The western Mediterranean coast is dominated by the Beydaglar range of the Taurus Mountains. The roads which cling to the mountainside wind and climb above the sea level.

Driving through the Turquoise Coast which stretches to the west of Antalya, one could think that the name of the semiprecious stone should have come from the color of the sea. Actually, the name of the turquoise stone (French for “Turkish” ) refers to the trade of the material from the famous, still-active mines at Neyshabur, Iran, through Turkey to Europe.

Phaselis is an ancient city where only surface excavation has taken place. This is why it is still among pine trees and under green vegetation. The combination of ancient remains with a forest surrounded by sea on three sides makes it a beautiful national park.

History of Phaselis
Phaselis, located between the borders of Lycia and Pamphylia, was legendarily founded by colonists from Rhodes in 690 BC. Because the land was not suitable for agriculture, Phaselitans excelled as great traders. They are supposed to have bought the land in exchange for dried fish which led the emergence of a proverb “Phaselitan sacrifice” to be used for cheap offerings.

Phaselis was overrun by the Persians in the 6C BC and freed in the 5C BC. They minted coins in the 5C BC which show the bow of a ship on one side and the stern on the other. Phaselis proved its independence from Lycia by siding with Mausolus, the satrap of Caria, in the 4C BC. When Alexander the Great came in 333 BC they offered him a golden crown. This attitude showed Phaselitans’ reaction to authority. Phaselis was known as the most prominent port city to the west of the Gulf of Antalya, until the city of Attaleia was founded in the 2C BC. In the 2C BC Phaselis became part of the Lycian Federation, but in the 1C BC was overrun and plundered by Cilician pirates.

Their obsequious behavior showed itself upon Hadrian’s visit to Phaselis in the 2C AD when they built numerous buildings and erected statues dedicated to him. In the 7C and 8C Phaselis flourished as a fleet base under Byzantium. In the 12C it was inhabited by the Seljuk Turks until it was abandoned in the following century.

The Site
Near the parking lot the first thing that catches the eye is an Aqueduct. Three harbors of Phaselis, north, city and south, are arranged around a 400-meter-long (1,310 ft) peninsula on which most of the city is situated. These harbors served the city’s trade activities, particularly the export of local timber, rose and lily oil. The North Harbor was the key point in terms of defense. The City Harbor had a sea wall and the harbor entrance between two towers which could be closed in times of danger. The South Harbor is the largest and protected by a long breakwater most of which is under water. This was for the loading and unloading of larger ships. Between the middle harbor and the monumental gate near the south harbor is the Main Street. On both sides of the 22-meter-wide (72 ft) main street are important Roman and Byzantine public buildings, baths complex, agora and suchlike. The Monumental Gate, built of gray-white marble blocks, was erected in the 2C AD in honor of Hadrian’s visit and bears a dedication to him. The Roman Theater which probably had replaced an earlier Hellenistic theater, lies to the east of the main street on the hillside of the Acropolis and dates from the 2C AD.

The ancient city of Myra, located a few kilometers out of Demre in the north, was one of the earliest Lycian cities. Myra was renowned throughout centuries as the city where St. Nicholas had lived in the 4C AD.

History of Myra
Although according to ancient sources the name of Myra only goes back as early as 1C BC, the inscriptions or coins found imply that it must have been from the 5C BC. Myra was always one of the most important cities in Lycia, and during the Hellenistic period was one of the six cities in the Lycian League that had the maximum quota of three votes at meetings of the federation.

When St. Paul was being taken as a prisoner to Rome in 60 AD, his ship called at Myra.

In the Byzantine period Myra was a prominent city not only for religious reasons but also from an administrative point of view. During the reign of Theodosius II Myra became the capital of Lycia. However, in the Turkish period it was abandoned.

The Site

The ruins consist mainly of a theater and some of the best examples of Lycian rock-cut tombs. The rest of the city has not been excavated yet. The acropolis, as expected, is at the top of the hill.

The Roman Theater is well preserved. In the center of the two-meter-high wall (6.5 ft) backing the diazoma, near the stairs leading to the upper rows is a figure of Tyche, the Goddess of fortune, with an inscription “Victory and good fortune to the city beneath”. The stage building, like in all Roman theaters, is very ornate.

