Patara – visiting the archaeological sites

Odysseus Cruising – Visiting Notes

You can hire our luxury gulet MS Odysseus by private charter to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime – sailing the Blue Cruise, visit Patara and much more.

Recommended excursion on all Lycian Itineraries. ½ hour from Kalkan

Patara – The capital city of the Roman provinces of Lycia and Pamphyllia at the time of Emperor Claudius

Introduction: its life-supporting trade

The coast of ancient Anatolia, now Turkey, has many ancient ports, harbours and creeks. Some are hidden away in deep gulfs, others at the months of river valleys, other on the mountainous coast with a protective harbour wall. Some became famous, others were little more than fishing ports or a stopping places for merchant traders over 2 ½ thousand years…

Their boats were small and the gulets are their modern ancestors. The coast was, in its hey-day, divided into provinces such as Lydia, Caria, Lycia and Pamphyllia and others. Although the boundaries were a little flexible they did relate to geology and geographical features.

Ports on rivers, however famous, became defunct due to the rivers silting up when the sea-level rose, probably due to volcanic action and the damage inflicted by Tsunamis. Examples of the latter include, Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, Limyra, Myra and Patara. Others survive until today because they were not associated with silting rivers such as Iassus, Bodrum. Cnidus, Loryma, Marmaris, St. Nicholas (Gemili), Kalkan, Kas, Kekova and Phaselis. These are now supplemented by modern Marmaris and Fethiye.

This extensive and beautiful coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, with its many ports and harbours served as a main route for merchant trading from early times (viz the Olu Buren wreck, c 1300 BC, and its contents which can be seen at the Maritime Museum at St. Peter’s Castle, Bodrum.)

The demise of this busy trade linking the Middle East, the Levant and the Greek, Roman Byzantine (Early Christian) world was due to natural causes and wars but it was succeeded by Venetian and Genoese traders in mediaeval times but they mostly stopped in natural creeks without human settlements such as ports or cities.

The 19th century saw a thriving trade in sponges to be replaced by tourism today served by gulets, a traditionally constructed timber (local pine) boat the form of which has a very long history.

How to get there

Minibus from the quayside at Kalkan. Journey to site, 1/2 hour. We recommend you visit Xanthus at the same time. There is a 3rd site, Letoon, but this may be tiring.

Time required

We recommend you leave Kalkan by 9.30am and you may expect to return by 4pm if you visit Patara and Xanthus.


Our chef will provide packed lunches and bottles of water. No refreshments at Patara, except on the beach, but the drinks, tables and seats are at Xanthus.

Main things to see

1. The Mettius Triple Arch, a Roman monument not a triumphal arch (no road underneath). Nearby is the Roman graveyard and a fine Lycian boat-roofed tomb.

2. The Roman Bath. As you approach the site, a hundred yards from the road on the right. Note: the large bay window and main street crossing.

3. The Early Christian Church, alongside the road

4. The Theatre. A fine Roman example, recently excavated

There are others, see Notes and Plan.

Historical Introduction: The Life and Death of a great city

The ancient land of Lycia was always different, with the potential for human settlements on rich fertile valleys between white-topped mountains up to 10,000ft high. In the centre of the coast is a wide valley, once the setting for a great port, seat of the oracle of Apollo second only to Delos, and a Roman city known to St. Paul, St. Tekla (an early female saint commemorated in Milan), St. Nicholas, Sarpedon, Alexander, Antigonus, Demetrius, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Vespasian and Hadrian to name but a few.

Patara was an eastern Mediterranean port known to Bronze Age sailors, to the Lukka people, Hittites, Minoans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, early Christians, Saracens, Arabs and Turks. Each helpful in developing the centre of a complex culture of language writing, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, navigation, science, philosophy, poetry, drama, religious contentions between pagan and Christian religions, all fuelled by the rich maritime trade from the time of the 2nd Millennium BC until around the slowing down of the 1st Millennium AD. This trade stretched back from the Levant deep into the Orient and up the Anatolian seacoast and across the ocean into the Aegean Sea, Greece and Italy as far as Venice and Genoa and thus into Europe.

