Menu

Discover the St. Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey with Arkadaslik Yachting

A Byzantine-era ruin most notable for being the church where St. Nicholas of Myra (aka Santa Claus) was a consecrated bishop

We enjoy introducing our guests to some of the most beautiful sites in the Mediterranean. With rich cultural and historic significance, intertwined with mythology and local lore, these sites provide visitors with vacation memories to last a lifetime!


About the St. Nicholas Church in Demre

Guests joining us on our Kekova route cruises often take a land-tour to visit the St. Nicholas Church located in the heart of Demre in Antalya province. The ancient church site (now a museum) received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1982 and welcomes over half a million visitors each year.

The Byzantine church was originally used as a house of worship for Greek Orthodox followers between the 5th and 12th centuries, and is most notable for being the church where Saint Nicholas of Myra was a consecrated bishop. Who was St. Nicholas of Myra? He was the Eastern Orthodox bishop in the 4th century, but is more commonly known as Santa Claus.

The grey-stone building is surrounded by well-tended gardens and several modern-day statues portraying the many faces of St. Nicholas – including Orthodox bishop, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus. Faded frescoes depicting various religious scenes and the story of St. Nicholas' life cover the interior walls, marble columns and steps adorn the inside, vaulted ceilings give the space an open and airy feeling, and intricate mosaic tiles (dating to the 11th century) line the floor. There are several sarcophagi in the church, including one believed to have been the Saint's tomb.

The present day building is not the original church on the site. It is believed that it was built on the foundation of another church (built in 3rd century BC) after St. Nicholas died (December 6, 343) to protect his tomb and honour his memory.

Unfortunately, in 1087, tomb raiders from Bari desecrated the tomb believed to contain the remains of St. Nicholas and took the bones to Italy, leaving an empty sarcophagus in the church. (Interestingly, no one is sure where St. Nicholas was buried, so there is still a degree of uncertainty that the remains the grave robbers took were actually those of much beloved St. Nick!)

As with many buildings in the Mediterranean, weather, earthquakes, floods and war took their toll. The basilica was destroyed and restored several time in 8th and 9th century, including major rebuilds by Constantine IX in 1043 and Tsar Nicholas I in 1862. Repeated flooding with silty water from the Demre River eventually buried church and surrounding area several meters underground. The church was most recently re-discovered in 1956 during excavation near the main square in Demre, and has drawn significant attention from archaeologists, historians, religious experts and the curious public ever since.

Have you been to the St. Nicholas Church in Demre? Have you got photos or information that you'd like included in this article? Please get in touch if you have something to share.


St. Nicholas Church Slideshow

Marble columns in the interior of the St. Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey

Marble Columns Inside the Church of St. Nicholas

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

A statue of Father Christmas in the garden near the church

Father Christmas

St. Nicholas is portrayed in many ways. In this statue, he is depicted as Father Christmas, sharing gifts with children around the world.

Tall, vaulted ceilings give the church a wide-open, airy feeling

Vaulted Ceilings in the Church

Tall, vaulted ceilings give the church a wide-open, airy feeling.

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

Geometric floor tiles date renovations of the church to the 11th century

Mosaic Floor Tiles

The geometric pattern of the marble floor tiles date renovations of the church to the 11th century.

Faded wall fresco of St. Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas of Myra

A faded wall fresco of St. Nicholas of Myra adorns the wall of the church.

Arkadaslik Yachting t-shirt spotted on a visitor to the St. Nicholas Church in the Antalya province of Turkey

Arkadaslik Yachting visits St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, so Arkadaslik Yachting pays a visit to the saint's church in Demre while cruising near Antalya province, Turkey.

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

One of several sarcophagi located inside the church

Sarcophagus

One of several sarcophagi located inside the church. Based on the tomb's decorations, archaeologists have determined that this is NOT the tomb of St. Nicholas. However, his original tomb has still not been 100% confirmed.

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

The church is well-known for its faded fresco paintings depicting various religious scenes

Religious Fresco Paintings

The church is well-known for its faded fresco paintings depicting various religious scenes, including the full life story of St. Nicholas of Myra.

A statue of St. Nicholas, patron saint of children

Patron Saint of the Children

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children (and sailors). This statue of depicting the saint surrounded by children stands in the well-tended garden outside of the church.

intricate floor tile patterns can be found throughout the church

Intricate Floor Tiles

The intricacy of the marble floor tiles throughout the church is remarkable. The geometric pattern of this design dates the work to the 11th century.

Marble columns delineate the altar area of the old church

The Altar

Marble columns delineate the altar area of the old church. (Poor lighting inside the building makes it difficult to get good photographs.)

Arkadaslik Yachting visits the statue of St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors

Visiting the Statue of St. Nicholas

Arkadaslik Yachting visits the statue of St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

interior of the st. nicholas church in demre, turkey

Interior of the St. Nicholas Church

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

millions of feet have passed over the marble tiles on the church floors

Resilient Marble Flooring

Over the ages, millions of feet have passed over the marble tile work on the church's floors.

Photo provided courtesy of Arkadaslik Yachting guest S. Konschuk, Airdrie, Alberta, CANADA.

bronze statue depicting Nicholas as a saint

Statue of St. Nicholas

This bronze statue of Nicholas depicts him as a Saint. Pilgrims often touch or kiss St. Nicholas' toe / robe, which has, over time, polished a small section of the otherwise tarnished statue to a bright shine.

fresco in the domed ceiling of the church

Domed Ceiling

A faded fresco on the domed ceiling of the church depicts Jesus distributing the Eucharist to the 12 disciples.


Additional information about the St. Nicholas Church

Check out these resources for additional information about the St. Nicholas Church in Demre:

Visit our Blog - Project Arkadaslik

Guests on Arkadaslik gulet enjoy a Blue Voyage Mediterranean cruise along the coast of Turkey and Greece