Myra is an ancient town in Lycia, where the small town of Kale (Demre) is situated today in present day Antalya Province of Turkey. It was located on the river Myros (Demre Çay), in the fertile alluvial plain between Alaca Dağ, the Massikytos range and the Aegean Sea.
Although some scholars equate Myra with the town Mira in Arzawa, there is no proof for the connection. There is no substantiated written reference for Myra before it was listed as a member of the Lycian alliance (168 BC - AD 43); according to Strabo (14:665) it was one of the largest towns of the alliance.
The ruins of the Lycian and Roman town are mostly covered by alluvial silts. The Acropolis on the Demre-plateau, the Roman theatre and the Roman baths (eski hamam) have been partly excavated. The semi-circular theater was destroyed in an earthquake in 141, but rebuilt afterwards.
There are two necropoli of Lycian rock-cut tombs in the form of temple-fronts carved into the vertical faces of cliffs at Myra: the river-necropolis and the ocean-necropolis. The best known tomb in the river-necropolis is the "Lion's tomb." When the traveller Charles Fellows saw the tombs in 1840 he found them still colorfully painted red, yellow and blue.
Andriake was the harbour of Myra in classical times, but silted up later on.
In early Christian times, Myra was the metropolis of Lycia. The town is traditionally associated with Saint Paul, who changed ships in its harbor. Saint Nicholas of Myra was the bishop of Myra in the 4th century, and was an ardent opponent of Arianism at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Myra became the capital of the Byzantine Eparchy of Lycia under Theodosius II, who reigned from 408 to 450.
After a siege in 809, Myra fell to Abbasid troops under Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The town went into a decline afterwards. Early in the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (ruled between 1081 - 1118), Myra was again overtaken by Islamic invaders, this time the Seljuk Turks. In the confusion, sailors from Bari in Italy seized the relics of Saint Nicholas, over the objections of the monks caring for them, and spirited the remains away to Bari, where they arrived on May 9, 1087, and soon brought that city visitors making pilgrimage to Saint Nicholas.
The earliest church of St. Nicholas at Myra was built in the 6th century. The present-day church was constructed mainly from the 8th century onward; a monastery was added in the second half of the 11th century.
In 1863, Tsar Alexander II of Russia purchased the building and began restoration, but the work was never finished. In 1963 the eastern and southern sides of the church were excavated. In 1968 the former confessio (tomb) of St. Nicholas was roofed over.
The floor of the church is made of opus sectile, a mosaic of coloured marble, and there are some remains of frescoes on the walls. An ancient Greek marble sarcophagus had been reused to bury the Saint; but his bones were stolen in 1087 by merchants from Bari, and are now held in the cathedral of that city.
The church is currently undergoing restoration. In 2007, after several years of refusal, the Turkish Ministry of Culture gave permission for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated in the church for the first time in centuries.