Patara, Turkey-Ancient Republic

Lycian Parliament Restoration, Patara, Turkey

Lycian Parliament Restoration, Patara, Turkey

Assembly Of Lycians Awaits Grand Opening by Taylan Bilgiç – © 2011 Hurriyet Daily News – Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dozens of scientists and workers are working to finish the restoration of the Lycian League’s parliament. Professor Havva İşkan Işık says Turkey will present the parliament building ‘as a gift to humanity’ as of April next year…as the headquarters of one of the most advanced republics in human history is preparing for a new opening in April 2012.

Click here to jump to a more detailed history of Patara

from Peter Talloen, Kaş Archaeologist.

During the Roman period, Patara was the judicial seat of the Roman governor, and the city became the capital of both the Lycian and Pamphylian provinces at one time.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

James Madison

James Madison

As we have noted in a previous article about the Lycian League and the Lycian Way, Patara was the capital and parliamentary meeting place of this ancient republic.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, two of the founders of the American Republic, discussed ancient Lycia as a model for the United States in their letters called The Federalist Papers. Therein they found the seeds of their as yet unfounded Republic. Federalist No. 9, Federalist No. 16, and Federalist No. 45 specifically mention Lycia or the Lycian League.

To underscore the peaceful and legislative purposes of the area, Professor Havva İşkan Işık, head of the Patara excavation efforts says, “What strikes the academic most in these turbulent days of bloodshed is that the team here has not uncovered a single piece of weaponry. There is none,” she said.”No bows, no arrows, no spears. I think the possibility of a very peaceful life is very high.”

Patara Beach a Plus
At Patara (here you can see a photo map) you can take advantage of an truly ancient Lycian/Greek/Roman city and former capitol of the Lycian League AND afterwards go for a swim on its huge beach. There is a fee of 3 TL for each visitor but parking is free.

Patara, Turkey, Archaeological Excavations

Patara, Turkey, Archaeological Excavations

During June through early September it is best to arrive at 09:00 when it opens and tour the ancient site first, by 11:00 it will be too hot to do much more unless you are a really intrepid group of explorers.

As you enter the part, drive past the main gates and look for the theatre. If you can park close by it you can then walk all around the ruins except for where they are excavating. As the main article says, they have been doing renovations and restorations so be careful.

Later you can drive to the beach and, if you are in luck, you may find a shady spot to park. Umbrellas and beach loungers are for rent. Showers are next to the cafe-bar on the beach.

A Detailed History of Ancient Patara

Geography and History
Patara is located along the shores of a bay, forming a natural harbour basin with a length of 1600 m and a width of up to 400 m, near the estuary of the Xanthos River at the south-eastern tip of its valley. To south of the city lies one of the widest beaches of Turkey. It was in antiquity the major naval and trading port of Lycia, and a stop-over on the east-west shipping routes, linking the Eastern Mediterranean to the Aegean.

Like the other cities of the Xanthos valley, Patara is already mentioned in Hittite sources of the 13th century as Patar. The Hittite king Tudhaliya IV is said to have offered gifts in front of Mount Patar and built holy places there during his campaign in the region. But like the other cities, there is no material evidence for a settlement at this time.

Patara enters history again when in 334 it surrendered to Alexander the Great who promised the revenues of the city to one of his commanders, thus its value at that time is quite clear.
Following its capture, Patara became an important naval base, in the wars among the successors of Alexander. Patara was used as a naval base against Rhodes and its ally Rome. Attempts by the combined forces of Rome and Rhodes to capture the region were successfully beaten off, but in 189 BCE the Romans burnt part of the Seleucid fleet at Patara and the whole of Lycia was then given to Rhodes.

Lycian League
The rule of Rhodes was not well received and after several Lycian complaints, Rome granted autonomy to the region in 168 BCE which meant the start of the Lycian League. The league was a confederation of Lycian cities and an independent state. The league was under the direction of a leader called the Lykiarch whose power was controlled by an assembly of city delegates. Each city participated in the assembly with a number of delegates in proportion to their population. Big cities like Xanthos, Tlos, Pinara and Patara each had 3 representatives.

Patara, as the main city of the region, was the place where the assemblies of the Lycian league were held. For that purpose a special assembly hall was built. In 42 BVE, the city was captured by Brutus and Cassius, during their campaign against Mark Antony and Octavian, but was spared the massacres that were inflicted on nearby Xanthos.

Together with the rest of the region, Patara was formally annexed by the Roman Empire in 43 CE and became the capital of the provincia Lycia. It was in this period (57 CE) that Saint Paul boarded a ship from Patara at the end of his third missionary journey as he changed ships en route from Ephesus to Jerusalem.

