Patara's grand monuments lie scattered along the road to the beach. The main section of ruins is dominated by the dilapidated 5000-seat theatre. Next door is the bouleuterion, ancient Patara's 'parliament', where it is believed members of the Lycian League met. It has been thoroughly restored, following a two-year, ₺8.5-million reconstruction. The colonnaded street, with re-erected columns, runs north from here. This would have been Patara's grandest boulevard, lined by shops and with the agora at its southern end.
Away from the main ruins there are plenty more remnants of Patara's long history to fossick through. From the ticket booth, along the Gelemiş–Patara Beach road, you first pass the 2nd-century triple-arched triumphal Arch of Modestus, with a necropolis containing a number of Lycian tombs nearby. As you head along the road, next is a Harbour Baths complex and the remains of a Byzantine basilica before you arrive at the central section of ruins.
From the colonnaded street a dirt track leads to a lighthouse built by Emperor Nero that lays claim to being one of the three oldest lighthouses in the world. This is the area of the ancient harbour, once on a par with Ephesus and now a reedy wetland. It is also home to the enormous Granary of Hadrian, used to store cereals and olive oil, and a Corinthian-style temple tomb.
Patara's place in history is well documented. It was the birthplace of St Nicholas, the 4th-century Byzantine bishop of Myra who later passed into legend as Santa Claus. Before that, Patara was celebrated for its temple and oracle of Apollo, of which little remains. It was Lycia's major port – which explains the large storage granary still standing – and boasted three churches and five bathhouses in Roman times. According to Acts 21:1–2, Saints Paul and Luke changed boats here while on their third mission from Rhodes to Phoenicia. The inscribed tablets flanking the entrance to the bouleuterion give fascinating insights into daily life here in millennia past.
If you plan to visit a few times, you will save money by buying a long-stay ticket allowing 10 entries over 10 days for ₺30.