At one time one of the most important cities in Lycia, Myra almost has passed into obscurity. In addition to some interesting tombs and a theater, the most enduring legacy of ancient Myra is the tradition that developed around its most famous resident and bishop, St. Nicholas, who was the historical person behind the legend of Santa Claus. Popular etymology explained the name of the city as being derived from the Greek word for myrrh, an aromatic spice, but this is unlikely. Myra was a city in the Lycian region of Anatolia, along the Mediterranean coast approximately 85 miles southeast of modern Antalya. The ruins of ancient Myra lie about a mile north of Demre (or Kale), a small town along highway 400, the coastal road. Signs in the town point the way to Myra. The ancient city was considered a port city, even though it was about 3.5 miles from the coast. Its port was actually Andriace, but the name Myra often included the city proper and its port at Andriace. Thus, for example, when Acts 27:5 states that the ship carrying Paul landed at Myra, the actual port would likely have been Andriace. Whether Paul and the others with him went to Myra after disembarking from the ship is not known. The Myrus, or Andracus, River (Demre Çayï) flowed past the city on its way to the Mediterranean. Settled probably as early as the 5th century B.C.E., Myra became one of the leading cities of the Lycian League by the 2nd century B.C.E. Myra was one of the six most important members of the league, which consisted of twenty-three cities. As such, it was entitled to three votes in the league (the maximum allowed). In spite of its importance, the city does not seem to have played a major role in ancient history. During Roman times the city apparently enjoyed good relations with Rome. Augustus (and after him, Tiberius as well) was honored by the people of Myra by their bestowing on him the title of “imperator of land and sea, benefactor and savior of the whole universe.”
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