Lycia was later attached to Pamphylia, forming the combined province of Lycia-Pamphylia and Patara lost its status of provincial capital to Perge. Nevertheless, it was the start of a very prosperous period for the city which saw the construction of numerous monuments.

During his tour of the eastern Mediterranean, the emperor Hadrian stayed for a while in the city in 131 CE, where he and his wife Sabina were honoured. At this occasion the emperor had a granary built in the harbour of the city (cf Andriake).

In 141, the city was struck by the earthquake that caused havoc throughout the region, and it as well received aid (18000 denarii) to rebuild its monuments from the Lycian benefactor Opramoas, who had previously financed the oracle of Apollo.

Christian history
Patara is also important for Christian history as it was the birthplace of Saint Nicolas (born c.260-280 CE), the later bishop of Myra, and known to many as Santa Claus. Under the administrative reforms of emperor Diocletian, the combined province of Lycia- Pamphylia was again split into its two constituent units, but Myra would become the capital, not Patara. As a result, the city became a bishopric of Lycia under the archbishop of Myra. That it was a major centre of Christianity is not only proven by the numerous churches present on the site (a total of 12 have been discovered so far) but also by the fact that one of the popes, Silverius, stayed in exile for a while at Patara during the reign of the emperor Justinian in the early 6th century.

By the mid-7th century the Arabs’ fleet challenged Byzantine naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean. Their raids eventually finished off Lycia.  Patara, still held on but was eventually reduced to a mere village. The townspeople were forced to retreat to a small fortified area, or kastron, on the eastern edge of the harbour. Small churches were being built within the ruins of the early Byzantine basilicas.

In the 10th century it became a naval base of the Byzantine Empire until the end of the 12th century, when the Byzantines were forced out of the region.  Its port is reported to have been used by the Turks through the 15th century.  Eventually, with too little manpower to keep the sand out of the harbour, it silted up, became plagued with mosquitoes and malaria and the city was eventually abandoned. In recent years a team of archaeologists from the university of Antalya has been excavating the site.


Tepecik Mound
This hill was the first place of settlement within the city centre of Patara.  Pottery has been found here dating back to the 7th century BCE, as well as some walls in polygonal masonry and a cistern dating to the classical period. It was certainly from this centre that the harbour-city of Patara developed in the Hellenistic period (opposite of the acropolis settlement of Doğucasarı – mount Patar).
Remains of a complex of buildings probably from the Byzantine era, identified as an oil lamp workshop based on the finding of a large clay storage area as well as the remains of many oil lamps.

Tepecik Necropolis
The northern necropolis of the city was located on the eastern side of the Tepecik Acropolis. These tombs were lining the road to the city. Mainly dating to the Roman imperial period. A whole range of tomb types has been found: temple tombs, temenos tombs, “U” shaped altar tombs (imitating monumental altars, on which sarcophagi were placed), chamber tombs, rock-cut tombs, pithos burials, simple burials and sarcophagi. Except for the Lycian style sarcophagi with ogival lid, no early Lycian tombs such as pillar tombs or rock-cut house tombs.

Most of these are carved from the local limestone.  A few of the rich had temple tombs made of good quality marble or sarcophagi with carved reliefs. Especially interesting are the installations for funerary rituals such as meals, or libations (liquid offerings). Offering altars have also been found, bowls used for liquid offerings, and a funeral portrait stele and holes where such steles were erected.

Gate of Modestus Patara, Turkey

Gate of Modestus Patara, Turkey

Gate of Modestus
This monumental gate, in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, marked the main entrance to the unfortified city on the south-eastern side of Tepecik hill.

The gate consisted of 3 arched entrances carrying a Doric superstructure. The dedicatory inscription reveals that “the people of Patara, the metropolis of the Lycia” built it in honour of C. Trebonius Proculus Mettius Modestus, a governor of Lycia-Pamphylia during the reign of the emperor Trajan ca 100 CE.

The arch has twelve consoles, six on each side, and portrait busts of Modestus and his family members were placed on them. The gate was also used as the last part of the aqueduct supplying the Tepecik cistern,; most probably the governor had financed its construction.

So-called Date-baths or Harbour Bath
The so-called Date-baths or Harbour Baths are one of the four bath complexes of Patara, located in front of the date palms near the gate of Modestus. Its rectangular spaces are constructed parallel to one another, typical for the Lycian baths (so called row type; cf Tlos and Arykanda). The eastern section of the complex that is completely collapsed is the palaestra, an exercise field used for sports such as boxing and wrestling.  The end of the palaestra and the nearby street pavement were decorated with mosaics.

