Patara: An ancient city of historical significance

Travel | 3 May 2021

The ancient city of Patara in Turkey is situated on the south-west coast of Turkey. One of the most important cities of the ancient Lycian civilization, Patara is famed for its archaeological and historical significance, and stands out with its 12 km-long amazing Patara Beach where Caretta-Carettas have been nesting and laying their eggs for millions of years.

The name of the city was inscribed as “Patar” in the Hittite texts while it was recorded as “Patara” in Lycian tablets and coins. Archaeological findings, as revealed in the excavations, indicate that the history of the city dates back to the Middle Bronze Age.

As the opening door to the Mediterranean Sea in Xanthos Valley, Patara has maintained its gravity throughout history. After being dominated by Ptolemy in the 3rd century BC, Patara became the most important city of the region. Subsequently, Patara was, under the rule of the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century, recognized as the capital city of the region. After gaining its autonomy from Rome and its freedom from the Rhodians in 168/167 BC, Patara became the capital city of the Lycian League.

During the Roman period, the city acted both as the center where Roman governors carried out their legal works, and the base connecting Rome to the eastern provinces of the Empire. The city’s role as a trading port came into prominence when grains sent from Anatolia to Rome were stored and conserved there.

With its reputation as an oracle center of Apollo in ancient times, Patara continued to attract attention during the period of Byzantine as a religious center for Christianity. Saint Nicholas, known as Santa Claus, was born in this city. Rumor has it that Saint Paul embarked on his voyage to Rome from Patara.

In 325, during the First Council of Nicaea, the only authorized signatory on behalf of Lycia was Bishop Eudemus of Patara, reflecting the historical importance given to the city. Archaeological remains found in the ancient city draw parallel with the historical period that Patara had witnessed. This can be evidently seen in the structures such as the Lycian Parliament building, considered to be the most remarkable parliament of the ancient world, and the theatre.

One of the most glorious structures of the ancient city of Patara is the Arch of Triumph, built in the 1st century for the Roman governor of the city. Located atop the hill to the west, there is a necropol with Lycian style tombs. There is also a hill named “Kursunlu Tepe” on the southern part of the city, which overlooks Patara’s other ancient structures and areas such as the Vespasian Bath, the Corinth Temple, main street, the port and the granarium.

Patara sustained its cultural and historical significance during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first Radio and Telegraph Station of the Empire was established in this city. The remains of the station building are among the most important landmarks of modern-day Turkey’s radiotelegraphy history.

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