Patara, located on the coast of western Antalya Province, was one of the most prominent Anatolian cities of antiquity. And today, Patara Ancient City is the perfect place for travelers to relax on the beach and go ruins hopping in the same outing.
Patara was located near the mouth of the Xanthos River – at least until it silted up. According to legend, the city was founded by Patarus, a son of Apollo. But some even believe it to be the birthplace of Apollo himself.
Patara was one of the major cities of the Lycian League, a federation of city-states that would go on to influence many modern governments. Even after being conquered by larger empires, Lycia functioned semi-autonomously for centuries – often with Patara as its capital.
After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Patara was taken by the Ptolemies of Egypt. Next, the land was conquered by the Seleucid Empire – another kingdom founded by one of Alexander’s generals. And then came the Romans.
As Lycia’s prominent port city, Patara was highly prosperous with a population as large as 20,000. St. Paul once visited, while Patara was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas – now better known as Santa Claus.
Patara was ransacked by Arab invaders in the 8th century, after which the city shrunk considerably. And after the Byzantines regained control, the Seljuks later took over. Eventually, however, the siltation of the river and harbor in the 14th century caused the city’s abandonment.
The following guide covers the beach and the various landmarks spread throughout Patara Ancient City. Be sure to check the end of the article for info on getting there.
Patara Beach is located to the south of the ruins, and a single ticket costing around 30 TL allows access to both areas. While you may want to save the beach for last, I decided to go for a swim first before entering the ruins from the south.
At 11 km long, Patara Beach has the distinction of being the longest beach in all of Turkey. The whole beach is a protected area which forbids development, as loggerhead sea turtles often come here for nesting.
The beach area features a changing room, public toilets and a restaurant. And despite its popularity, it’s is so huge that there’s plenty of space for everyone.
As beautiful as Patara Beach is, I didn’t spend long here. The water is very shallow and you have to walk quite far out to fully submerge yourself. And at the same time, the waves can be surprisingly rough.
If you’re staying in nearby Kalkan or Kaş, you’ll have more time to take it easy. But I wanted to ensure I’d be able to thoroughly explore the ruins before returning to Fethiye.
As I’d soon learn, the archaeological zone is much more extensive than first meets the eye.
Exploring Patara Ancient City
Over the past few decades, Patara has been undergoing extensive excavations and restorations. And the ruins will have likely transformed even further by the time of your visit.
In fact, 2020 was even declared the ‘Year of Patara’ by the Turkish government. The previous two years were dedicated to hugely important sites like Göbekli Tepe and Troy, so my expectations were quite high going in.
Judging from old photographs, archaeologists have indeed made tremendous progress in recent years. But as I’d soon discover, Patara is far from being ready for the hype it’s received. Most structures have yet to be cleared out, while there’s no museum or visitors center of any sort.
While Patara is certainly an interesting and historically important destination, it’s best to visit without any special expectations.
Entering the archaeological zone from the south, the first major structure you’ll encounter is the theater, built into the side of the nearby hill. With 38 rows of seats, it could once house as many as 8,000 spectators.
It was likely first built around the 2nd century BC before being restored during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37 AD). The stage building, meanwhile, was built around 100 years later with funding from local benefactors.
Notice the remnants of a semicircular wall separating the seats from the stage area. This helped protect the audience during gladiator fights and wild animal battles!
Compared with old photographs, the current theater is almost unrecognizable, having largely been rebuilt. As impressive an achievement as it is, some may find it a tad artificial-looking.
Only the stage area, which was originally two stories high, gives visitors an idea of the shape the theater was found in.
Just next to the theater is the Lycian Assembly Hall, or Bouleuterion. And just outside, multiple inscriptions found in the area are currently on display.
Among them is an honorary inscription for Marcus Antonius Idagras, a Pataran resident who was head of the Lycian League in the 1st century BC. It details residents erecting a bronze statue in his honor.
Another inscription from the 1st century AD, meanwhile, was dedicated by the Lycian League to the entire city of Patara. It was done so in honor of the residents’ political and economic contributions.
Constructed in the 1st century BC, the Assembly Hall acted as the seat of the entire Lycian government while Patara was capital. Each of the twenty or so Lycian city-states would have a vote on important regional matters, with the six largest cities getting three votes each.
Given the Lycian League’s lasting influence, this hall plays a major role in the history of world governments.
Stepping inside, it closely resembles the theater next door, though it only has a capacity for 1400 people. Occasionally, it was also used as an odeon for small concerts.
