Patara was the principal port of Lycia, famed for its oracle of Apollo, and as the fourth-century AD birthplace of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (aka Santa Claus). Today, however, the area is better known for its fine white-sand beach (one of the longest continuous strands in the Mediterranean), served by pansiyons, bars and restaurants in the village of Gelemiş over 2km inland. In season the immediate vicinity of the beach entrance gets crowded, but walking northwest past the dunes brings you to plenty of solitary spots – and a few unharassed colonies of nudists. Spring and autumn swimming is delightful, but in summer the exposed shoreline can be battered by a considerable surf (at least by Mediterranean standards).
The beach is a summertime turtle-nesting area, off-limits after dark (May–Oct), while in winter the lagoon behind attracts considerable bird life. Conservationists backed by the Ministry of the Environment have managed to exclude villas from the cape at the southeast end of the strand, while the area’s protected archeological status has halted most new building at Gelemiş. Horseriding and walking in the hills to the east are now promoted, using both the Lycian Way and other trails, as well as canoeing on the Eşen Çayı.
At the southern edge of Gelemiş village, a gate and ticket booth controls vehicle access to both beach and archeological site beyond. Although the ruins are unfenced, you are not allowed in outside the official opening times. Much of Patara – especially numerous badly overgrown, polygonal-masonry walls – remains unexcavated (though this is slowly changing). Just a few paths link individual ruins, and there are no facilities or shade – bring water, stout shoes and a head covering during summer.
Legend ascribes Greek origins to Patara, but in fact the city was originally Lycian, borne out by coins and inscriptions sporting an un-Hellenic PTTRA. The city was famous for its temple and oracle of Apollo, supposedly rivalling Delphi’s for accuracy, because Apollo supposedly spent the winter months in the Xanthos valley. However, no verifiable traces of this temple have ever been found.
Patara served as a naval base during the wars between Alexander’s successors. Later, in 42 BC, Brutus threatened the Patarans with a fate similar to that of the Xanthians if they didn’t submit, giving them a day to decide. He released the women hostages in the hope that they would lessen the resolve of their menfolk. When this didn’t work, Brutus freed all the remaining hostages, thereby endearing himself to the Patarans, who subsequently surrendered. Whatever his tactics, his chief motive was suggested by the fact that he exacted no other punishments, but merely confiscated the city’s gold and silver.