May 2, 2002. Today we traveled to Myra and Kokeva. Myra is the home of St. Nicolas and is famous as well for its rock tombs. Kokeva is an island that suffered an earthquake causing the city to sink into the sea.
The travel firm picked us up at 8:20 AM. Since the Sheraton lies to the west, we were the last ones picked up and got the worst seats on the bus. Our guide was named Derby and he was knowledgeable, but not as good-natured as Berhan had been. There were five people from the United States (one was of Peruvian origin, but he was married to an American woman and they lived in Wisconsin). One was an American teacher on a teacher swap and was living in Romania. The other two were we. We had four people from Belgium, two German’s (who spoke no English), and two from Switzerland. As we left Antalya, Derby told us some of the same background stories on Turkey.
The drive west toward Myra is beautiful. The scenery is similar to Colorado; rugged mountains, lot’s of evergreens, etc. It was a little more lush than Colorado, and since we were driving a coastal road, had the added beauty of the sea, bays, and islands off the coast. The round trip was 180 miles (300 km). We stopped at Phaelis Park for a break about one hour into the drive. From here we went on to Myra and to the tombs. There was a fee to enter of 5,000,000 Turkish Liras (about $3.60). Again we went through a number of tent type shops before getting there. Suddenly you are among massive fallen stones monuments (or pieces of them) looking at a mountainside with tombs carved into them. The tombs were carved into the shape of either a house or temple. On one you could see figures of two soldiers carved in the top of what appeared to be the gable of the roof. There was something very moving and magnificent about these tombs. All of the tombs had been vandalized. Often time there were treasures of sorts buried with the dead. Also, the religion of the Romans and Greeks had a tradition of placing a gold coin into the mouth of the deceased to pay the ferryman of the river Styx.
Beside the tomb there is a theater and the many stone blocks from the beginning of the excavation of the site. Our guide told us they would be excavating the Agora over the next few years.
The theater, though not as complete as the one at Aspendos is well worthwhile to visit. There were a number of examples of VIP chairs near the stage itself. Again the sculptures were magnificent.
We then went to the church of St. Nicolas. Evidently, Myra was controlled by Russia for a number of years in the nineteenth century because they had restored the roof. Myra and the church were abandoned in the 12th Century so this church was never converted to a Mosque. However over the years it was left to ruin. When the Russians controlled Myra, they renovated it. In the 11th Century a group of Italian merchants broke into the tomb of St. Nicolas and stole his bones (this was the age of religious relics).
St. Nicolas was born in 280 AD. He studied Christina theology. In 314 AD, Constantine issued the edict of Milan granting religious freedom to Christians. Nicolas became the bishop of Myra after this edict.
Some apocryphal stories about St. Nicolas follow.
How he became bishop of Myra. When the edict of Milan was issued, cities around the empire scrambled to name bishops. In Myra there was a dispute over who should be elected bishop. One night all the priests in Myra had the same dream. In it, an angel appear to them and told them the first person in the church whose name would be Nicolas was meant to be the bishop. The next morning all the priest discussed their dream and immediately went to the church. St. Nicolas came into the church. They asked his name and when he told them, they rejoiced in the miracle. St. Nicolas was declared bishop. He reigned as bishop of Myra until his death in 343.
Why we hand stocking by the fireplace. Nicolas was not only the bishop of Myra, but he was wealthy as well. One day he passed a poor man’s house. This man had three daughters, but he was so poor he had no money for a dowry for even one of them. Nicolas heard the daughters talking with each insisting that they would sell themselves into slavery so the others could marry. Nicolas was so moved that he took a bag of gold he was carrying and threw it through the window. The money was enough to dower the eldest daughter.
The next night, Nicolas again came by the poor man’s house and tossed another bag of gold through the window, enough for the second daughter’s dowry. ON the third night, when he came by he found the poor man had fixed the house up a bit and had installed glass in the window. St. Nicolas went up to the roof and tossed the third bag of gold down the chimney. The daughters had hung their stockings to dry by the chimney and the gold fell into the stockings.