Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Myra, the city of Saint Nicolas

Myra is one of the main travel destinations for every tourist in the area. What most people don't know is that Saint Nicolas is very much part of the Dutch folklore whose birthday is still being celebrated on the 6th of December (Sinterklaas). From Holland, the holy man wondered off to America where he was and still is honored as the Santa Claus we all know. However, Myra in Turkey is the true place to venerate this saint.

Although he was born in nearby Patara between 260 and 280 AD it is here in old Myra, today's town of Demre, that I find the St. Nicolas Church. Nicolas was a popular bishop, famous for his miracles and appreciated for his kindness.

The earliest church was built in the 6th century AD, supposedly over St. Nicolas' tomb. The church we see today, however, dates from the 9th century and was further rebuilt in 1042. It is no surprise that it lays in a deep pit, five meters below ground level like the rest of old Myra.

Based on its history, the mosaics and frescos don’t come as a surprise to me, but it is the general feeling about this church that is catching. The floor is covered with luxury marble mosaics and the Romanesque style windows beam the sparse light together to enhance a specific area. The mosaics show an endless combination of geometric patterns and motives like in Islamic times, completely lacking scenes of animals or plants. All the walls and the ceilings are still in place and it is not difficult to imagine the impact on the churchgoer of one thousand years ago.

The altar is a simple rectangular stone framed by four marble columns once holding up a canopy, I suppose, resting on the colorful mosaic floor. Behind it, the semi-circular seating in the apses is still in place, reminding me of the old synagogue of Sardes. At the edge of the step down to the nave, there are two taller and thicker columns crowned with lushly decorated capitals.

Along the outer walls of the side corridors, I see several tombs, including the sarcophagus of St. Nicolas. The cupolas and vaulted ceilings are still embellished with paintings of saints and apostles in vivid colors, especially after their restoration a few years ago. In other parts, I find only geometric design and I suppose those date from a later period. It all comes as a surprise to me for although I had no idea what to expect, I would say that it surpasses my wildest expectations!

Leaving the church through what may have been the main entrance, I walk over a paved courtyard with a water well, reminding me of those in the Florentine houses. A few more buildings are being excavated and the Corinthian columns and vaulted arches lead me to believe there was a monastery attached to this church.

I am pleasantly impressed by this church and I am glad I stopped to see it. Well, after all, it is listed as being the third most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia. That should mean something, right?

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