The large ancient site of Patara lies 70 km south-east of the well-known tourist town of Fethiye and was a leading Lycian port located in a coastal valley with a harbor protected from onshore winds by the surrounding hills. Patara was also home to the main Lycian League meeting hall with an archive at the temple of Apollo.
According to tradition Apollo lived at Delos in summer and at Patara in winter and a large head of Apollo was discovered near the city gate. Along with the rest of Lycia, Patara welcomed Alexander the Great in 333 BCE. During the 4th-3rd centuries BCE Alexander’s Macedonian successors struggled for control of the city and its strategic naval base.
Rome granted Patara and the rest of Lycia independence in 167 BCE. In 88 BCE Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, besieged the city. Brutus and Cassius captured Patara in 42 BCE during their campaign to extort funds for use against Mark Antony and Augustus, but did not engage in the slaughter that occurred at Xanthos.
Patara was formally annexed by the Roman Empire in 43 AD. Claudius instructed his newly appointed governor to survey the Lycian road system, which resulted in the massive Stadiasmus Provinciae Lyciae monument with inscriptions listing 67 routes and distances. In 70 AD Emperor Vespasian visited Patara and commissioned the large baths bearing his name. Emperor Hadrian visited Patara in 129 AD and opened the large granary, which still stands.
Patara is famous in Christian history for being a place Saint Paul visited en route to Jerusalem during his third missionary journey. Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus and future bishop of Myra was born at Patara in 270 AD into a Christian community probably started by Saint Paul. In the 6th century AD Emperor Justinian built a massive city wall to protect the city. Over time the harbor silted up and sand dunes engulfed Patara.
Professor Klaus Zimmermann and other German archaeologists from the Westfälischen Wilhelms-University of Münster have worked at Patara.
A 10 m high, 19 m long triple-arched triumphal Roman gate, built in 100 AD, marks the main entrance to the site. The arch celebrated completion of an aqueduct built by Trebonius Proculus Mettius Modestus, Roman governor of Lycia and Pamphylia. The arch was decorated with statues of the immodest Modestus and his relatives. He went on to become consul in 103 AD. Near the gate are many Roman era sarcophagi.
To the south of the arch are the harbor baths, otherwise known as the Date Palm baths, decorated with floor mosaics. To the south-east at a corner in the wall is the 1st century AD Marciana Temple Tomb, which a Roman official built to honor his deceased four-year-old daughter. The large 1st century AD Vespasian Baths (152 x 38 m) lie directly south along the wall. In May 2015 archaeological excavations were ongoing at these spot. To the west a 13 m wide colonnaded street linked the harbor to the agora.
The central baths were located at the north end of this street, the agora to the south. On the west side of the agora archaeologists uncovered and restored the beautiful preserved bouleuterion used as the assembly hall for Lycian League representatives. Rows of stone seats are arranged in a semicircle; the stone-vaulted main entrances are intact as is also the seat where the elected chairman (Lyciarch) presided. Really a magnificent building!
South of the bouleuterion lies the theatre that dates back to Hellenistic times but was enlarged and modified under Emperor Antoninus Pius in 147 AD following a major earthquake. Near the peninsula jutting out toward the silted up harbor is an unidentified Corinthian style Roman temple (13 x 9 m) with intact walls. Along the west side of the harbor Emperor Hadrian built a large granary (65 x 32 m) with eight storage rooms, each with a separate door facing the harbor. The structure still stands dedicated with an inscription to Hadrian and his wife Sabina, who are likened to Zeus and Hera.
At the south-west corner of the harbor a lighthouse at least 22 m tall was identified. The lighthouse contains many large inscriptions, originally with bronze lettering, dating back to the early 1st century AD.
Patara archaeological site is open daily, in summer season (April - October) from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, and in winter season (November - March) - from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The admission fee (in 2019) is 24 TL.
Restaurants and cafés are in Yesilköy or in Kalkan.
By car: the large ancient site of Patara is easy reachable via a well-signposted road from the village of Yesilköy near Kalkan. You are entering the site by car via a ticket window and barrier where you have to pay the entrance fee. Once on the site there are several car parks and well-signposted footpaths leading to all the monuments.