car is the best way of exploring the Lycian coast. Many of the attractive ruins that tourists come here to see are the remains of ancient Greek cities whose harbours have silted up down the centuries and left them stranded miles inland. The signposts are not as common or clear as they could be, and the distances are too far to walk, especially in the summer heat, so a car and a good map are pretty much essential.
Many of the small, dusty towns in the area resemble something out of the Wild West, but the locals are invariably friendly and eager to help with directions if you can pronounce the names right. Most of the more popular destinations are indicated by brown signs at the roadside. Myra is most famous for its amazing Lycian rock-cut tombs and for being the home of St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus. This has always been one of the region’s leading cities, ever since it was first founded in the 5th century BC. St Paul in 60AD changed ship here on his ill-fated last journey to Rome. The Byzantine emperor Theodosius II made it the capital city of Lycia in the 4th century AD, when St Nicholas was bishop here and apparently worked numerous miracles.
Myra went into decline following Arab raids in the 9th century, and this continued as the harbour silted up and the bones of St Nicholas were finally stolen by Bari traders in the 19th century and whisked off to Italy. But it retained its place on the pilgrim trail thanks to its illustrious and much-loved saint.
The Roman theatre is one of the highlights of any visit to Myra. It stands at the foot of the acropolis and is the largest amphitheatre in Lycia, with 38 rows of seats and a diameter of 110 metres. The great, iconic Medusa heads which once formed part of the stage decoration now stand in blocks next to the orchestra, providing a popular photo opportunity for visitors. The rock-cut tombs on the steep hill behind the theatre were carved in the form of elaborate houses for the dead and decorated with inscriptions and reliefs. The entire face of the cliff resembles a vast honeycomb, in two broad groupings. The Church of St Nicholas is to the west of Demre village. The saint was born along the coast in Patara but performed most of his miracles in Myra, where he became bishop. The church was built in the 3rd century but was rebuilt under Justinian in the 6th century after being flattened by an earthquake.
Coastal driving is always more enjoyable as the views make the journey so worthwhile.
By : David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.
Photo: Eva and Daniel