Patara. A city that witnessed piracy and looting. Had been referred to as ‘the metropolis of the Lycian Nation’. Was the judicial seat of the Roman Governor. Fell under the rule of Antiochos III of Syria for a brief period of time. Saw St Paul change ships on route to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. And was an important naval base during the Byzantine Empire.
At the time when St Nicholas was born in Patara, around 275 AD, it had a population of about 15,000. It was a place where cottage industries flourished. Food processing. Textile and pottery making. Metal work. Brick, tile and stone work. Woodwork. Leather, bone and shell crafts. A place that bustled with life. And creativity.
It waxed and waned like the moon. Sheltered and supported countless generations. But when the river silted up. Turning it into marshland. Mosquitoes and malaria became the enemy. And so it surrendered. To the wind blowing in from the sea. To the shifting sands. To the deadly hand of time.
Today, the ruins that dot the landscape, enchant the tourists who visit them. They conjure up visions and glimpses of past glories. And because so much of ancient Patara is still buried under the sand, the stories that unfold through the ongoing excavations, can only tease and tantalise.
The lighthouse takes centre stage in such a story. Built in 64-5 AD by the Roman Emperor Nero, archaeologists believe that it was destroyed by a tsunami. Long ago. At an unknown date. In antiquity. Crushed and buried under massive blocks of stone, a skeleton was found. In the doorway. The lighthouse keeper? Trying to escape when he saw the massive wave heading his way? Who can know for sure? One can only guess at his fear. Or the fury of nature on that fateful day.
The Lycian League Assembly Hall, ruined, but newly restored by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, was where the representatives of the Lycian League met. Constructed in the Hellenistic Age, it must have seen a lot of shifting politics. Its present form hails from the Roman Period. Its creamy stones glimmer in the sunlight. Form a stark contrast with the deep blue of the sky. And invite the photographer’s eye to zoom in on its beauty. An aura of dignity and solemnity cloaks it, even when tourists trample carelessly where important political votes had once been cast.
It is a place to walk, and walk, and walk. To feel the sun turn the water you consume into tiny beads of sweat that kiss your skin. To taste the saltiness in the sea breeze. To smell the earthy scent of shrubs. To imagine what life here once looked like. Felt like. It is a place to enjoy the beauty and quiet nature has to offer as a balm for the soul. Here, in this lush valley, surrounded by hills, where the Xanthos river once flowed into the sea, is where Turkey hides some of her rich history.
The sleepy town of Gelemis, on the edge of the park that shelters Patara and her long, sandy beach, only exists because of tourism. Yet, it is stubbornly laidback and friendly. There is none of the ugliness that tourism often brings. It is welcoming and peaceful. A place where one can forget about the stresses and demands of modern life. And indulge in the simple pleasures life has to offer.
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* We stayed at the lovely Dardanos Hotel. Arif is the perfect host.
** We love the lovely Ferda, owner of the quaint shop Syessa Ana that stocks an amazing array of products from Turkey. Often made by women. And often attached to the most wonderful stories.