The 4C BC Rock-cut Tombs, some with temple facades and beautifully carved reliefs representing the dead and their families or warriors, are among the most fascinating remains of Anatolia. Inscriptions are usually in Lycian. These house types are believed to have copied the dwellings of the early inhabitants of the region.

Climbing up the tombs is dangerous and not allowed.

St. Nicholas (c.300-350 AD)

Saint Nicholas was born in Patara and became the bishop of the Christian church of Myra, in Lycia, about whom little is known with certainty. His reputation for generosity and compassion is best exemplified in the legend that relates how Nicholas saved a poor man from a life of prostituting his three daughters. On three separate occasions the bishop is said to have tossed a bag of gold through the family’s window, thus providing a dowry to procure for each daughter an honorable marriage. The story provides the foundation for the custom, still practiced in many countries, of giving gifts in celebration of the saint’s day, which was December 6. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children and sailors. Variations of his name range from Sant Nikolaas to Sante Klaas to Santa Claus; he is known as Father Christmas in England, Grandfather Frost in Russia, Pere Noel in France and Saint Nick in the United States.

Noel Baba Kilisesi (The Church of St. Nicholas)

St. Nicholas was buried in a tomb outside the city of Myra over which a chapel was subsequently erected. In the 6C it was replaced by a large church. This church is located in the town of Demre. The building was damaged by the Arab raids then repaired and surrounded with walls by Constantine IX and the Empress Zoë in the 11C. At the end of the 11C Italians from Bari stole the bones of St. Nicholas breaking his sarcophagus and built a famous pilgrimage church over his mortal remains in Bari. Several relics of St. Nicholas such as fragments of his jawbone and skull, are today kept in the Archeological Museum of Antalya. In the museum each year on December 6, the commemoration day of the saint, the Turkish government sponsors a St. Nicholas symposium attended by both scholars and clerics. On the same day a religious service is held in the church of St. Nicholas in Demre.

The church in Demre was restored a few times in the 19C and 20C. It has gained more popularity since 1950 because of its association with Santa Claus. The church is preceded by an atrium and a double narthex. The walls were covered with 11C and 12C frescoes fragments of which are still visible. The floor was decorated with mosaics of geometric designs. In the apse of the central nave is the synthronon, semicircular rows of seats for the clergy, with a special place for the bishop’s throne and a walkway underneath. The central nave is separated from the side aisles by arcades. The roof was originally domed but covered with a vault during restorations.

The south aisle of the church, between two pillars and behind a broken marble screen, contains a damaged sarcophagus in which St. Nicholas is thought to have been buried. The lid does not belong to the sarcophagus. Where St. Nicholas was actually buried is still unknown. However, the processional way that led directly to the second south aisle was perhaps intended for pilgrims visiting the tomb.

In the niches of aisles are a number of 2C AD Roman marble sarcophagi taken there from Myra and reused for the entombment of church dignitaries. In the narthex there is a fresco depicting Deesis.


Kekova is a name given to the most scenic area in Lycia along the Turquoise Coast. It covers a large area consisting of Kekova Island, Kale (Castle) village and Ucagiz (the Three Mouths) village. Although there is a winding road that reaches this area, it is easier and more pleasant to go there by boat which takes about two hours either from Kas or Demre. A sunken city was formed by the submergence of ancient cities probably due to earthquakes. The Tersane (shipyard) can still be seen on the shore of Kekova Island. Both the sunken city and the Tersane are thought to be from either the Lycian or Byzantine period, but neither of them has been excavated. On a narrow section of the western side of the island are the ruins of a Byzantine Church with its apse still visible.

The village of Kale has been identified as the Lycian town of Simena where there is still a settlement with stone cottages mixed in with Lycian and Roman remains. A Lycian sarcophagus standing in the shallows of the harbor of Simena is the most notable ruin. Other remains in the village are a 1C AD Roman baths complex, a medieval castle with its walls still standing to their full height, a small theater carved out of rock for approximately 300 people, cisterns and a necropolis with sarcophagi and rock-cut tombs out of the walls of the castle.