Patara is in the heart of the Lycian region, a region boasting thousands of years of history, breathtaking scenery and hundreds of kilometres of unspoiled coastline. 2000 years ago Patara was the largest and most important sea port of the Lycian civilization. According to Mythology Apollo was born here and it is also recorded as the birthplace of St. Nicholas.
As the principle port on the coast of Lycia, Patara has a long history. Excavations are slowly bringing the city’s ancient history to light. The finding of coins and ceramic fragments, during excavations, date the city to at least 7th century BC.
Patara had a three vote right in the Lycian league, as did the cities of Xanthos, Tlos, Olympos and Myra. The league generally held its league conferences in Patara, which was its harbour as well, Patara, which didn’t lose its importance during the Roman Empire, was also the seat of the Roman provincial governor, who turned it into a port from which the Roman fleet maintained contact with the eastern provinces. In the meantime Patara was the harbour where crops harvested in Anatolia were stored and kept for shipment to Rome. The large grain stores built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian are still standing.
During the Roman period, Patara became the capital of both the Lycian and Pamphylian provinces, it also became famous as one of Apollo’s soothsaying centres. Patara’s oracle at the renowned temple of Apollo was said to rival that at Delphi and the temple equalled the reputation of the famous temple on the island of Delos. It was believed that omens were interpreted during the winter in Patara and the summer in Delos. A large bust of Apollo, discovered on the hillside, beyond the city gate, indicates the existence of an Apollo temple, which is yet to be found.
During the Byzantine period, Patara again lost none of its importance and became a Christian centre of some significance. It is known for being a place of St.Paul’s missionary work at the end of his third missionary journey as he changed ships en route to Jerusalem. Patara is also the birthplace of St. Nicholas, who was born to a wealthy family from Patara and later went on to become Bishop of Myra.