The Patara area is a national park, a key biodiversity area and is rich in birdlife.
Patara holds fame for several reasons; the first being that the beach is the longest in Turkey, and ranges from 11km to 18 km depending on what you read, whatever the true length, it is a beach of white sand and dunes. Should you wish to visit the beach then you will be visiting where the loggerhead sea turtles also go to lay their eggs. This is a protected beach and the nests are marked clearly so you can give them space when you are finding that perfect spot to place your towel.
Patara is famously the birthplace of Saint Nicholas, yes Santa Claus, who was born in Patara in 270AD and became the Mayor and Bishop of Myra. There are many rumours about the kind Saint Nicholas, one being that he would leave pouches of gold coins on the doorsteps of the poorer people in Patara.
So, another thing to know about Patara is that it was the major naval and trading port of Lycia, located at the mouth of the Xanthos River until it silted up. Patara was a very wealthy city due to trade and was one of the six principal cities of Lycia. Patara’s oracle at the renowned temple of Apollo (not yet found) was said to rival that at Delphi and the temple equalled the reputation of the famous temple on the island of Delos. 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.
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.
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 honour of one of the first general governors. Around 138 BC Patara had a population of about 20,000 and ranked among the top cities of Anatolia after Ephesus.
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 and 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 harbour 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 and by the 10th century it became a naval base of the Byzantine Empire. 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 harbour, it silted up.
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.
Work is ongoing at Patara and will be for several years to come, they are doing incredible work and it will be exciting to see what they will uncover in the future. Some significant finds at Patara include:
What may be the oldest lighthouse in the world which is being rebuilt?
Tepecik Acropolis and Necropolis, a neolithic mound dating back to the 7th century BC. Many findings here include a basilica incorporating the remains of a temple and Byzantine oil lamp pottery. A large necropolis at the base of the hill with a plethora of tomb types.
The Arch of Modestus, the symbol of Patara, is a monumental gate in the form of a typical Roman triumphal arch.
The Harbour Bath was built during the Roman Period and used during the Byzantine Age.
The Road Sign, showing the distances between the Lycian cities, was ordered by Emperor Claudius. It is the world’s oldest and most comprehensive road sign.
The Vespasian Bath is located near a basilica, probably the oldest Roman bath in Lycia may have been constructed earlier during Nero's rule.
The Main Avenue, 12.6 m wide, was one of the largest in ancient Anatolia. It had a stoa near its southern gate and the street was lined with columns.
The Central Bath is located to the northwest of the Vespasian Bath.
The Amphitheatre, is one of the largest in Anatolia.
Bouleuterion, where the Assembly (Synedrion) of the Lycian League met.
The Marcia Temple-tomb and the Akdam Temple tomb, are two very large and impressive temple tombs in the pro stylos temple form. The Akdam temple tomb is especially well-preserved.
Hadrian’s Granary (granarium) is a large structure that can be seen in a marsh next to the harbour. It is divided into eight sections with eight separate doors along the front of the building giving entry to these storage areas.
Roman Ante Temple well-preserved and highly decorated, especially the doorway.
Kurşunlutepe, the hill directly behind the amphitheatre gives an excellent 360-degree view of the site and beach. Remains have been found here including a Hellenistic cistern carved out of rock and a Roman-era monumental temple tomb.
Pseudoperipteral Temple-tomb, the most impressive of its kind in Lycia.
The Harbour Church remains to emerge from the water.