Patara is renowned as the birthplace of Apollo and is one of the oldest and most important cities of Lycia. It was named , Patara in the Lycian tongue, now simplified to Patara.
We know that the city existed in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. and that is was saved from destruction by opening its gates to Alexander. After the death of Alexander, it fell into the hands first of Demetrios, in 304 B.C. and later the Egyptian Ptolemaios II Philadelphos. For a period it bore the Egyptian name Arsinoe; this name did not survive beyond the Egyptian rule. Patara was re-captured by Antiochos III in 190 B.C.
Patara had a three-vote right in the Lycian confederacy, like the cities of Xanthos, Tlos, Olympos and Myra. The confederacy generally held its conferances at Patara.
After coming under Roman rule, Patara retained its importance and became the center of the Roman provinces in the area. At the same time it became the port from which the Roman fleet maintained contact with the eastern provinces and a grain store from which Rome was supplied. In order to house large stocks of grain, silos were built during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. Hadrian himself visited Patara with his wife Sabina and stayed there for a short period.
The ancient writers refer to Patara as the birthplace of Apollo and the home of an important oracle, who they say interpreted omens during the winter months in Patara and during the summer months in Delos. This they interprete as relating to the legend that Apollo staying at Delos during the mild summer months and at Patara during the winter. Whether it was his home during the summer or winter months, these words are sufficient to. attribute Patara as his birthplace, like Delos.
During the Byzantine period, Patara again lost none of its importance, and became a Christian center of some significance, as the St Nicholas whom we know as Santa Claus was born here. St Paul set out for Rome by ship from Patara. However unfortunately after this period, apparently rejected by the gods and saints alike, the harbour of Patara, which was 1,600 meters in length and 400 meters in width silted up, preventing sea-going vessels from entering it. This meant that the city gradually lost , its importance.
Since then the city was gradually cavered with dunes that give it the appearance of a desert and are slowly obliterating all the buildings left standing.
On the way to Patara, we may see the remains of Roman tombs by the side of the road, about knee height, and several tombs of the Lycian type, which indicate that this was the site of a necropolis. We also notice a monumental gate still standing, which was the entrance to the city. According to its inscription, this victory arch was built in 100 AD. by the Roman governor Mettius Modestus.
There are many temples at Patara. A large head of Apollo was discovered on the hill beyond the city gate, which indicates the existance of an Apollo temple, the whereabouts of which we now do not know. We know that during the first century of Roman rule, the center of the oracle of Apollo fell into disrepair, but that Opramoas, a rich Lycian whose name is to be seen throughout Lycia and who himself came from Rhodiapolis, had the town of Patara re-built.
South of the hill can be seen the remains of a bath, beside which is another bath with an inscription indicating that it was built in the time of Vespasian. This measures 105 by 48 meters. Beyond this, after passing through some bushes and over some sand we arrive at a temple in the Corinthian order. Like the other parts of the city, this has also survived to our day in relatively good condition. The portal and columns are still in place.
The theater, which is set into a slope is unfortunately half-filled with sand. An inscription on the eastern side of the skene indicates that it was built by Velia Procula and her father in 147 AD. On the hill-top above the theater is a temple to Athena.
Near this is a cistern 8 meters deep, that has been carved into the rock. To the west of the cistern is a part of the walls of the harbor lighthouse of Patara.
Beside the harbor, now a swamp, can be seen the granery built by Hadrian. This building, called the horrea or granarium measured 67 by 19 meters and was divided into eight sections.
Beside the granary , the walls of a large monumental tomb are to be seen and behind it are buildings that were probably part of the agora of Patara, a supposition strengthened by appearance of cells that were probably used as shops.