The minibus drops us at the foot of the aqueduct further inland. My vision of an aqueduct is the typical Roman concept of arched vaults spanning the entire valley, connecting one side to the other, but this one surprisingly looks more like a dam. Our path runs alongside a sophisticated water channel cutting like a stone trough in the hillside and a little further on we see the petrified silt still sticking to the inner walls. We then reach the level where the aqueduct crosses the valley atop of a solid stone wall that from a distance looks like a barrage. At the top of the wall, the square mass produced stone blocks line up like soldiers in a close row. In the center of these blocks measuring 90 x 90 cm runs a round pipe with on one end a male connection and a female on the other, so the blocks simply click together. Every five blocks or so there is a plug for maintenance access and at regular intervals the male connection has a higher ridge, so the entire block can be wiggled out of the row in case of a severe clogging. All in all, it is an amazing construction and I have never seen anything like it! It was built under Emperor Nero around 50 AD and according to the inscription on this wall, it has been repaired under Vespasian, some 12 years later.
As we walk around to the foot of this dam, I can now see two small gateways held in place by enormous lintels above them that served as passages for cattle or people. Proceeding further in the direction of Patara, we keep crossing the winding aqueduct time and again. Part of our path actually runs right through the water channel, which over the years has lost its top slabs as they made good reusable building material. We don’t walk the entire length of 21 kilometers – thank God! – but we are able to trace the course of this marvelous construction through the landscape. Very interesting, I must say.
After a couple of hours of treading over these old paths and passages, the grand city of Patara lays at our feet with the unmistakable theater in the middle of the picture. What a view! In the foreground stands a rather narrow arch, 10 meters high and 19 meters long, built in such a way that it aligns with the aqueduct, leading its water further to the fountains and Nympheums in town. It was actually constructed around 100 AD to honor the first governor general of Lycia and Pamphylia, administrator of Patara, C. Trebonius Proculus Mettius Modestus. The niches and pedestals that once held statues are empty now but clearly give a certain grandeur to this imposing three-arched construction that surprisingly enough shows the same design on both sides.
On the higher elevation to the west, beyond the swamps at our feet, recent excavations have revealed a large round tower-like building This is what is left of an almost 2,000 years old lighthouse. It is believed to be sixty years older than the one found in Spain which was known as being the oldest in the world and was built around 60 A.D. Originally the Patara lighthouse must have stood approximately 16-20 meters high.
At the foot of the mountain, we just came down an ancient road leads out of Patara, flanked by sarcophagi for the Patarans – like the Via Appia in Rome, no less. The sun is setting quickly now, putting Mettius Modestus’ Arch on fire and wrapping the lonely Lycian sarcophagus uphill in a golden shred.
To make the most of the fast dwindling light, our bus drops us at the southern end of Patara that was, and in some parts still is buried under the sand. The theater for one has been only recently dug out, much to Peter’s surprise and disappointment. He always felt it very rewarding when climbing the sand dunes to suddenly find himself in the middle of the theater. That enchantment is gone now but instead of sand we see shiny white stones as if the theater were built just yesterday. It is of Hellenistic origin with most of the two floored skene and the five doors opening to the proscenium still in place. Around the orchestra the seats have been removed to make place for a stone wall, meaning that the theater was converted into an arena where wild animals’ fights could be held. The VIP seats have obviously been removed and found a new place on the ambulatorium.
It is nearly dark by now and we can just decipher the inscription on the side wall, beside the parodos, reading that the theater was built with the contributions of the people of Patara. Other inscriptions mention that the theater was rebuilt at the beginning of the 1st century AD and that it needed repair after the earthquake of 141 AD. A long annotation indicates that the proscenium was constructed by a certain Velio Titionus and that his daughter, Velia Prouila, provided funds for the statues and the decorations "in honor of the gods of Augustus and in honor of the gods of Patara city and in honor of Emperor Antoninus Pius in the year 147 AD". It makes me wonder, how emancipated Roman women actually were?
Across from this theater stands a most impressive building, also very recently resuscitated from the sands. This is the Lycian Counsel – of all places! The access is barred with iron gates but one can easily recognize the Odeon-shaped seating inside flanked by two sturdy entrances under high vaulted ceilings. The floor is probably covered with mosaics but I cannot see them from outside. I am very much excited to see this important Counsel for this is where delegates from all over Lycia came together to vote on important matters. Since the League itself is so much older than the clearly Roman entrance indicates, I wonder if maybe the central part, i.e. the Odeon-shaped construction, dates from Lycian times (2nd century BC) and has been framed in a Roman concept later on – unless it is standing on old Lycian foundations? I am curious what future excavations will reveal.
Peter mentions that the famous Temple of Apollo has not been located yet. Its oracle, it is said, would rival only with that of Delphi and the Temple itself equaled the reputation of the famous temple of Delos. It was believed that Apollo lived at Delos during the summer but spent his winters at Patara.
Turkish archeologists are actively digging here right now, so who knows what they’ll come up with? Our visit is only superficial, just enough to put Patara on the map, but I am determined to come back one day and investigate this important site in detail. By now darkness has set in with a crescent moon looking down on all these centuries past. For us, it is time to drive back to our gulet.
Our poet has once again written a poem about this unique city:
P A T A R A - a sonnet
The city gate still stands. The aqueduct,
A seam of rubble stitched across the hill.
Goats browse inside the tumbled bathhouse walls.
No splash of water now. No voices heard
Along the marbled street. The theater plays
A scene of drifting sand. The harbor walls
Confront a silted bay. No sailors’ shouts,
No clank of anchor chains, no travelers’ tales.
Above the buried stones a woman calls
Her cows for milking. Low across the marsh
Two herons fly. A mellow sunset breeze
Rustles the reeds. Listen. Perhaps you hear,
Among the scattered, vaulted, empty tombs,
The dry whisper of Lycian ghosts.
John Onley - May 2005
Tonight the crew has the evening off and we are dining out for a change. Peter made reservations at Restaurant Belgin, in uptown Kalkan. We are seated in elegant Ottoman style outside on the roof among richly decorated cushions and colorful canopies and flowers. I find it difficult to fit my legs under the low table and the only way to do so is by taking my shoes off. It is a most lovely spot but, unfortunately, we are getting colder by the minute and after the mezes, we move downstairs around a square table under high wooden ceilings. The food is delicious but we all agree that Fatuşa’s cooking still wins the prize! We are all enjoying ourselves very much and time flies; it is midnight when we return to our bunks.Click on the Label Lycian Coast to read the full story