Patara is Turkey’s longest beach. You can stroll along this sandy beach for a whopping 12km enjoying the lovely dunes as a backdrop. (Yes, we’ve measured it on Google Maps!) Patara beach is a delight for people who like walking or horseriding on the shore and for sunbathers and swimmers on the lookout for a natural beach, without the crowds, even in high season.
You would think that this alone would be reason enough to visit Patara, but that’s not doing justice to the ancient city you cross to reach the beach. In fact, that is where Patara beach got its name, from Patara ancient city.
THE MOST LITERAL FORM OF BEACH CULTURE!
This phrase fits Patara like a glove. In all honesty, it is hard to tell which is the most impressive, the unspoiled beach, or the ruins adjacent to it. There is a good reason this beach is so pristine: it is a protected area. Twice! The whole beach is protected because of the resident (and protected) Loggerhead Turtles, and also because it is a category one archeological site.
Furthermore, the village behind Patara beach, Gelemiş, has not caught the eye of any tour operators yet. The whole atmosphere is low key, with local and family-run businesses offering charming places to stay and locally produced food. The only human-made thing you will find on the beach is a small wooden cafe, run by the Belediye (local government). Apart from that, you’re all set for 12km of untouched beach.
THE BEAUTY OF ARCHEOLOGY: ANCIENT PATARA
Why not get a culture shot while getting a tan? Have a walk around the ruins of Patara. You can’t miss them, as you have to drive past them to access the beach. The setting is phenomenal, dunes on one side, the mountains at the back, and a lagoon with wildlife somewhere in between. You’ll instantly understand that Patara used to be an influential city during Roman times. And the partly restored remains have a fascinating story to tell.
Patara is home to a Theatre, several Temple Tombs, a Council Chamber or Bouleuterion, and a Colonnaded Street, among other things. Most visitors don’t make it past the Main Street and Bouleuterion area, which is a shame. You’ll see in this post that venturing a bit further afield holds some jaw-dropping rewards.
PATARA IN HISTORY
As one of the six major cities of Lycia, Patara had a flourishing trade business and was very wealthy.
Its interesting location and prosperity also caught the eye of Alexander the Great, who conquered it and established a significant naval base at the far end of the city. The Roman Governor made Patara his administrative office, and, also during the Roman Era, the city became the capital of all Lycian and Pamphylian provinces.
The downfall started somewhere in the Late Roman Era. Over the centuries, Patara kept shrinking both in size and importance. When finally the harbor silted up, it meant the end of Patara was near. The glorious buildings fell into disrepair and eventually ended up buried in the sand. Fortunately, excavations at Patara have revealed several of its magnificent buildings and structures, some of which have been meticulously restored. Have a walk around with us in what follows below.
ARCH OF METTIUS MODESTUS
One of the first landmarks you will notice upon your arrival at Patara is the Arch of Mettius Modestus. This triple-vaulted triumphal Arch has become the symbol of Patara. The Arch is a massive, 10m high structure of three arches built by the people of Patara in honor of Mettius Modestus, who was the governor-general of Lycia and Pamphylia. Near the Arch, you’ll notice a Necropolis with mostly Lycian Sarcophagi. At about 50m south of the Arch are the remains of an Octagonal Pool, which was used from the 1st to the 4th century AD.
Patara’s Theatre was built in the 2nd or 1st century BC on the northern slope of Kurşunlutepe Hill. It has a semi-circular seating area with a diameter of 80m, and a seating capacity of 6.000 people divided over 38 rows. On the top row of the Theatre is a Temple dedicated to the Imperial Cult.
The impressive Stage Building or Skene is 41,50 m long and 6,50 m high. A monumental inscription on the northwest side of the skene wall indicates that Quintus Velius Titianus financed the construction of the entire skene.
He also paid for the 11th row of seats (and perhaps the eleventh cercis) in the upper part of the cavea (suma cavea), as well as of a tent (velum) over the cavea and perhaps of other drapes. The inscription also reads that his daughter Velia Procla completed the renovation and adorned the theatre with sculptures and marble inlays dedicated to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and a few Gods. Read more about that in this paper.
KURŞUNLUTEPE AND ITS TEMPLE TOMB
If you head upwards after visiting the Theatre, you can walk to the top of Kurşunlutepe Hill from where you have a magnificent view of the area. Also on top of that hill are the remains of a Temple Tomb dated to the Early Roman Imperial period. While it is in a very ruined state, its position suggests that this was the burial place for a very prominent citizen.
The Bouleuterion or Assembly Hall of the Lycian League was constructed in the early years of the 1st century BC. With time, several alterations were made to the original construction. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius or Emperor Nero, the cavea or seating area was extended.
Later, after a major earthquake, a Stoa was added, as well as a stage building inside. After that, the building was also used as a concert hall. The Bouleuterion has a seating capacity for up to 1.400 people on 21 rows. The Governors had a dedicated seating area in the center, known as tribunalia. The restored building is definitely one of Patara’s eye-catchers!
THE COLLONADED MAIN STREET
The Collonaded Main Street connected the inner-harbor to the Agora in front of the Bouleuterion. One side of the street is adorned with granite columns, while the other side has marble columns. The absence of wheel marks indicates that this street was probably for pedestrian use only. After the street collapsed as a result of consecutive earthquakes, it was completely flooded. Even nowadays, large parts of the 100 m that have been unearthed are usually flooded.
On one side of the street you can still see the ruined remains of the shops. On the other side, are the ruins of the Central Baths and the Nero-Vespasianus Baths, both of which are inaccessible due to excavation works.
As an important harbor city, Patara also had a lighthouse. it is believed to be the oldest one in the world, as it is approximately 2.000 years old. Built around 60 AD, it is estimated that the lighthouse must have been around 16 to 20 m high. Researchers support the theory that the lighthouse was destroyed in a tsunami. The fact that the stones of the lighthouse were all found on the same side, supports that theory.
An earthquake, scientists say, would cause the stone to be scattered all over the place. Today, not a lot of the lighthouse is still standing, but there are plans to restore it. And even as it is, it is a fascinating structure.
PROSTYLOS TEMPLE & SELJUK BATH
In between the bushes of Patara stands a truly magnificent and well-preserved temple. The Prostylos Temple is supposed to be the best-preserved temple of its kind in Lycia. Raised on a 1,5 m podium, the temple measures 12,8 x 9,7 m. You enter the cult room via a sumptuous 6,6 m high gate, now supported by scaffolding. The temple dates back to the 2nd century AD, and it is unknown to whom it was dedicated. Next to the Prostylos Temple, you’ll find the ruins of a Seljuk Bath.
MORE INTERESTING RUINS IN PATARA
Patara is very stretched out, and there seem to be ruins in every corner of the former city. You will also see a rather large building, which was the former Granary. Next to it is another Temple Tomb, the Pseudoperipteral Temple Tomb. And even before you enter the actual site, you’re met with several Necropolises, Temple Tombs, the Ceramic Ovens, or the Harbor Baths, just to name a few.
Next to the Harbor Baths is the Palm Grove of Leto. An oasis of lush green palm trees, and the story that comes with them. Legend states that the God Apollo was the son of Leto and Zeus. Leto had to search for a place to give birth to Apollo and Artemis after Hera in a jealous rage, spelled all lands to avoid her. When she eventually found an island unattached to the ocean floor, the pain of birth hit her. Leto cast her arms around a palm tree and kneeled on the soft meadow while the earth laughed for joy beneath. That’s when Apollo was born.
Ancient sources mention Delos as a location. Still, modern literature today accepts that rocky Delos doesn’t fit the description, while the palm grove at Patara ticks all the boxes.