Monday, 14 March 2011

Gemiler Island (St. Nicholas Island)

Gemiler Island also known as the Island of St Nicholas is located on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey between Olu Deniz and Fethiye. The Island is only small approximately 1000m long by 400m wide but that small area is littered with the remains of an historic monastic retreat containing among other things the original resting place of St Nicholas. The Island offers the perfect opportunity to take a break from sunbathing and spend an hour exploring the medieval remains, that for centuries attracted pilgrims from all over Christendom. On the island are the remains of four churches, related religious buildings, Byzantine dwellings, harbour, cistern, stone tombs, graveyard and ceremonial passageway. The views from the top of the Island across the Mediterranean and back inland are also quite stunning and well worth the walk.

The Tomb of St Nicholas
St Nicholas better known now days as Father Christmas or Santa Claus was the Bishop of Myra, which is just a few miles from from Gemiler Island in modern day Demre.
Archaeologists believe that after his death on the 6th of December 343AD he was buried on Gemiler island. The Island became an attraction for local pilgrimages and pilgrims from afar who would stop off on their way to Jerusalem to visit the shrine. Paying homage at the basilica that housed St Nicholas's remains, where you can still see faded frescos depicting scenes from his life. Around 650AD the remains were removed to the safety of Myra after the island was repeatedly attacked by Arab pirates forcing the inhabitants to abandon the settlement in favour of nearby Kayakoy.

Later St Nicholas's remains were again removed by a special expedition in 1087 to the city of Bari in Italy making the Bishop quite well travelled for someone who had been deceased for over 700 years. The church that housed the remains is referred to as the third church and is on the highest part of the Island at the top of the ceremonial passage. The remains were believed to have been kept below the alter.

Getting there
Most vistors discover St Nicholas Island either on one of the many Island hoping tours that come from Fethiye and Olu Deniz or by walking down from Kayakoy and geting a boat across the half mile stretch of water from Gemiler bay.


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