St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas Route 

Imagine uncovering the roots of a globally recognized symbol, or the place where a legend was born. St. Nicholas’ journey takes us from his birthplace of Patara to the neighbouring village of Gelemiş, St. Nicholas Island, also known as Gemile Island; between Ölüdeniz and Fethiye, and Demre, also known as Myra in ancient times. 

When we think of St. Nicholas from history and pop culture, we often recognise him under the moniker of Santa Claus. Often depicted as an old man in red and white clothing, driving a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer and bringing gifts to children. But this legend had more humble beginnings. St. Nicholas was born in the 6th century. 

Starting at his birthplace is the ancient city of Patara in Türkiye, where the journey begins, adjacent is the village of Gelemiş where he spent his youth and where the memory of the saint is celebrated. After his education, Saint Nicholas became the bishop of ancient Myra, today’s city of Demre. Here there is a church built in memory of Nicholas, where his tomb is also located. On this route you can walk in the footsteps of Saint Nicholas, visiting all the places in a few days and enjoying the beauty of nature and historical heritage they offer.

The exceptionally well-preserved ruins of Patara will attract your attention. Among the most visited structures are the theatre, the restored boule (town hall), the lighthouse, the triumphal arch, the main street lined with columns, a temple, and numerous chapels.  

A large part of the ancient city has been buried under the sand dunes carried by the Mediterranean Sea. The shifting sand has created one of the longest and most beautiful beaches on the entire Mediterranean coast and is known as Patara Beach and as a nesting site for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). 

Staying within the vicinity, we come to the original resting place of old St. Nicholas before his remains were moved to the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre. From Fethiye, a pleasant hiking trail leads to Gemile Bay, from where you can either take a small boat or swim the short distance to St. Nicholas Island. 

It is also known as Gemile Island, which means ‘island of boats’. The enclosed bay behind it has long served as an anchorage for yachts and ships, as the waters there are calm and sheltered. You can visit the beautiful remnants of the five churches on the island or join one of the daily boat tours and stop for a spot of lunch and a swim, or marvel at the countless boats moored in the bay for a quiet night on the turquoise waters.

Continuing east again to Antalya, passing through Kaş, we eventually come to where Saint Nicholas served as the bishop, the city of Demre, for which he is synonymous with the city. Also known as Myra in ancient times, you can learn more about the life of Saint Nicholas by visiting his house, which has been converted into a museum today. 

The church of St. Nicholas was built upon his last resting place. Visiting the church, you can admire colourful frescoes and mosaics, and the main chapel dominated by masterful stone work, including the stone altar and the four columns around it, and there are many corridors, one of which leads to the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas. 

The 11th century church now also houses the Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi). 

Further away and further inland from the town square and the statue of St. Nicholas, you can explore the extent and natural wonders of the landscape of ancient Myra, the mysterious limestone rock tombs and the rock-hewn mountain wall that is the necropolis of ancient Myra. After a long day, the nearby Hellenistic theatre is an ideal place to rest. A well-preserved and magnificent sight, where locals quietly watch the sunset or the sunrise.