Nestled in the heart of Antalya, the St. Nicholas Church, revered as the burial grounds of the Turkish-born saint better known to us as “Santa Claus”, has once again opened its doors to the public. This marvel of history and spirituality constructed more than a millennium and a half ago, has just undergone an 18-month comprehensive restoration. Located in the Demre district of the Mediterranean resort city, this architectural wonder is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
The St. Nicholas Church, initially built in 520 CE over the remnants of an even older sacred space, breathes a significant history of the region. The recent restoration process was meticulously carried out by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, focusing on the conservation and preservation of the church’s invaluable artifacts and structural features. The project included the addition of protective roofs ranging from the crypt to the dome, securing the heritage against the elements.
This exquisite historical site boasts an extensive collection of wall paintings and floor mosaics, a testament to Byzantine art and architectural brilliance. These crucial works of art have now been painstakingly restored, allowing visitors to once again appreciate their intricate beauty. In a bid to enhance the overall visitor experience, a new gallery space has also been installed on the second floor. In addition, efforts were made to improve accessibility to the site.
An engineering marvel in itself, the church resides 16 feet below the city settlement level and three feet below sea level. The recent restoration also aimed to fortify the site against potential damage from rain and groundwater, ensuring its survival for generations to come.
Speaking at the opening of the restored St. Nicholas Church, the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, shared his thoughts. He highlighted the church’s unique position as one of the most outstanding examples of Eastern Roman art, given its intricate architecture and decorations. He added that the site holds immense value for the Christian world. Furthermore, Ersoy expressed his confidence that the restored Church of St. Nicholas would now be able to accommodate more visitors and worshippers in the coming decades.
The St. Nicholas Church welcomes visitors every day from 8:30 am to 8 pm. If you’re eager to learn more about this historical gem, you can visit the official website here for more information..