Santa is dead!
Depending on your religious mood and sense of humour, Demre is quite a place to visit. Honestly, this is the very town where St. Nicholas was buried. And who is he? St=Santa, Nicholas=Claus. He may not have worn a red robe, but he is the origin of the legend on which modern day ideas about Santa Claus emerge.
Demre is a modern continuation of Myra, which has its ancient centre located just north of the modern town. Demre is a must for certain groups of travellers, there are a lot of Russians here throughout the day. Greeks and Italians also consider Demre with much religious attention.
The legends of St. Nicholas may not stand the test of historical methods, but the importance of the legend to Christian folklore certainly does. The historical facts about him was that he was born in 300 and became bishop of Myra. The legend, but not history, tells that he was a present-giver on wide scale. The historical version relates to only one incident, him giving three sisters money to help them avoid prostitution.
St. Nicholas came to fame some time after his death, with several stories about miraculous events at his grave. In the 11th century a monastery and a the church that still exists was built here. The church was originally a 3 aisled basilica with a fourth aisle added later. In the 19th century, the Russian Tsar ordered a restoration here, by which the the central nave became topped by a vaulted ceiling, replacing the original cupola.
The sarcophagus, the centre of the attention of the many tourists that turn into pilgrims for an hour or two here, is generally not considered genuine. That's not all; as the story goes, in 1087 the bones of St. Nicholas were taken from the grave and brought to Italy. That story is, however, contested. Another story tells that the bones ended up in Russia.
The central square of Demre has a humourous decoration, more fun to take in the hotter the day: A grand statue of a chubby Santa, dressed up with the red disneyesque robe. Topping a high base, he rules the town as a president or a liberation hero.
The Church of St. Nicholas is open 8.00-19.00, winter and spring it closes between 17.00 and 18.00. In order to have the place in peace and quiet, come here the first or last hour. Admission is 10 lira.
Demre has a handful of hotels, ranging from basic to fair standards. There are many restaurants in town, which all aim at tour groups. The food, service and price level is reflection of this, making Demre not the ideal place to dine.
There are good public connections to other urban centres in this part of Turkey. Heading out to Myra is clearly best done with a taxi, hired one way at a time. Walking is feasible, taking 20-30 minutes, but you may have to ask for directions a few times.