Patara was the major naval and trading port of Lycia, located at the mouth of the Xanthos River, until it silted up and turned into a malaria-plagued marsh. It is not far from the sites of Letoon and Xanthos and a day trip from Kalkan, Kaş or Fethiye could easily combine the sites. Beautiful 12 km-long Patara Beach, voted one of the top beaches in the world by Times Online – Best of 2005, is an easy 10-15 minute stroll away from the major ruins at Patara. The Patara area is a national park, a key biodiversity area and is rich in birdlife. List of birds spotted in Patara
Patara was a very wealthy city due to trade and was one of the six principal cities of Lycia. Patara’s oracle at the renown temple of Apollo (not yet found) was said to rival that at Delphi and the temple equaled the reputation of the famous temple on the island of Delos. It was believed that Apollo lived at Delos during the summer but spent his winters at Patara. Omens were interpreted in these two towns during the respective seasons. A large bust of Apollo, discovered on the hill beyond the City Gate, indicates the existence of an Apollo Temple which has not been yet found.
In a hymn attributed to Homer in the honour of Apollo, Apollo is mentioned with both Lycia and Delos:
(ll. 179-181) O Lord, Lycia is yours and lovely Maeonia and Miletus, charming city by the sea, but over wave-girt Delos you greatly reign your own self.
Following its capture by Alexander the Great Patara became an important naval base as well. Alexander promised the revenues of four cities, including Patara, to one of his commanders, thus its value at that time is quite clear.
Many legends exist explaining the origin of the name of Patara. During the time of Lycia’s Ptolemy domination, Ptolemaios II (reigned 285-246 B.C) re-named Patara as Arsinoe in honour of his wife. The name did not stick, however, and the original name was soon again in use.
Around 192 BC the Lycians at Patara were involved in a battle at neighbouring ancient Phoenicus (today’s Kalkan) during the Syrian war against the combined forces of Rome and Rhodes. They were successful and the invaders were forced to leave.
During the Roman period, Patara was the judicial seat of the Roman governor, and the city became the capital of both the Lycian and Pamphylian provinces at one time. Patara was frequently called “the chosen city” and “the metropolis of the Lycian nation.” This was made apparent from excavations of the 2nd century BC, in the inscriptions on the monument built in honor of one of the first general governors, C. Trebonius Proculus Mettius. Around 138 BC Patara had a population of about 20,000 and ranked among the top cities of Anatolia after Ephesus. Emperor Vespasian visited Patara, as did the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina (exalted by the Patarans to “new Hera”; both emperors made contributions to the city.
In Christian history Patara is famous for being a place of St. Paul’s missionary work at the end of his third missionary journey as he changed ships en route to Jerusalem. Patara was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas (born c.260-280 AD), bishop of Myra and the future Santa Claus. In Byzantine times, Patara became a Titular see of Lycia and a suffragan of Myra.
Piracy and looting had started in the Late Roman Age and by the mid-7th century the Arabs had built a fleet that challenged Byzantine naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean. Their raids eventually pretty much finished off Lycia. Patara, still held on but was eventually reduced to a mere village. The townspeople were forced to retreat to a small area on the edge of the harbor and to build walls to create a protected inner port; by this time the city was very much shrunken. Written records of the 9th century show that while Patara was still an important place, it was a village. In the 10th century is became a naval base of the Byzantine Empire. Its port is reported to have been used through at least the 15th century and the Sultan Cem signed a treaty there in 1478/9. Church and chapel excavations point towards even greater shrinkage of the village and an increase in poverty. Eventually, with too little manpower to keep the sand out of the harbor, it silted up, became plagued with mosquitoes and malaria and that finished it off.
Much of Patara remains undiscovered, buried in the shifting sand, including the famous Temple of Apollo. However, some very exciting excavations have been going on revealing many structures previously hidden by the dunes. Among them, liberated from the many hundreds of truckloads of sand that covered it, is the parliament building where the elected representatives of the Lycian League met. It has rows of stone seats arranged in a semicircle, the same arrangement used in the chambers of the American Congress. Its stone-vaulted main entrances are intact, and so is the thronelike perch where the elected Lyciarch, the effective president of the League, sat. Another recent discovery is the remains of what may be the oldest lighthouse in the world.
Patara’s ancient naval and military base fortress, Pydnai, is located at the far west end of the beach.
Work is ongoing at Patara under Professor Dr. Havva İşkan Işık, head of the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Akdeniz University. The excavations are proceeding under the supervision of her husband, Professor Dr. Fahri Işık, a lecturer at the same university. They are doing incredible work and it will be exciting to see what they will uncover in the future.
This year (2006) the government decided to issue single-entry tickets (rather than week-long ones) that cost 2 TL (1.50 USD, .85 GBP, 1.23 Euros). They give one access to the entire national park – the ruins and the beach.