We’ve got a big soft spot for this area. The hills and mountains surrounding the Xanthos Valley create scenery that never fails to capture us each time we pass through. There are also thousands of years of history here, and this little corner of Turkey is packed with Lycian and Roman ruins that, these days, is not lying idol.
Archaeologists are carrying out digs on many of the sites, changing previous ideas about how the Lycian people lived and also uncovering finds that make national news. For instance, the discovery of the Tlos Roman statues in August 2011 caused much excitement and Fethiye Museum was the lucky recipient of them.
Down from the mountains and towards the coastline of the Xanthos Valley are the UNESCO sites of Xanthos and Letoon – two sites that we enjoy exploring in one day by walking between them along the Lycian Way – but until June of this year, it had been nine or ten years since we had visited the Xanthos Valley’s other major site, Patara. We knew about ongoing digs there and had read about restoration projects so we decided it was time to renew our acquaintance with the place.
We’re glad we did because we barely recognised the place. All either of us could remember was a Roman theatre and a quick look at Patara Beach. We were with visitors who didn’t much fancy walking around in the heat, so that was about the sum of our explorations. This time, it was just the two of us and we had time on our hands. We parked up in the small village of Gelemiş and set off along the cobbled road towards the ruins and the beach ahead.
As you can see in the photos, the route towards the ruins is exposed and there is no respite from the heat of the sun. If you do want to spend time getting up close and personal with the ruins of this area, spring and autumn are more advisable so you can enjoy the views of the wetlands and pause longer at the roadsides to peer down at the ruins below.
Because if you come to Patara to go and lie on the fine sands of the beach for the day and you drive there, these are all the ruins you’re going to miss. Sections of Byzantine churches intermingled with Lycian sarcophagi sit below the embankment awaiting their restoration and continued digs. Much of this is fenced off – but you can see, as the road climbs gradually higher, the vastness of the settlement that was once here. Patara was the main port of Western Lycia.
There are huge holes in the hillsides that have recently been identified as underground tombs of the Tepecik Necropolis and there is a feeling as you walk along that this site is really starting to come alive. Amongst the mass of rubble and stone, you can see newly uncovered areas taking shape. According to the information boards, finds here date back as far as the 10th Century BC giving evidence that the Lycian period began much earlier than previously thought.
Walking around a museum full of labelled artefacts behind glass cabinets can sometimes seem a bit abstract and lifeless, particularly if that museum is large, but having these archaeological sites within such easy reach of Fethiye, it’s exciting…well, it is if you like that kind of thing. We do.
Protected by corrugated roofing and metal frames, a series of kilns have been uncovered in the necropolis, along the left hand side of the Patara Beach approach road. The excitement of places like Patara is in the fact that the digs are ongoing and this metal protection is evidence of new discoveries. It’s not pretty to look at but they dare you to take a peek inside because you know what lies under here is something the archaeologists deem to be of significance.
Eventually, as you continue along the road, what is perhaps Patara’s most famous sight – after it’s long stretch of sandy beach, of course – comes into view, just around the bend. This is the Arch of Mettius Modestus and we’ll get to that in the next post…