Gemiler Island home of the original Santa Claus
The island is also known as the Island of St Nicholas and is located on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast between Oludeniz Beach and Fethiye. Its small space is scattered with 1500-year-old Byzantine ruins, including the remains of an old monastic retreat.
Among other interesting bits and pieces, the ruins contain the original resting place of St Nicholas. Yes, the original Santa. He was the original Bishop of Myra, a few kilometres down the coast in modern-day Demre. After his death (thought to be on December 6, 343AD) he was buried on the island. You can still see frescoes showing events from his life.
However, after the island was attacked by Arab pirates in 650AD St Nicholas’s remains were moved to nearby Myra. The inhabitants of the island also abandoned the island around this time, retreating to nearby Kayakoy.
Described on Italian medieval maritime charts as St Nicholas Island, Gemiler was once a prime stop on the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. For centuries the island drew Christian pilgrims from all over the world, who would stop and replenish their supplies and pray that the rest of their journey would be safe.
Gemiler Island is unusual when compared to other ancient cities: there are no public buildings, theatres, baths or agora. Simply the remnants of four churches, a few early Fethiye homes, tombs, a graveyard and a cistern.
Today you can still explore the remains of these early churches, which still have visible mosaics and frescoes. You can even walk up a processional passageway to the cathedral church.
If you walk to the top of the island you’ll be rewarded with the most incredible views of the Mediterranean, and back over the Fethiye mainland from which you’ve travelled. The rocky bays of the island are often quiet, even in the height of summer. Take your snorkelling gear with you and explore the peaceful shores.
Some visitors discover Gemiler Island on an island-hopping tour. These leave from Fethiye Town or Oludeniz Beach. Another way to get there is to walk down to Kayakoy (in itself a lovely activity) and paying someone to take you across the kilometre-long stretch of water by boat. Make sure you haggle - and arrange for a pick up time.
People who live in Fethiye year round tell us that this lovely island makes a fantastic picnic spot even during the winter months. It’s local gems like Gemiler Island that make buying an apartment or family villa in Fethiye one of the best decisions you’ll make.