Press Release

Sunday, September 4, 2005

The Event

A special event was held on September 4, 2005, at St. Nicholas Church in Myra – Demre, Antalya, Turkey, to inaugurate the opening to public view the newly restored wall paintings in the Church. The conservation of the richly decorated Southern Burial Chamber forms a significant part of the wall painting documentation and conservation – restoration works being carried out since 2000. The Project is being sponsored with the amount of $25,000 annually by the Vehbi Koç Foundation of Istanbul, with equivalent funding by other sources. Within this framework, the Project has been supported by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (2003-2004), the Antalya Administration (2002), the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at Fener (2001) and the World Monuments Fund - Samuel H. Kress Foundation (2000). Thanks to both the Onassis and Koç Foundations, in a very interesting case of Hellenic-Turkish collaboration, this important project will continue in 2005.

The Alternate Governor of Antalya, Mr. Erkan Isilgan, the Ambassador of Greece to Turkey, H.E. Mr. Georgios Gennimatas, the President of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, Mr. Anthony Papadimitriou, the Honorary President of the Koç Group, Mr. Rahmi Koç, the Head of Excavations, Professor Yildiz Otüken of the University of Hacettepe and the Bishop of Myra, Mr. Chrysostomos Kalaitzis honoured the inauguration event with their presence and also addressed the audience. At the event, also present were the Governor of the District of Demre, Mr. Mustafa Masalti, the Mayor of Demre, Mr. Süleyman Topçu, the Director of Excavations and Museums of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Ilhan Kaymaz, the Mayor of Kastellorizo, the Deputy Mayor of Rhodes, representatives of the Turkish Political Scene, Academicians, Ambassadors of Foreign Countries, Professors and members of the team of excavations and many more. The guests toured the excavation site and enjoyed the results of the restoration works for the protection of this valuable monument.

Protection Works

The Church and its close environs were registered as a 1st-degree archaeological site in 1982, and also placed on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. An excavation campaign is active since 1989, the reports of which are published by Prof. Dr. Yildiz Otuken of Hacettepe University at Ankara, who is the head of the excavation.

A five-year program was formed within the scope of the excavation, w ith the aim of addressing the urgent issues of humidity and drainage problems adversely affecting the frescoes, mosaics and excavated structures . The St. Nicholas Church Project at Myra – Demre focuses on the documentation and conservation – restoration of wall paintings, as well as other urgent interventions such as architectural consolidation. The project annually receives $25,000 from the Vehbi Koç Foundation, conditional to match funding from other bodies. Organizations that have given support are the the Alexander S. Oasis Public Benefit Foundation (2003-4), Antalya Governorship (2002), the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at Fener (2001) and World Monuments Fund – Samuel H. Kress Foundation (2000). Thanks to the kind support of the Koç and Onassis Foundations, a one-year extension of the project for 2005 has been possible, which is hoped to continue for a longer period.

As the main project components, the documentation works for wall paintings and architectural spaces is being carried out by a team of experts from KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture Ltd, led by architect Cengiz Kabaoglu, and the conservation – restoration works by a team led by archeologist and restorer T. Rıdvan Isler. The restored and documented wall paintings are analyzed and interpreted by art historian Dr. Nilay Coragan Karakaya of Erciyes University.

The Church

The Church of St. Nicholas survives today as a mid-Byzantine domed basilica, ranked among specialists as the third important Byzantine structure present in Anatolia. It is of cardinal importance both as an architectural and religious monument, being named after St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Bishop of Myra who attained widespread fame for performing miracles, particularly in defense of the innocent. His cult spread beyond the Byzantine Empire in the 6th -11th centuries, celebrated especially in the East Church under Russian imperial patronage.

The town of Myra, declared metropolis of Lycia by Emperor Theodosius II, was a holy place and an important object of conquest, drawing the likes of Harun al Rashid, the merchants of Bari, and the Venetians, and a pilgrimage spot en route to Jerusalem, as St. Paul is recorded to have passed through here in 60 A.D.

The significance of the Church of St. Nicholas lies largely in the remarkable mural frescoes depicting religious scenes, in many rooms, aisles, narthex, burial chamber and chapels. The cycle of Nicholas, the first and only example in Turkey, is crucial in the development of Byzantine wall painting. The façade of the northeast annex arcade is also important as the only example of its kind in Anatolia. Furthermore, the floors inside the church show typical “opus sectile” and “cosmati” stone works. Today, St. Nicholas Church continues to be a place of pilgrimage.


4th SEPTEMBER 2005

Dear Minister,
Dear Governor,
Dear Mayor,
Dear Ambassador of Greece,
Dear President of the Vehbi Ko ç Foundation,
Your Reverence Bishop of Myra,
Esteemed Professor Yildiz Ötüken and team of archaeologists and art historians,
Esteemed Architect Cengiz Kabaoglu and assistants,
Esteemed Professor Ridvan Isler and team of restorers,
Dear Members of the Press,
Dear Honoured Guests,

It is with my great honour to address you on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation on the occasion of the inauguration of the renovated Wing of the St. Nicholas Church in Myra. Hacettepe University undertook the initiative of rescuing and renovating the precious Monument of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, in collaboration with KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buldings and Architecture Agency. The presence and preservation of this Monument in the geographical area of ancient Lycea, as well as its function as a Church through the Centuries, is a crucial example of harmonious coexistence among different Peoples and Cultures. It reveals the necessity of realizing the meaning of tolerance on a political, religious and socio-economic level. This message is particularly important today within the framework of globalization that all mankind experience today.

The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation decided, within this concept, to financially support the essential task of restoring the frescoes and mosaics, as well as the overall maintenance of the Church in 2003, in collaboration with the Vehbi Koç Foundation and other Turkish and Greek organizations.

The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation was founded by Aristotelis Onassis, who was born in Smyrne, which today is Izmir, and became famous the world over. Among its objectives, in accordance with the will of Aristotelis Onassis, is the use of Culture as an international means of understanding and progress. It operates on a national and international level materializing Educational and Cultural Programmes. Indicative are the examples of the 10-year-old funding of the Chair of Philosophy and History at the University of Bosporus, the periodic financial support of the Chairs of Hellenic Studies at the Universities of Istanbul and Ankara, as well as several scientific historical researches by Greek and Turkish Academicians. Also the Foundation has provided until today 32 research grants and educational scholarships to Turkish University Full-time Professors, Researchers, Post-graduate students and Ph.D candidates for research and studies in Greece. This is within the framework of the respective Scholarships Programme for Foreigners, operating since 1995. In this way, the Foundation encourages the scientific and cultural exchanges between the two countries and cultivates a fruitful spirit of constructive academic cooperation. Finally, within the framework of social solidarity, the Foundation also financially supported the victims of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999.

I would like to express my congratulations to Hacettepe University and in particular to Professor Yildiz Ötüken, who is in charge of the excavations, to Mr. Cengiz Kabaoglu, architect and director of the KA.BA. offices, to Professor Ridvan Isler, head of the wall painting conservation and restoration team as well as all their scientific collaborators. They have been actively and effectively involved – as the results we all enjoy today indicate – with the recording, maintenance and restoration of the Church and the surrounding area, a monument that has been characterized as anArcheological Site of World Cultural Heritage. I would also like to express our thanks to the Vehbi Ko ç Foundation for its support and the excellent spirit of collaboration on this worthwhile project.

Please allow me to conclude with the wish that this undertaking will serve as a starting point for the institution of similar collaborations between Greek and Turkish organizations, proving that Culture and Civilization are the most powerful and fertile elements of human societies.