The ancient city of Patara is situated between Fethiye and Kalkan, in the southwest corner of the plentiful Xanthos Valley. Exit off the main road onto the Gelemis Road, then drive down this road for five kilometers until you reach the ruins of Patara. The finding of coins and ceramic fragments in excavations carried out recently date the site to the 7th century B.C. But there is reason to take Patara’s history even further.
Patara is renown as the birthplace of Apollo and is one of the oldest and most important cities of Lycia. The Hittite King Tudhalia IV (1250-1220 B.C.) was known to have said, “I made sacrifices and presented votives while facing Pata Mountain, I erected stelai, and constructed sanctuaries.” What we understand from this is that Patara was known during the Hittite Age as Patar. As the prinicpal port along the Lycian coast, Patara has a long history. For this reason, future excavations are bound to bring the city’s ancient history to light. We know that the city existed in the 5th-6th centuries B.C. and that it was saved from destruction when it opened its gates to Alexander. During the wars of Alexander’s successors, Patara enjoyed considerable importance as a naval base, in which capacity it was occupied by Antigonus in 315 B.C. and by Demetrios at the time of his siege of Rhodes in 304. For a period, it bore the Egyptian name of Arsinoe; this name did not survive beyond Egyptian rule. Patara was re-captured by Antiochus III in 190 B.C.; Livius uttered the saying “Caput Gentis,” that is “The Ancestors’ Capital” to describe Patara, which exalted it above all the other cities.
Patara had a three-vote right in the Lycian League, along with the cities of Xanthos, Tlos, Olympos and Myra. The League generally held its assemblies in Patara, which was its harbor as well.
Patara, which didn’t lose its importance during the Roman Empire, was also the seat of the Roman provincial governor, who converted it into a port from which the Roman fleet maintained contact with its provinces in the E. In the meantime, Patara was the harbor where crops harvested in Anatolia were stored and kept for shipment to Rome. As in Adriace, silos were built here to store grain during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, who had visited Patara with his wife Sabina and stayed for a short period.
During the Roman Period, Patara, which became the capital of both the Lyican and Pamphylian provinces, also became famous as one of Apollo’s soothsaying centers.
Ancient writers refer to Patara as the birthplace of Apollo as well as the home of an important oracle, who they say interpreted omens during the winter in Patara and during the summer in Delos. During the Byzantine period. Patara again lost none of its significance, and became a notable center of Christianity, as St. Nicholas, whom we know as Santa Claus, was born here. Moreover, St. Paul set out for Rome by boarding a ship from Patara. However unfortunately, subsequent to this period, as if rejected by gods and saints alike, the harbor of Patara, which was once 1,600 m. long and 400 m. wide, silted up. preventing seagoing vessels from entering it. As a consequence, the city’s importance steadily declined. Since then, the city has gradually been covered over with sand dunes, which has given it the appearance of a desert, resulting in the slow obliteration of all ruins left standing.
In recent years, Prof. Fahri Isik and his team from Akdeniz University have been trying to dig this spellbinding city out from under the sand. Let’s take a walk together through one of the most famous cities in history. On the way to Patara. we may see the remains of Roman tombs by the side of the road, about knee-high, and several tombs of the Lycian type, which indicate that this was the site of a necropolis. We also notice a monumental portal still standing, apparently the entrance to the city. According to its inscription, this victory arch was built in 100 AD. by Rome’s Lycian Governor, Mettius Modestus.
Before arriving at the victory arch, one can see the monument tombs situated in the lower part of the road, along the edge of the lake, which has taken the place of the ancient harbor. These magnificent tombs have survived mostly intact to the present. From here, one may notice the harbor church, measuring 12 x 9.10 m., with three aisles. This church remains submerged for most of the year. There are many temples in Patara. A large bust of Apollo was discovered on the hill beyond the city gate, which indicates the existence of an Apollo Temple, the whereabouts of which are still uncertain.
In fact, what we do know is that during the first century of Roman rule, the
center of the oracle of Apollo fell into disrepair, but that Opramoas, the
philanthropic Lycian whose name is seen throughout Lycia and who himself came
from Rhodiapolis, had the town of Patara resurrected. Though the birthplace of
the god Apollo, who was one of two children of Zeus and Leto, may be shown to
have been several places, it is accepted that he was born in Patara. Apollo is
an Anatolian god. In the Iliad, Homer mentions him as “Phiobos,” which means
‘illuminated’, and ‘the famous Lycian archer, ApollO.’ For this reason,
he along with his Anatolian sister. Artemis. had always aided the Trojans and
their Anatolian city, Troy. The name ‘Lycia’ meant ‘Illuminated Nation’
in ancient times, whereas their head god, Apollo, was perceived to have light in
his lineage. Right next to the victory arch is a sarcophagus from the Roman
period. To the W of the sarcophagus are the ruins of the Date Baths. With its
floor decorated with thick stones and mosaics, these baths derived their name
from the giant date trees next door. These baths belonged to the Roman Period,
and were also used during the Byzantine Age. 100 in. ahead is a road sign, which
was discovered in recent excavations, was made by Quintus Veranius on the orders
of Emperor Claudius. whereby it is extremely important as it shows the distances
between the Lycian cities. This is the world’s
oldest and most comprehensive road sign.
If you stroll along the asphalt road for a short distance, you will encounter the ruins of a chuch. From the architectural parts in the inner walls of the church, it is understood that it was constructed from blocks from much older edifices.
Walking just beyond this church, you will encounter the Tomb of Marciana in the middle of a long wall, whereas you will also find the Vespasianus Baths in the W corner of this tomb. They are called the Vespasianus Baths on account of the money he had set aside for their construction. The baths measure 105 x 48 m. and were partitioned into five sections. In order to see inside the baths, you need to step over the large stones. If we stay on the footpath next to the baths, we shall reach Anatolia’s widest main avenue, which was 12,5 m. wide and covered in marble. Under the main avenue was an advanced sewage system network. There are stoa lined up along the W part of the main avenue, which opens out to several roads. Today, this main avenue spends most of its time submerged. The city’s central baths are located at the B end of the avenue, whereas there are ruins of a small baths complex at the W end.
A little further along the road and you will encounter the vast walls of a Byzantine fortress. To the east of this fortress is a Corinthian temple that was constructed from ashlar blocks, the owner of who is unknown. Measuring 13 x 11 m. this 2nd century AD. in-antis plan temple had plenty of architectural ornamentation.
The theater, which is set into a slope, is unfortunately half-buried in sand. Nevertheless, the archaeology team from the university in Izmir is continuing its excavation studies and just like other sites around Patara, has been removing the sand from the theater. An inscription on the E side of the skene indicates that it was built by Velia Proila and her father Quintus Velio Titionus in 147 AD. Located N of the theater is what was known as Anatolia’s largest administration building (the ecclestrium), which measures 43 x 29 m. At the top of the hill behind the theater is a monument tomb, whereas, nearby is an eight-in. deep cistern that has been carved into the rock. To the west of the cistern is a part of the walls of the harbor lighthouse of Patara.
Hadrian’s Granary can be seen in a swamp where the harbor used to be. This building, which was called the ‘horrea’ or ‘granarium.’ measured 67 x 19 m. and was divided into eight sections. Next to this, one can encounter a large temple-tomb that is still intact. This temple tomb, which was constructed from thick and showy stones, must have been magnificent during ancient times. From here, there are a number of monument tombs of various sizes stretching all the way out to the village. Moreover, there are tombs to be found on the hill opposite the ticket office. ‘l’he marshy reeds in the lake that used to be a harbor in antiquity whisper of the splendor of ancient Patara.