St. Nicholas dig needs more land, says historian

By Hatice Ozdemir Tosun

ANTALYA, Turkey (AA) – To allow full excavation of the historic house in Turkey of St. Nicholas — also known as Santa Claus — the state must assume control of local land around the site, according to the chief historian on duty.

Archeologists have unearthed a number of artifacts and structures in the ancient city of Myra — located in Demre, in the picturesque Aegean region of Antalya — including the St. Nicholas Church, a site that draws many faith-based Christian tourists, said Sema Dogan, who heads excavation efforts.

Excavations have been continuing since 1989 under Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry and Hacettepe University, located in the capital Ankara, said Dogan, who also teaches art history at the university.

But privately owned land around the site has to be assumed by the state for the excavations to continue, she explained.

"We were able to unearth some very small sections of the monastery,” she said.

“There’s an important structure that we call the residence of the bishop [St. Nicholas] but unfortunately, the walls of this structure extend to the north, out of our territory."

There are other unexplored historic areas on adjacent land that now belongs to locals, but in order for the excavations to continue, all those properties have to be put under state control, she said.

"These structures are very important to us and in order for them to be explored, the greenery surrounding the area must be nationalized."

The historic St. Nicholas lived and died in the area in the fourth century A.D. The church containing its tomb was built some two centuries later.