There are a number of stories connected with the founding of Patara, one of Lycia’s principal harbours. Some ancient sources relate the legend that, the city was established by Patarus, the son of Apollo and Lycia, a nymph of the river Xanthos. Strabo describes the city as a large port, also explaining that it was founded by Patarus. In reality, however, Lycians founded the city, and its name, as seen on inscriptions and coins, was Patar in the Lycian language. Patara derived its fame in ancient times from the oracle of Apollo situated there. Oracles in the temple, which was kept open only during the winter months, sought answers to questions concerning the future.
Patara, which passed into the hands of Alexander the Great in 334 B.C., retained its importance as a commercial centre and naval base throughout the Hellenistic period. In the course of Egyptian domination, Ptolemaios II (reigned 285-246 B.C) changed the city’s name to Arsinoe in honour of his wife. Apparently however, the name did not catch on, and before long its original name was again in use. Mettius Modestus victory gateAnother interesting event in Patara’s historical record occurred in the year 42 B.C. during Brutus’ seige of the city following his capture of Xanthos.
By surrounding Patara, Brutus, holding up the tragic end of Xanthos as an example, hoped the Patarans would surrender without bloodshed. When his proposal was turned down, Brutus began to auction to the Patarans as slaves, people he had captured from neighbouring Xanthos, whose citizens were related to the Patarans. When this initiative also failed to produce results, he put his forces into action the next morning. When the Patarans grasped the seriousness of their situation they sent word of their surrender. Brutus killed no one after entering the city, but wanted the people to turn their valuable possessions over to him. They obeyed. Then a slave informed Brutus that his master had hidden gold.
In the trial the slave’s owner said nothing, but his mother, in tears, announced that her son was innocent, that it was she who had concealed the gold. Even though the slave objected to the woman’s testimony, Brutus must have been moved by the silence of the young man and the suffering of his mother, for he let them go free and punished the slave for informing against his master. Under Roman domination, Patara again became one of Lycia’s leading ports and received the title of metropolis. The Roman provincial governor resided in Patara and the official archives of the region were kept here as well. During this period, St. Paul passed through Patara on his way to Rome (60 A.D).
It is also known that the Emperor Hadrian, along with his wife, stayed for a time in the city. In addition, it undoubtedly won special honour during the Christian era as the birthplace of St. Nicholas. When one enters the ruins via a stabilized road, the first monumental structure to catch the eye is the city gate. According to the inscription on it, it was erected in the name of Mettius Modestus, the Roman governor of Lycia-Pamphylia around 100 A.D., and his family. Busts of the governor and members of his family were supported by consoles on either side of the triple arched gate, which is in the form of a typical Roman triumphal arch.
The remains of several buildings are visible on the side nearest the sea along the plain at the foot of the hills. Even though it is not possible to name these building with certainty, one can partly distinguish, hidden among the overgrowth, a bath and a Byzantine basilica with a nave and side aisles. The most important and best preserved structure in this area is a small temple in the Corinthian order. Measuring 13×16 metres and rising above a small podium, the Temple of Inantis is highly decorated, especially its 6 metre high cella door. It has been dated to the second century A.D.
The ruins of a large bath are located to the south of the temple. From its inscripion it is apparent that the bath, dedicated to the Emperor Vespasian (reigned 69-79 A.D.) who made monetary contributions to public works in the region, was comprised of five main intercommunicating compartments, each having its own specific function. The small chambers in the eastern part of the bath made up the boiler section. Small holes visible in the stone walls of the building were made by nails that held marble facing panels in place. On the northeast slope of the hill is a well preserved theatre.
The cavea, which leans into the slope, is divided in two by a diazoma entered by two galleries on the east and west. Because the cavea and the orchestra are completely covered by sand from the sea, it is impossible to be certain about the state of the seats. On the lower floor of the two storey stage building are the five doors standard to Roman theatre architecture. On the outer face of the stage building is a long inscription in Greek, according to which, a Pataran woman named Vilia Procula had the building constructed in 147 A.D. and dedicated it to Emperor Antoninus Pius; however, the theatre must be older than this.
Similarly, another inscription mentions a priestess of Apollo in connection with certain repairs carried out during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (reigned 14-37 A.D.) Besides a few tombs and large cistern, the hill where the theatre is located, presumed to be the acropolis, contains no other ruins worth describing. On the western side of the ancient harbour, which is now a marsh, is a granary which a Latin inscription informs us was erected in the name of the Emperor Hadrian. This enormous structure, completely intact except for the roof, contains eight long grain bins.
Eight separate doors along the front of the building give entry to these storage areas. A building in the form of a temple and exhibiting excellent masonry, is situated to the north of the granary. The colonnaded facade, approached by steps on its harbour side, and the half-columns on the outer face of the one wall still standing, indicate that the building was probably a pseudoperipteral temple or a monumental tomb.