Greek historian Herodotus once wrote of ancient trade routes between ancient Egypt and the Caucasus region via the Black Sea coast. This inspired German explorer Dominique Görlitz to construct a series of reed boats in an attempt to test out ancient shipbuilding technology.
In 2019, the boat now on display outside the Assembly Hall was constructed in Varna, Bulgaria before making a successful journey all the way to Kaş!
Continuing north, you’ll reach Harbor Street. But first, you may want to check out the ruins to the east. The biggest structure here is the Vespasian Bath. At around 25 x 20 meters long, it’s the largest of Patara’s bathhouses but was still under excavation during my visit.
The other structures, meanwhile, likely functioned as the various shophouses of Patara’s ancient agora.
The colonnaded Harbor Street, in use from the Hellenistic era through the 7th century AD, remains in fine condition, with many of its Ionic columns still standing. The street stretches out to 12.6 meters wide, and would’ve likely been lined with shops in its day.
It once cut through the center of Patara, intersecting with the city’s other main roads.
Nearby are even more bathhouse ruins, such as the arched Central Bath built during the Roman era.
Reaching the end of Harbor Street, there are plenty more attractions to both the west and the east. If you’ve come from the south, it makes more sense to visit the western area first. Afterward, you can visit the east before returning to the main modern road.
The Mysterious Temple
From the end of Harbor Street, I spotted a structure in the distance to the northwest, but it was mostly obscured by tall, thick bushes. There was no clear path to get there, and I needed to climb – and sometimes crawl – through the dense overgrowth to get there!
To my surprise, despite the total lack of a path, an informational signboard had already been erected.
Known as the Prostylos Temple, the signage declared it to be the best-preserved temple of its kind in all of Lycia. The interior has yet to be cleared out, though, with full-grown trees still standing inside.
Originally, there would’ve been Corinthian columns outside the entrance along with a triangular pediment above the doorway. Built sometime in the 2nd century AD, it’s not known which deity was worshipped here. Quite possibly, it functioned as an Imperial cult temple.
Just nearby, meanwhile, is a bathhouse built by the Seljuks around 1,000 years later. The Seljuks built a new wall around the city, using the Prostylos Temple as the southeastern bastion. And this bathhouse was placed just alongside the new fortifications.
Backtracking south to the large east-west road, you’ll want to start heading west. Along the path, you’ll pass by even more baths from the Roman era.
Continuing west, you’ll eventually notice some ruins on the other side of the vast silted up marsh. But first, be sure to stop at the lighthouse to the south.
While there’s almost nothing left of the lighthouse today, it’s believed to be among the very oldest in the world. Dating back to around 60 AD, it was ultimately toppled in an earthquake.
Presently, archaeologists are attempting to rebuild it. At the time of my visit, there was nothing but the large stepped pedestal, on top of which was the circular foundations of the lighthouse tower.
All around the base, meanwhile, were an assortment of countless stone blocks. By the time of your visit, you should expect to see considerable progress.
Leaving the lighthouse, head north where you’ll encounter two additional landmarks. Unfortunately, both were covered in thick overgrowth and could only be admired from afar.
The first structure is a granary built in commemoration of Emperor Hadrian’s visit in 131 AD – much like the granary at Myra’s port of Andriake.
This one, however, remains largely in ruin, though enough of the wall survives to get an idea of its former size. It was originally divided into eight separate chambers.
As Patara was a major port, storage facilities were especially important. In addition to grain, this building once stored goods like wine and olive oil.
A bit further north is what’s known as the Pseudoperipteral Temple Tomb. As the name suggests, it was a cult temple and tomb built for a very prominent Patara resident, though we’re not quite sure who.
Pseudoperipteral temples were temples with freestanding columns in the front and attached columns on the sides. But these are hardly evident today.
A large, ornate sarcophagus was once found inside. In its current state, however, there’s very little to see of this one-glorious temple, as major excavations have yet to begin.
Next, backtrack all the way across the marshy area until you once again reach the end of the colonnaded Harbor Street. Past the street, there are several additional landmarks worth visiting in the northeast.
The basilica is the only one of its kind in Patara, in contrast to Lycian cities like Olympos that had several. Stretching out to 61 x 32 meters, the structure was built with three naves and once had mosaic flooring. It likely dates to the 6th century.
Despite containing relatively few Christian remains, Patara will always be famous for being the birthplace of St. Nicholas, who’d later directly inspire the character of Santa Claus.
Born around 270 AD, St. Nicholas would later move to Myra where he worked as bishop during the final days of pagan Rome. The 6th-century church built over the original is still visited by Christian pilgrims today.
