Myra - Muri

The ancient city of Myra is located in modern day Demre, a district of Antalya. Andriake, the port settlement of Myra, is about 5 km southwest. It is thought that the Lycian name of the city is Muri and derives from the myrrh tree (commiphora myrrha) used in the production of Myra oil (Myrrh). Strabon writes that Myra is one of the 6 major cities, each with 3 voting rights in the Lycian League. The city was a rich and crowded metropolis, thanks to its port Andriake, which was an important point on the Mediterranean trade routes, and the fertile lands around it. It was the principal mint of the region and also leading a sympolitea formed with Tyberissos and Teimiusa in the Late Hellenistic period. Myra preserved its metropolis status until the Byzantine period. It was the most important political center of Lycia since the beginning of Christianity. St. Paul visited Myra and Patara in the 1st century BCE during his missionary journey. However, the city owes its real fame to St. Nicholas, who was born in Patara but founded his church in Myra in the 4th century CE to spread Christianity.
Luigi Mayer was the first researcher to visit Myra and Andriake harbor during his travels between 1776 and 1794 through the Ottoman Empire. The first comprehensive archaeological surveys were carried out by Jürgen Borchhardt between 1965 and 1968. Regular excavations were started by Nevzat Çevik in 2009.
The ancient city and its port Andriake owe both their existence and disappearance to River Myros. The delta, formed by the alluvium brought by Myros (Demre) River, offers fertile plains suitable for settlement both in ancient Myra and today’s Demre. However, it also silted up the entire city and the mouth of the Andriake harbor, causing the decline of the settlements. Today’s Demre sits on an alluvial fill covering the ancient Myra with an average height of 4-9 m.
Archaeological data start from the dynastic period. The Acropolis is on a 140 m high hill to the west of the Myros River. The walls surrounding the summit bear traces from the dynastic to the Byzantine period. It is thought that the rock-carved space that forms an area of 25×15 m in the acropolis was used as a meeting place. All of the buildings on the plain belong to the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Roman period theater, which is the largest in Lycia with a capacity of 11 thousand spectators, was built on a Hellenistic one. Two other well-preserved structures of the Roman period are the nymphaion and the bath. The Church of St. Nicholas was probably built on the site of the Roman agora. The most magnificent building group of Myra is the dynastic period rock tombs. The city has three separate necropolises: the Sea Necropolis (Western Necropolis) to the west of the theatre, the Southern Necropolis to the east of the theatre, and the River Necropolis (Eastern Necropolis) to the east of the acropolis, overlooking the Myros Stream. There are 104 rock tombs in total and most of them are dated to the 4th century BCE. Of the 23 inscriptions encountered on the tombs, 13 are in Lycian and 10 in Greek. Despite their typological differences, almost all of the tombs in Myra are of the “house-tomb” type particular to Lycia with their rock façades imitating the wooden building architecture.

Eastern (River) Necropolis of Myra
The Painted Tomb

Located in the River Necropolis of Myra, Painted Tomb is probably the most famous of the numerous rock tombs of the city. Both inside the tomb and on both sides of its exterior, there are reliefs of human figures carved in realistic dimensions. The tomb owner, shown in civilian clothes among 11 other figures, who were probably the members of his family. Distinctly the tomb does not have any warrior or hunter scenes, which are frequently seen in other Lycian tombs. It is dated between 360-340 BCE. Color paintings made by George Scharf during the visit of Charles Fellows in 1840 show that the reliefs were once painted in vibrant colors. Some remnants of that paint is still visible today. The relief of a naked boy that was on the pillar of the lower floor tomb chamber façade was dismantled in the 19th century and is exhibited in the Athens Museum today.

The Lion’s Tomb

The tomb located in the River Necropolis differs from other tombs with its ionic temple façade. It is so named because of the relief depicting a lion and bull fighting on the triangular pediment. In addition, on the frieze above the tomb door, the owner and his family are depicted with a classical funerary symposium scene. There are reliefs of a lion’s head on plaster half columns on both sides of the door. The reliefs of “Artemis Myrhh”, the goddess of plants of Myra, are engraved on the sides of these lion heads. Borchhardt dates it to the third quarter of the 4th century BCE.

Southern Necropolis of Myra
Western (Sea) Necropolis of Myra
Hurttuweti’s Tomb

It is located in the Sea Necropolis and distinguished with the rock reliefs carved on the exterior of the tomb. It is understood that along with two tombs right below this tomb belongs to the same family and it was built by a person named Hurttuweti, as stated in the Lycian inscription found on one of the tombs below. In life-size reliefs, the tomb owner Hurttuweti, is shown lying on the kline with two females, possibly his wife and daughter, at his bedside. On the left of this scene, there are four warrior/hero figures, possibly depicting the tomb owner Hurttuweti who might have been a noble in Myra. While all researchers agree for dating the tomb to the 4th century BCE, they waver on the specifics. Borchhardt proposes a date in the 3rd quarter, while Seyer suggests the 2nd quarter of the 4th century BCE.

Borchhardt, J. 1975. Myra – Eine lykische Metropole in antiker und byzantinischer Zeit, 1st Forsch 30, Berlin. Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin.
Çevik, N. 2021. Lykia Kitabı: Arkeolojisi, Tarihi ve Kültürüyle Batı Antalya, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara.
Çevik, N. 2016. ‘The City Breathing Myrrh: Myra’, in From Lukka to Lycia: The Land of Sarpedon and St. Nicholas, eds. H. İşkan & E. Dündar, 224-237, İstanbul.
Fellows, C. 1841. An Account of Discoveries of Lycia: Being a Journal Kept During a Second Excursion in Asia Minor, London.
Fellows, C. 1847. Lycia, Caria, Lydia, illustrated Mr. George Scharf with descriptive letter-press by Sir Charles Fellows, London.
Mayer, L. 1803. Views in the Ottoman Empire, London.
Seyer, M. 2008. ‘Das Grabmal des Hurttuweti in Myra’, ÖJh 77, 335–362.
Texier, C. 1849. Description de l’Asie Mineure, Vol.3, Paris.
Tıbıkoğlu, H. O. 2021. Myra Kaya Mezarları, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Akdeniz University, Antalya.

Image sources:
L. Mayer, 1803
L. F. Cassas, 1808 (© Victoria and Albert Museum)
C. Fellows, 1841, 1847
C. Texier, 1849
Reha Özer, 2022
Bora Bilgin, 2022, 2024
Tayfun Bilgin, 2022, 2024
Ertuğrul Anıl, 2024