TURKEY: Your Guide to the Home of Santa Claus – Demre, Turkey
Turkey has a winter and summer culture – especially. Those families who can afford it, have a summer house near some coast line to escape the heat of the cities for a few months. Two our of four sets of our neighbors do this exact thing ever year. Ever since we moved to Turkey, we had wanted to try it out.
Last summer(2020) after a strict and exhaustive COVID lockdown, Jason and I opted get out of Izmir for 3 weeks to a summer villa in Kalkan, Turkey. Every week we had a different family or friends come share the week with us. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.
This post is a continuation of my past KALKAN summer series! Hope you find this helpful. Make sure to catch the matching video at the end.
Now on to Demre!
Demre is a tiny town (around 20,000 people) located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey with the Taurus Mountains rising behind. The villages of Demre grow pomegranates and citrus fruits as well as large quantity of fruits and vegetables all year round in greenhouses. Previously known as Kale, the town was renamed in 2005 after the river Demre. Demre is also the ancient the Lycian town of Myra.
More importantly it’s the home to the world famous 4th-century Christian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra – better know now in the states as the mythicize Santa Clause.
Who really was Saint Nicholas?
Most people don’t know the true story of Santa Claus. Some people celebrate this tradition because it is fun. Some parents use Santa as a way to make their kids behave better around the holiday times.
And… most people have no idea that ‘Santa Claus’ was born in present-day Turkey!
Saint Nicholas, born in 370 AD, was a 4th century Christian bishop who helped the poor needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. He is now the basis for the popular character of Santa Claus.
Early Life: Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia, an area near Demre, that is part of present-day Turkey. He lost both of his parents as a young man. His parents were very wealthy and Saint Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He dedicated his life to serving God and soon became a bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas lived out the verse from the Bible: Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
There is a lot of in between stories of his life, but one of the other notable events he is known for is being a part of the Council of Nicea 325 AD at present-day Iznik, Turkey. During the reign of Emperor Constantine of Constantinople, he organized the Council of Nicaea. It was the first council that was for the entire body of new Christains believers of that time. Saint Nicholas defended the church against heresy, a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine. A lot of fundamental theology was formed during this time.
The most famous story Saint Nicholas has been immortalize by is the story about how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries, payments for marriage, and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and threw a bag of money inside. The man used the money so that his daughters could marry. On the third visit, the man saw Saint Nicholas and thanked him for his kindness. Some gold fell into the socks drying by the fireplace. This is why there is a tradition to hang stocking by the fireplace.
Over the years, stories of his miracles and work for the poor spread to other parts of the world.
Personally, we celebrated Jesus Christ birth at Christmas. But all throughout my childhood, we celebrated Santa Claus in the traditional way. The night before Christmas we would read the Christmas story and set out cookies and milk. The next morning I would wake up to 1 big gift from him and our stockings would be full of small gifts.
Some families only give gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth instead. Jesus’ birth as a gift to the world and so we give gifts to one another and those in need. Saint Nicolas gave gifts to those in need because of Jesus too. He is a good example of how we can share our love of Jesus with other people.
Regardless of how people celebrate, Saint Nicholas’ true story still shows through: True giving, Faithfulness, and Joy
Fun side note: I did a whole fancy presentation about Saint Nicholas for my Turkish class one time. If you are curious to see it, check it out here.
What you should see and do in Demre, Turkey:
1. Start at downtown Demre at Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi) – also called Saint Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas was born near this area, became the bishop of Patara, and was buried here after his death. So it’s no surprise that this 11th century East Roman Basilica church is decorated with beautiful vibrant frescoes of life and miracles of St. Nicholas.
After surviving numerous floods, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I in 1862 restored the church, adding the tower and making other changes to its Byzantine architecture. The church continued to function until the Greek Orthodox community of Demre was forced to leave in 1923. After which, the church fell into disrepair. The church is regarded as the 3rd most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia.
Even in its ruined state, the church’s amazing architecture has made it onto the list of UNESCO tentative heritage sites. Inside you can see mosaics on the floor, vibrant frescoes on the walls and archways, and a broken sarchopagus which was believed to be the first burial of St. Nicholas. (It is said that in 1087 A.D. most of his bones were taken by force to Bari in Italy, and the remainder taken to Venice in 1100 A.D.)
Next to the church is a museum cafe. Outside there are many tourist shops to get your trinket as a remembrance of your visit.
Visiting info: Entrance fee is 50TL or Museum Card. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.
2. Move on to Myra Ancient City (Myra Antik Kenti)
Just 2 km (1.2 miles) inland from St. Nicholas Church, there is Myra Ancient City. Unlike Kaunos, which is somewhat difficult to get to, the rock tombs of Myra are as easy as it gets. You drive up, walk through the single aisle of gift shops, and you’re there.
