Most people think of snow white landscapes with Rudolph and elves when asking themselves ‘Where is Santa Claus?’ But the truth is Santa Claus might be nowhere near that cold scenery. In fact, you’ll need to look at the Mediterranean to find Santa. Scientists and researchers claim that Santa Claus’s tomb lies under Saint Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey. Who knew that a visit to Turkey could be combined with a trip to Santa? So, if not in the cold North, then where is Santa Claus?
The legend of Saint Nicholas
How come Santa Claus is to be found in Turkey? That’s because of the myth of Saint Nicholas, after whom this church is named. Very little is known about St. Nicholas who was born around 300 in Patara, apart from the fact that he became bishop of Myra, and died around 350. Probably this lack of evidence has helped to keep alive the legends fabricated over time, many of which involve him helping the poor and young people. After his death, Saint Nicholas was buried in Demre (then Myra) and became the patron saint of children, virgins, sailors, and seafarers. As more pilgrims visited his tomb, his popularity grew, as did the legends. That is how Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra eventually ended up being known as a bearded man who brings toys. In Belgium and the Netherlands, he goes by the name of Sinterklaas and he is known as St. Nick in most of Europe, where he brings his gifts on December 6. In North America, he became Santa Claus, bearing gifts at Christmas. The European children are lucky, for they too have Father Christmas, making December the most exciting month to receive presents for children in Europe.
St. Nicholas Church
This is the church where St. Nicholas was buried. Over the course of time, the church was damaged by earthquakes and Arab invasions. At one point, the relics of Saint Nicholas were stolen from the church and taken to Bari’s Cathedral in Italy. Turkish archaeologists now claim they have evidence that the bones taken from Myra were not those of St. Nicholas, but belonged to another priest. The recent discovery of an intact temple below the church supports that theory. While the church is not the most attractive building when seen from the outside, its fascinating interior testifies to an even more intriguing history. The Byzantine church dates back to the 11th-century, and what you see today is the result of restorations and extensions carried out in different periods. The church has some spectacular mosaics, frescoes, domes, and tombs.
Practical information to get to Demre
Next time someone asks ‘Where is Santa Claus’? You’ll know. He’s in Turkey. That is not a legend, but a fact. At least, that is what scientists claim. The archaeologists on site are convinced they will find Saint Nicholas’s remains undamaged in the temple. By visiting the church early morning or late afternoon, you can avoid the crowds, making your visit a more satisfying experience. Demre lies about 50km east of Kaş and approximately 80km southwest of Çıralı and Olympos. You’ll find it on our map together with a map search function for more Turkey travel inspiration.
To further help you prepare your trip to Turkey, we’ve bundled all resources on one page. It contains the links to the official visa application website, FastTrack through Istanbul airport links and plenty more.
The nearest airport is Antalya, which has easy connections with Istanbul airports if required. You’ll find cheap flight options here.