Located on the Mediterranean coast, and boasting a beautiful white sand beach, the ruins of ancient Patara nestle behind the sand dunes and combine that truly idyllic mix of sun, sea and wonderful history.
This ancient city was originally a Lycian settlement and then served as an important naval base during the wars of Alexander the Great’s successors. It later became part of the Lycian League and then a thriving port within the Roman Empire. In fact, Patara was originally considered as simply an extension of next door Xanthos and, despite its size, Patara was only the city’s second port.
However, over the centuries the harbour of Patara eventually silted up – sometime during the Middle Ages. Until recently the site had been completely abandoned, before excavations were begun in 1998 led by Akdeniz University Antalya.
Patara’s most famous son is perhaps St. Nicholas, born in the city in the 4th century AD. Better known today as Santa Claus, St. Nicholas was known to contemporaries as the Bishop of Myra. Patara was also notable in antiquity as the home of the temple and oracle of Apollo. The Greek god of the sun was said to spend the winter in the nearby Xanthos valley. Although no evidence of such a temple has been found in Patara’s ruins, legend attributes it as a rival to the oracle at Delphi.
Part of the Empire for hundreds of years, Patara also played a role in Roman history. One anecdote recalls the capture of the city by Marcus Junius Brutus – he of stabbing Caesar fame. The Roman general and politician threatened to massacre the Patarans if they did not surrender to his forces. The Patarans initially refused, but in a piece of diplomatic manoeuvring, Brutus released all the hostages he had taken from his recent conquest of Xanthos. As the Xanthians and Patarans had such close ties, this act of clemency endeared Brutus to the Pataran population, who promptly opened their gates to him.
Today, while the ruins of Patara are a little jumbled and have not survived in the best state of preservation, the location of the city itself is particularly spectacular. Flanking the white sand beach, the ruins are partially covered by tall grass, bushes and sand; and the overall effect is simply beautiful. While there are certainly more intact Roman ruins elsewhere, the simple beauty of Patara is hard to beat.
In terms of what there is to explore at Patara, one of the best elements is a 1st century AD Roman triumphal arch, which once marked the entrance to the city, and the colonnaded main street, which is also worth a look.
Nearby, under the shadow of the palm trees, lie the Roman baths as well as a Byzantine basilica. There’s also a second set of baths at Patara, which were built by the Emperor Vespasian. Located alongside Vespasian’s baths are the ruins of a reasonably well preserved theatre, erected in honour of Antoninus Pius, which is marked by a Greek inscription, still visible today. This is perhaps the most beautiful of Patara’s ruins.
To the west of the basilica, one can see the best preserved sections of the city walls and a picturesque temple dating from the second century, which is undergoing restoration work. . Visitors to the site can also follow a path up the hill to the city’s acropolis and view the remains of Hadrian’s granary.
Contributed by Chris Reid