This great city rose to its zenith in Roman times probably under Mark Anthony and Vespasian with a little help from Hadrian. Later as the sea level rose the rivers slowed, the harbour silted up and pestilence, plague, earthquakes, pirates, invasions and the sea finally snuffed it out. However, before then there came the adoption and rise of Christianity (with the 4th Cent. AD) and the birth at Patara of one of the great priests and saints of the Christian World, St. Nicholas, the model for Father Christmas and the patron saint of sailors and merchants; a saint of the Eastern and Western Churches.

The city was vast, extending over 100 hectares (250 acres of great buildings; walls, aqueducts and streets). All built in fine limestone and marble. As the sea drove relentlessly in, rising higher and higher, it threw up a mighty rampart of the whitest sand nearly fourteen kilometres long (nine miles) across the river mouth filling the harbour and spreading inexorably island. Almost totalling swallowing a great Roman theatre and one of the largest civic buildings in Asia Minor; the great council chamber of the Roman city, the state and the province of Lycia and Pamphyllia established by Emperor Claudius.

Now, at last, the work of earlier pioneering archaeologists is being followed by extensive clearance and excavation by Turkish archaeologists. Already the theatre is cleared of all sand the main paved street has been revealed. Great baths, basilicas, churches, necropoli are appearing and one can see the plans of a great city, which shrank under attack becoming smaller and smaller with ever decreasing defensive walls presenting less to defend against the marauders, after the great Roman battle fleet had left.

It had seen one of the largest Roman fleets ever assembled under Pompey the Great. Then, most poignantly, one can see the shrunken city retreating (a fighting withdrawal), abandoning the theatre, council chamber, back inside the tall Byzantine walls constructed ably, but roughly, from the beautifully cut Roman stones to the last piece of water front with the last small church (congregation no more than fifty but with the coloured murals still on the wall) until the sea finally closes the harbour completely and pinches out the life of a once great city.

At last we shall be able to see and comprehend what Captain [ later Admiral] Beaufort of the Royal Navy and his midshipmen (about 1810) could only guess at when they climbed the mighty ramparts of sand (on the famous ‘nine-mile beach’) and gazed in amazement at the ghostly skeleton of a once great city.

Where to alight

Ask the driver to take you close to the theatre.

The Roman Theatre (No.44)

This is fairly typical Roman theatre, similar to a Greek Theatre but with the remains of substantial permanent scenery which originally had a wooden stage (not found in Greek theatres.) The ‘cavea’, the space encircled by stepped stone seats. It was probably built at the time of Emperor Hadrian and repaired at least once. It has the deep pit indicating its use for mock naval battles. It has recently been excavated from the partial sand covering.

The Council Chamber (No.43)

As Patara was a city state, capital of the Lycian League and seat of the Governor of Lycia and Pamphyllia in Roman times it has a very large council chamber. Recently rescued from the sand and it is possible to perceive its form which is architecturally interesting but not exciting. It is larger than Priene and Cnidus and likely to have been less interesting architecturally than Miletus, with which it should be compared.

Walk west up the short sandy slope to the ridge from which a view (of the silted up harbour with the Hadrianic granaries in the distance) can be obtained and walk to the ‘Unidentified Building’ at he end of the ridge. Bear to the left down the slope with ‘The Byzantine Walls’ of the shrinking city on your right.

The last lonely Christian Church (No.37)

Further down the slope when you reach the weeds fringing the ancient waterfront then turn right at the corner of the wall, staying outside, walk a short distance to ‘The Last Church’ an interesting and poignant invocation of the last days of Patara. See the great Roman columns plundered from elsewhere, the apse, that common feature of all churches and the murals – clear, protected and now vandalised..

Find your way outside the wall to the Roman bath (no 30) near the palm trees and find the Mile Stone to other parts of the Empire. (No. 32 or 31) walk outside the late Roman wall with bastions and try to find the Main Street (not on the map) then back to the Council Chamber and the minibus, which will take you up the broad Xanthus Valley to Xanthus itself.

Before you leave the site see two more features on the way out on the main road;

1. The large Christian Basilica, fairly typical of many here and elsewhere (No 33)

2. The conspicuous Triumphal Arch (The Meltius Arch ) and the Roman graveyard (No 26)