Patara, Turkey 13 – 5/2014
Leaving Ephesus, we headed south along the coast of the Mediterranean. We didn’t really want to rush but we could start to feel the pressure of our march route. We had to meet our guide, mandatory for crossing China, on August 28, and now here it was already the middle of May. We had a short four months to cross the next six countries. We could easily spend a year or more just seeing other parts of Turkey, but it was time to get to the water.
Patara was not really on our must-see list, but one of the things the historical town is known for is its 18 km, (11 mile), beach along the Turkish Riviera. We soon found out there was more than just sand to explore. Patara is said to have been founded by Pataras, the son of Apollo. Like Ephesus, it had a beautiful natural harbor, and again like Ephesus, it was conquered by Alexander the Great and a half a dozen others including Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt. The city was finally annexed by the Roman/Greek Empire in 43AD.
One of the most interesting facts is that it was Christianized relatively early and was the home of several bishops from 325 to 879. Nicholas of Myra was born in Patara in 280. Who is that?
He suffered persecution under the Emperor Diocletian who exiled and imprisoned him. After his release, Nicholas became the Bishop of what is today the Church the St. Nicholas of Myra. Over the years, stories of his miracles involving rescuing children and working for the poor spread to other parts of the world. He became known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift giving, especially to children. He was a popular saint in Europe until the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, a religious movement that led to the creation of Protestantism, which turned away from the practice of honoring saints.
St. Nicholas, however, remained an important figure in Holland and the German speaking countries where his feast day was (and still is) celebrated with the giving of gifts to children who behaved well. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname Sinter Klaas, and traditions of his feast day to their colonies in America. He became popularized in America as Santa Claus and his gift giving day moved from December 6 to Christmas.
On the way east we will visit the excavation of the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra, but now back to Patara.
We could still imagine a beautiful harbor but today it’s a swamp, choked with sand and bushes. The original site is currently being excavated by a team of Turkish archaeologists and many of the buildings are being carefully restored. A few pictures tell the story better than words.
We did take time to walk around town and explore the harbor. For several years we had imagined taking a sailing trip into the Mediterranean. I once read a statement in Nikos Kazantzakis’ book, Report to Greco, where he profoundly claimed that “Man could wish for no greater thing than to sail the Aegean in the Springtime”. We saw plenty of sailboats in the harbor that did tours but to our disappointment, we learned that most of them rarely raise their sails. They were basically waterborne tour buses that motored from port to port. Someday we are determined to go back and do a little more research.