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PATARA (GELEMİŞ)

Turkey's finest beach                Population: 1,000

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Favourite son: St Nicholas

Patara is well known for having one of the best beaches in Turkey, twenty km of soft white sand that stretches out some three km south of the village of Gelemiş with not an ugly high-rise hotel to spoil the vista.

What is less well known is that some of the beach is still truly wild, a place where you can come and find yourself with only the waves for company, a place where you can walk for hours and rarely encounter another soul. To find that more isolated part of the beach you have to divert away from the road that links Gelemiş to the main stretch of sand. Do that and you will find yourself lost amid some of Turkey’s finest ancient ruins as well.

As for Gelemiş, it's not somewhere to get too excited about, consisting of a ramshackle collection of pensions and restaurants with the odd slightly larger hotel looking as if it's strayed from nearby Kalkan. 

Backstory

Patara started life as a Lycian settlement, and there is plenty of evidence of Lycian presence here in the form of massive sarcophagi scattered around the fields, each of them with a gaping hole where treasure-hunters have forced their way inside in search of gold.300 DSC01863

Later, the town became famous for an oracle that was sacred to Apollo. However, archaeologists have not so far found any trace of it.

The town had the usual convoluted history up until 42 BC when the Roman senator Brutus heard rumour of its wealth and forced the locals to surrender to Rome. Regardless, it seems to have remained an important place where Sts Paul and Luke changed ship on their way from Miletus to Jerusalem.

It was around 300 that St Nicholas, Patara’s most famous son, was born. Over the centuries he was slowly transformed from a mere provincial bishop into Santa Claus AKA Father Christmas. He's buried in Kale a little further east along the coast. 

But as at Ephesus (Efes) so at Patara. Slowly the harbour that had been the source of its wealth silted up until eventually ships could no longer use it. After that the town fell into decline until by the early 19th century British explorers could report that there was no one living here any more.

Ancient Patara

As you walk down to the beach you will quickly arrive at the remains of a triumphal arch that was erected in 100 for the local governor, Mettius Modestus. Then a little to the south you pass the remains of a large bathhouse and then of a basilica where it is perhaps a little too fanciful to imagine St Nicholas having preached.

From here you can either head on south to the sand, or cut inland towards the remains of a stretch of wall. Near here, archaeologists have uncovered a long stretch of marble pavement lined with shops with a colonnade running along each side of it, the İstiklal Caddesi, perhaps, of its day. It’s a short walk north from here to explore what is left of a temple to Apollo which seems to have folded in on itself, its huge entrance cracked at the top, and trees growing inside what must once have been the sanctuary of the god.

200 DSC01874However amazing all this is, it’s mere window dressing compared with the real gem of Patara, which is a wonderful, virtually undamaged theatre that dates back to the first century. This owes its fantastic state of preservation to the sand, which, over the centuries, flowed across its thirty rows of marble seats, thus protecting them. The sand has since been cleared away, leaving behind an incredibly evocative place to sit and ponder the fall of empires.

Near the theatre the bouleterion (council chamber) also survives in reasonable shape, although access to it is barred.

No matter – you can still scramble up the hill behind the theatre, which seems to have been the city’s acropolis and where there is still an impressive cistern. From here a path winds round a stagnant stretch of water, all that remains of the once vital harbour. On its far shore stand the remains of a huge granary paid for by the Emperor Hadrian in the second century, and looking as it must have been built from the same blueprint used for the one at Andriake, near Demre/Kale.

From the path to the granary you can head west across the sand dunes to reach the more isolated part of the beach.

As at İztuzu Beach, near Dalyan, these sands are popular with Caretta caretta (loggerhead) turtles who come up onto the sand to lay their eggs from May to October. It is at least in part due to the efforts of turtle fans that development at the beach has been prevented, so we should stick to the rules drawn up to protect the eggs and the baby turtles.

Sleeping

Flower Pension. Tel: 0242-843 5164

Golden Pension. Tel: 0242-843 5162

Patara View Point Hotel. Tel: 0242-843 5184

Transport info

Regular buses ply the coast road from Antalya to Fethiye, passing the turn-off for Patara. 

In summer, there's the odd minibus straight to Gelemis. Out of season, however, you may have to walk the last part of the journey down to the village and may need your pension owner’s help to get back up to the main road.

Day trip destinations

Kalkan

Kaş

Letoon

Xanthos

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-159505-the-perfect-peace-of-patara.html

Read more about restoration of theatre: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/worlds-first-parliament-building-renovated.aspx?pageID=238&nID=15465&NewsCatID=375#.T1hSgf-ip1o.facebook

 

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