A Place in History: Demre, The Birthplace of Saint Nicholas

With only 20 days left to Christmas, as Santa Claus is touring the world over with his little helpers delivering our presents, let us pay a quick visit to his mythical birthplace, Demre. Yup, you read right. Not Lapland, not the North Pole, but Demre in the southwest region of modern day Turkey.

The legend has it that Santa Claus is in fact Saint Nicholas of Myra, a 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (now Demre) one of the most important cities in ancient Lycia. 



Also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker because of the miracles attributed to him, Saint Nicholas was born to wealthy parents. Following their death in an epidemic, young Nicholas dedicated his life to serving God by helping the poor and needy.

Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Greece and Russia, made a reputation for his generosity and secret gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, hence becoming an early day model for Santa Claus.

He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day observed in Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Poland amongst others.

As for his birthplace, ancient Myra, modern day Demre, while this little town is somewhat off the beaten track, it still has much magic to offer tourists, especially with the main attraction of the town, the Church of St Nicholas. Built in the 8th century from the stone blocks of an earlier church on the same site, then restored in the 11th century, the church features interesting wall paintings and floor mosaics as well as the tomb of St. Nicholas.




Just outside Demre also worth seeing are the ancient Lycian rock tombs, 2500-year-old tombs elaborately carved into the rock face on either side of the ancient amphitheatre, which is still used today for festivals and concerts.


Located on the highway connecting two major tourist hubs, Fethiye and Antalya along the coast, Demre may lack the buzz of these bigger hubs; however, for the more adventurous traveller, it gives the opportunity of a holiday steeped in history.


Definitely worth a stay, just 3km from the centre of Demre is the brand new five star Andriake Beachclub which takes its name from the ancient Roman name for the small port of Cayagzi. Once you are done trekking the tourist trail of Demre, with a private beach, an Olympic outdoor swimming pool, 6 floodlit tennis courts, and a spa complete with a Turkish bath, this new resort has so much on offer, we wouldn’t blame you for lounging in the sun for the rest of your stay.

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo

A Place in History: Demre, The Birthplace of Saint Nicholas