Demre is where Saint Nicholas, who later became known as Father Christmas, made his reputation as bishop of the Greco-Roman diocese of Myra in the first half of the 4th century. Among his good deeds, St. Nicholas is said to have carried out nocturnal visits to the houses of local children to leave gifts, including gold coins as dowries for poor village girls; if a window was closed, said the storytellers, he would drop the gifts down the chimney.
Demre was once one of the most important cities along the coast. An ancient theater and some rock-cut tombs offer proof, but its remains lie mostly under the concrete of the modern urban center and the large greenhouses that dominate the hillside to the north. Now primarily an agricultural region (it’s known as the tomato capital of Turkey), tourists typically view Demre as a quick stopover on their trip along the coast.