The palaestra joins the next section, a frigidarium, through two doors with huge vaults. This cold room has an apse with windows to the south.  The next space is the tepidarium or warm room. And finally there is the hot room or caldarium, the most western room, facing the date palms with a giant arch.  All rooms were covered with a barrel vault.  The interior was once covered with marble tiles.  The heating system was the usual under-floor hypocaust system and the walls were built in such a way that the hot air would circulate throughout them around the chambers.

Originating in the early imperial period between 50 and 75 CE, placing them among the earliest examples in Lycia, they were renovated in Byzantine times. The bath was probably in use during the time of Justinian (527-565 AD).

When it went out of use we see encroachment. Along the street on the bath’s southern side, some pavement stones have been removed and a pit dug as a limekiln which was used to turn the bath’s marble tiles into lime.  At the caldarium an iron workshop was found with a round furnace along with waste metal.  It is a unique structure with two channels used for the discharge of molten iron and it was used to melt down the braces that kept the marble tiles affixed to the walls of the bath.

The remains of walls of late shops can be seen alongside the bath (encroachment) and along the southern side of the street one can see holes that were used to hold the shade supports of street stands.

Harbour and Basilica
The ancient harbour was 1600 m long and up to 400 m wide.

At the far side of the acropolis is the Harbour Basilica, usually underwater and covered in reeds.  The size of this tripartite columnar basilica was 33.5 x 17.5 metres. The apse of the basilica was constructed in the west slope of Tepecik acropolis.
It was probably built upon the remains of a large temple, reusing much of its building material, including its doors and columns. This is believed to be the location of the famous sanctuary of Apollo.
In mid-Byzantine period a small church was constructed in the nave.

Remains of a lighthouse have been discovered at the western side of the entrance to the harbour.

Hadrian's Granery Patara, Turkey

Hadrian's Granery Patara, Turkey

Hadrian’s Granary
Also located on the west side of the ancient harbour, is the granary of Hadrian, an imposing building of 70 x 25 metres, divided into eight sections. It probably had two storeys.
The granary was dedicated during the emperor’s visit in 131 CE. The Latin inscription on its façade, an indication that we are dealing with a state building, dedicates the horreum to the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina, who were exalted as Zeus Olympios and the New Hera respectively.

Patara lay on Mediterranean maritime trade routes, and most especially on the Annona route between Alexandria and Rome that transported grain supplies to the capital. Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and the imperial government had a fleet of grain ships that carried grain to Rome and other parts of the Empire.  Hadrian’s construction of huge granary buildings at the ports of Patara and Andriake were not built for the necessities of the Lycians, but as wintering stations of the grain fleet of Rome, where ships could be emptied and loaded. Patara, like Andriake, was a major trans-shipment point where cereals and other goods destined to be shipped to Rome were stored.  It remained in use until the early 7th century.

Corinthian Temple
Situated on the south-eastern corner of Patara’s mid-Byzantine kastron or fortified settlement, overlooking the inner harbour, is the only known temple of the city. It is a Corinthian prostylos with four Corinthian columns, built on a podium. The naos (sacred inner chamber or cella) is almost square and was preceded by a pronaos. The doorway has richly-decorated consoles and a frame of marble which allow it to be dated in the 2nd century.

Like several other small pagan cult buildings in cities throughout Asia Minor, this prostylos temple remained standing after it went out of use, as a monument to the glorious past. Later it was incorporated as a bastion into the kastron walls of the mid-Byzantine period.

Within the kastron are the remains of the city’s most important middle Byzantine church, a church with cross-domed plan (16.5 x 10.5 m) dating to the 10th century CE.

Baths of Vespasian Patara, Turkey

Baths of Vespasian Patara, Turkey

Baths of Vespasian
The largest of Patara’s baths are located in the south-east part of the city.
The main building is composed of three parallel interconnected chambers (row type); a few additional sections have been built on at later dates.

There was (from west to east) an apoditarium, frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium.  Its interior was once covered with marble tiles and it would have been heated with a hypocaust system.

Although they are called the Baths of Vespasian, it is believed that the construction started in the later years of emperor Nero’s rule. Two different architectural and inscription styles seem to verify this. The building’s dedicatory inscriptions states that “The bath was built from the foundations by Vespasian during the governorship of Sextus Marcus Priscus by using the funds collected from the people and with contributions of the military unit, with all of the ornaments and decorations and swimming pool.”

There seems to have been a palaestra to the west, next to the frigidarium and there may have been a gymnasium attached to it.  In the early Byzantine period, the complex was incorporated into the city fortifications.

Byzantine Fortification
The city got its first fortifications in the early Byzantine period. The circuit wall was provided with square towers every 30 m. It was built of reused material. The blocks of the Stadiasmos monument, for example, were incorporated into the corner of one of the towers. But also many funerary monuments were dismantled to obtain building blocks for the walls (cf Aphrodisias).