For a while in 1st century AD, this ancient city was the chief city of Lycia League. Over time it slowly lost its popularity. Due to a terrible plague, Muslim raids, flooding, and earthquakes, Myra was mostly abandoned by the 11the century. The largest Greco-Roman theatre in Lycia is in Myra and much of the inscriptions and double-vaulted corridors are still visible today.
This open air museum is small with a large well-preserved theater and impressive rock-intricate and imposing hewn tombs carved into the mountain side – both which offer great photo opportunities.
Visiting info: Entrance fee is 45TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.
3. Go outside to Andriake Ancient City (Andriake Örenyeri Müzesi)
The story of Myra and the Lycia civilization begins with the rock tombs and ends in the sea with the Port of Andriake, or in Turkish Çayağzı, is 5 km (3 miles) west of Demre. The Demre river gave life to the city, and sadly, along with other Arab raids and natural disasters, also brought an end to the city as it dried up.
The ruins include a plakoma, harbor, baths, churches and synagogues, one being 1500 years old. One of the most interesting buildings of Andriake is the Murex Workshops, or dye factory. The seashell, murex, produced a very rare purple color only used for the emperor’s clothing.
As well, at the end of the long one-way walking path, stop by the Lycian Civilizations Museum, built in a former granarium (granary) back in 129 AD. This museum displays excavations and artifacts of the major Lycian League Cities: Myra, Patara, Xanthos, Tilos, Pınara, Olympus, Arykanda and Antiphellos. Each hall and its collection is named after a major Lycian city and gives clues about the religious beliefs, economic and social lives from that area.
Thanks to their historical importance and originality, the Ancient Cities of the Lycian Civilization are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List.
Nearby the ruins are a small, decent beach and several small restaurants.
Visiting info: Entrance fee is 12.50 TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum (another 10 TL or Museum Card). Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.
Also in the Demre area:
- Few other historical sites nearby going West to East:
- Heroon of Trysa
- Beaches: If you want to know more about the beaches, check out Traveling Lens Photography’s post on Demre to learn more!
- Çağıllı Beach
- Andriake Beach
- Çayağzı Beach – This beach has a boat to Kekova (see below)
- Leech Beach
- Taşıbı Beach
- Ali’s Beach
- I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because it not actually in the city of Demre, but an hour drive and then a boat tour to get to the island. Spend a day via a Tekne Boat Tour to explore the underwater sunken city of Kekova while swimming in the clear blue water.
- Across from the island, located high up on a hill, is the Simena Castle. You can visit it before or after your tour of Kekova.
Our other tips for this area:
- From Kalkan, our point of reference for this post, we drove just over an hour to get to Demre. From Antalya, expect a 2.5 hour car ride, longer if coming by bus.
- While there are buses, we had a rental car. You can alway hire a driver for the day to take you around. Take a bus from your nearby city and then when you get to Demre just grab taxis to and from the local sites. The 3 sites I mentioned in this post – Santa Claus Museum, Myra Ancient City, and Andriake are all easily accessible by taxi around the city.
- If you are staying Kaş or Antalya, check with a local tour agency and see about day tours to this area. It will probably be included in a longer day tour with a stop off to Kekova as well.
- Most visitors to this area are only passing through or on a day trip! We ourselves stayed in Kalkan and only came for the day.
- Check Airbnb or hotels.com for accommodations.
- We actually didn’t stop for too long at any one place. It was summer and super hot! So we just snacked along the way! BUT, make sure to check out my fellow Turkey lover, Travelling Lens Photography, and her post to get an idea about where to eat while in Demre!
- If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Kaş is a great day trip or overnight if you want to stay longer!
- As you continue eastward, you will hit the city of Antalya. This area can definitely be a trip in and of it’s own!
You can explore Demre with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our video: Demre, Turkey – Santa Claus’ Hometown
Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:
- Do you want to travel to Demre now?
- Have you traveled to Demre before?
- Did you visit St. Nicolas church?
- If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!
Check out our other videos about Kalkan via our FULL PLAYLIST:
- Kalkan Full Video Playlist
- Turkey’s MUST SEE SAKLIKENT Canyon! (WITH KIDS!)
- Where should you have Turkish Breakfast in the Kalkan area?
- What is travel like in Turkey RIGHT NOW??? JULY 2020 COVID-19 VACATION
- Traveling in Turkey during COVID-19!!!
- Don’t Miss Turkey’s Babadağ (Father Mountain) + Paragliding!
- What IS Turkish Breakfast??? Let me SHOW you!
- Come explore KAŞ, TURKEY
- Demre, Turkey – Santa Claus’ Hometown