On the coast 11 km S of Xanthos, 5 km E of the mouth of the Xanthos river. Patara was at all times among the most important cities of Lycia, and its principal port. The harbor, though reckoned too small to accommodate the Roman fleet of Aemilius in 190 B.C., was nearly 1.6 km in length by rather less than 0.4 km in width. It is now silted up and separated from the sea by a broad sand dune.
Patara was probably a Lycian foundation; its Lycian name, known from the inscriptions and coins, was Pttara. The city is mentioned in the 5th c. by Herodotos and Hekataios, and in the 4th by pseudo-Skylax; it surrendered peaceably to Alexander and was one of four cities whose revenues were offered by him to the Athenian Phokion, though the gift was not accepted. It was an important naval base during the wars of the Successors, and was occupied in this capacity by Antigonos in 315 B.C. and by Demetrios during his siege of Rhodes in 304. Later it came, with the rest of Lycia, into the hands of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who changed the name for a while to Arsinoe. In 190 B.C. it was held by Antiochos III despite Rhodian efforts to capture it.
In the Lycian League Patara was one of the six cities of the first class possessing three votes in the League assembly; in 190 B.C. Livy calls it caput gentis. Under the Empire it continued to flourish, and held the rank of metropolis; it was the seat of the imperial legate and the repository of the archives of the Lycian League. Patara was the birthplace of Bishop Nicholas of Myra in the 4th c., and later its own bishop ranked 31st under the metropolitan of Myra.
Coinage began in the 5th c. After 168 B.C. the coins, though often varying from the familiar League types, constantly feature Apollo; this is not, however, the case with the earlier issues, where Hermes and Athena are predominant. Imperial coinage, as usual in Lycia, is confined to Gordian III; Apollo is still the constant type.
Apollo had a temple and oracle at Patara. The oracle is mentioned first by Herodotos (1.182). Despite the evident fame of the oracle, very little is heard of its activity. Of the temple building we have no description, nor has any trace of it ever been seen on the site itself.
The site of Patara is now quite deserted, and has never been excavated; the harbor has become a marsh which only partially dries up in summer. The ground is flat except for a hill some 19 m high at the E entrance to the harbor. Of the ancient city wall very little remains. A number of the buildings are still in good preservation. On the E side of the harbor, and apparently in the line of the city wall, is a triple arch standing virtually complete; six consoles on each face carried busts of the family of Mettius Modestus, governor of Lycia-Pamphylia about A.D. 100, and the building is accordingly dated to that time. To the S of this are the ruins of a bath building and a basilica. Also to the S are the baths of Vespasian, identified by an inscription over the door; this building (ca. 105 x 48 m) is divided into five intercommunicating rooms; the inscription refers to swimming pools.
In the NE slope of the hill is the theater, unusually well preserved but now largely filled with drifting sand; an inscription records the dedication in A.D. 147 of the proscenium and the stage constructed by one Vilia Procula and her father. The theater is, however, much older than this, as is shown by another inscription recording repairs made to it in the time of Tiberius. The building is over 90 m in diameter, and the cavea is remarkable for its steep gradient. The ground floor of the stage building is in the Doric order, and above it is a row of windows.
Near the top of the hill is a deep circular pit 9 m wide with a square pillar of masonry in the middle; a stairway, partly rock-cut, leads down to the bottom. This was at one time supposed to be the oracle of Apollo. Others have regarded it as a lighthouse, but its situation, below the summit of the hill on the side away from the sea, is hardly suitable. It seems in fact to be a cistern, the central pillar being intended to facilitate roofing. Cisterns would be a necessity at Patara in early times, for the site was almost totally without water until aqueducts were constructed (see below). And the site near the top of the hill is obviously appropriate for distributing the water to the city below. There are some other traces of buildings on the hill, but not enough to constitute a true acropolis.
At the opposite (W) side of the harbor mouth is a rectangular foundation which supported a round building approached by steps; of its inscription only a few letters have been found. This is supposed, with much greater probability, to have been a lighthouse. Its date has not been determined.
Farther to the N, also at the edge of the harbor, is the granary of Hadrian, so identified by its inscription. In size and form it is remarkably similar to the granary of Hadrian at Andriake (Myra). Some 67 x 19 m, it is divided into eight intercommunicating rooms of equal size. Each room has also its own door in the facade, and above these are windows and consoles. Except for the loss of its vaulted roof, this building stands complete.
The principal necropolis is to the N of the site, consisting mainly of sarcophagi of Lycian type but not of early date; only one tomb of temple form has been found at Patara. Among other tombs around the theater hill and in the neighborhood of the granary is a conspicuous built tomb approached by eight steps, with a paneled ceiling, having originally four columns in front and two between antae, with a pediment above.
Ruins of two aqueducts are to be seen: one near the coast to the W of the Letoum, the other in the hills N of Kalkan. The former is of the usual Roman type; the latter, also of Roman date, is in the form of a wall of polygonal masonry 6 m high, pierced by two narrow doors, with a water channel above, preserved for a length of 0.4 km. One or both of these presumably fed Patara, though no remains of them are visible within 8 km of the city. (G. E. BEAN)
Info: Princeton Encyclopedia
(Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, from Perseus Project)