Opinions on the date range between the early 5th century (cf Sagalassos, Limyra) and the late 6th – early 7th century (cf Side). Against an early date, is the fact that the circuit entailed a major reduction of the city area, though the area outside the walls continued to be inhabited. Moreover, many public buildings were given up as a result.
In the middle Byzantine period the walled area was reduced even further, only to include a hillock on the eastern edge of the harbour, the kastron.

Patara Colonnaded Street Patary, Turkey

Patara Colonnaded Street Patary, Turkey

Colonnaded street
Patara’s colonnaded street was the main N-S street of the city.  Due to the marshy nature of the terrain the road network of Patara is not very well known, but there are indications for a grid-iron plan organized around this N-S axis of the city.

So far it has been excavated over a length of some 100 metres and continues along the harbour area (now under the ground and water) to the north, all the way to the Harbour Baths where its northern extension has been found.  The southern end of the street must have stretched all the way to the state agora, through the southern gate, which is now blocked by the Justinian walls. The blocks of this monumental double-arched gateway were mainly reused in these fortification walls.

The 12.5 m wide avenue was once undoubtedly very impressive, some of the columns that once lined it as part of a covered passage or portico are made of granite brought from Egypt. Behind the portico there was a row of shops.
The date of the street is unknown, but it is thought to have been built in the early imperial Era.

Patara Bouleuterion Patara, Turkey

Patara Bouleuterion Patara, Turkey

The Bouleuterion or council chamber is situated on the west side of the state agora.
This is the building where the elected representatives of the Lycian League met. Larger than the average Bouleuterion, the seating arrangement which looks like a standard theatre, could accommodate about 1,000 people.

The Lycian League itself had some 23 known city-states as members, which sent one, two or three representatives, depending on the city’s size, to the assembly at Patara. Inscriptions uncovered at the site provide the names of the various Lyciarchs or leaders of the assembly who sat in special seats or prohedria which took the form of an exedra, about midway up the semicircular chamber.

The date of the building’s construction goes back to the Hellenistic period, however, the structure in its present form dates from the Roman period.  A Lycian architect, Dionysus, built a roof for the building during the 2nd century CE and is praised for it on his tomb inscription. At this time it also served as odeion or roofed concert hall for music and poetry recitals for which a stage building was inserted into the structure.

In the early Byzantine period, when the assembly hall went out of use, it was incorporated into the city’s fortifications, and its upper seats were removed to provide building blocks.

Patara Hellenistic Theatre Patara, Turkey

Patara Hellenistic Theatre Patara, Turkey

Although the present structure is Roman, the theatre has its roots in Hellenistic times: the cavea is built on a foundation that is more than the Roman semi-circle. Also inscriptions mention that it was rebuilt by Polyperchon, a priest of Apollo, at the beginning of the 1st century CE (Tiberius) implying an earlier structure.

The cavea is divided by a diazoma or passage into a lower and upper section of seats.

The theatre needed reconstruction after the hugely devastating earthquake of 141 CE. A long inscription on the outer face of the stage building indicates that the stage building was constructed by a man named Quintus Veius Titianus, and that it was decorated by his daughter, Velia Procula, with statues, decorations and marble coverings “in honor of the divine emperors, the gods of the city of Patara and the Emperor Antonius Pius” in the year 147 CE.

In late antiquity, the orchestra was made deeper by the removal of the lower rows of seats to create an arena for the organization of animal hunts and gladiator fights.

Patara Theatre Stage Building Patara, Turkey

Patara Theatre Stage Building Patara, Turkey

The theatre has an independent skene or stage building from Roman times that had an aediculated façade with two floors (alternating niches and columned projections or pavilions) interrupted by five doors opening to the stage.

The remains of a podium on the top step of the cavea have lead researchers to believe that an important building once stood there.  It was surrounded by the back wall of the theatre and thus incorporated into the theatre’s structure. Considering the Dionysiac origin of the theatre it may well have been a temple of the god (cf Side).

Generally, the building was used for theatrical performances or competitions, but also for religious rituals, in particular of the cult of Dionysos, and political meetings of the people’s assembly.

Transept Basilica
On the east side of the city lies a major tripartite basilica (44 x 33 m) the largest of the city, outside the Byzantine fortification walls. It was preceded by an atrium to the west and a transept was inserted before the semicircular apse on the east (cf Perge, Side, Sagalassos); there does not appear to have been an narthex.

It was built of spolia and could be dated to late 5th – 6th century CE. A small church was built in the mid Byzantine period in the northern aisle.