Learn more about the Church of St. Nicholas along with a summary of his life in our guide to Demre.
Just nearby is the impressive Harbor Bath. The large bathhouse consisted of three main sections – a frigidarium, or cold room, a tepidarium, or warm room, and a caldarium, or hot room.
The bathhouse was in use from the 2nd-5th centuries AD, before eventually being converted into a workshop in the mid-600s.
Just to the west is what’s known as the Palm Grove of Leto, in reference to the Greek goddess who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. According to Greek mythology, the twins were born in a palm grove on the island of Delos, Greece.
Apollo was the primary deity worshipped in Patara, and his temple, which has yet to be located, was well-known for its oracle. Interestingly, according to Herodotus, the oracle would spend half the year in Patara and the other half on Delos. In ancient times, these two centers were nearly as famous as Delphi.
According to some researchers, the island of Delos was too rocky for a palm grove. The real palm grove of legend, then, may be this one in Patara. After all, Apollo was a native Anatolian deity whom the Bronze Age Hittites called Apaliunas.
The last major landmark of Patara is the ancient city gate. The 10-meter high, triple vaulted gate is the first thing visitors to the city would’ve seen (and still see) when entering from the north.
Built with local limestone, it’s hard to believe this well-preserved gate was constructed during the reign of Trajan around the year 100 AD. While the gate was recently restored, it survived in its original form for centuries, with archaeologists only needing to replace a few loose blocks.
The gate contains inscriptions in honor of the Lycian governor Mettius Modestus. As such, it’s also known as the Arch of Modestus. Portrait busts of Modestus once adorned the protruding consoles, while the niches above housed statues.
While it stands alone today, it also functioned as the final piece of a former aqueduct, delivering water to the nearby baths.
Just nearby the City Gate is a very well-preserved Lycian sarcophagus. And when finished here, you can return to the main modern road, walking north through the ancient necropolis.
Along the way, you’ll find various other tombs and the foundations of numerous other structures. Among them is yet another temple tomb built atop a podium. Clearly, Patara was a massive city in its day, and excavations may only be in their early stages.
As you walk along the road, a minibus headed for the main highway should eventually drive by. Hop in and return to the bus stop to head back to wherever it is you’re spending the night.
Most people visit from nearby Kalkan or Kaş. There are also direct buses from Fethiye, which is how I arrived.
To get to Patara from Fethiye, simply head to the main otogar (bus terminal). The bus you need to board is the one bound for Kinik/Kalkan/Kaş.
At the time of my visit, buses departed from Fethiye at 7:30, 9:45, 11:00, 12:15, 13:30, 15:30 and every couple of hours until 20:30 at night.
Returning from Patara to Fethiye, there are buses every few hours, and you can confirm the timetable at the Fethiye otogar.
Whichever direction you’re coming from, note that you won’t be dropped off at the ruins themselves. From the main highway, you’ll need to hop on a minibus (3 TL) which takes you all the way to the ticket gate and then the beach.
There’s no timetable for these minibuses, and I had to wait 15 minutes for one to appear. On foot, it would take around 30-40 minutes to reach the beginning of the ruins, and nearly an hour to walk to the beach.
Patara is located relatively nearby other Lycian archaeological sites like Xanthos, Letoon and Tlos. Though I’d planned to visit Xanthos on the same day, a bicycle race taking place that morning forced the highways to close. Buses from Fethiye wouldn’t even depart until the afternoon, and I had to nix my other plans.
At Patara, I did, however, meet a fellow traveler who’d made it to the Fethiye otogar just before the roads closed. He’d successfully visited Xanthos and Letoon that morning. But figuring out all the minibus routes was ‘hell,’ as he described it.
There are several hotels in Patara. As the beach and archaeological site are protected, they’re all some distance from the main site – around 30 minutes on foot from the beach.
The nearest towns to Patara are Kalkan and Kaş, both of which have plenty of accommodation options. They’re known for being on the pricier side, however.
I visited Patara while staying in Fethiye. If you’re looking for budget accommodation, there aren’t too many options, but I recommend HZD Apartments.
For around $14 a night, you’ll get a spacious private room, while each floor features a basic shared kitchen. While there was no private bathroom, there are multiple bathrooms on each floor. And with few other guests there during my visit, this wasn’t an issue at all.
The owner is quite friendly and hospitable, and can give you helpful information about things to do around Fethiye. Oddly, though, this is the only hotel I stayed at in Turkey that did not provide towels. You can, however, buy a cheap one at the nearby Carrefour.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.