Photography by Heide Van Doren Betz



Portico of an ancient temple. Will it fall?


Over the past decade, on three occasions, I was the guest of the German Archeological Society, courtesy of Professor Dr. Max Kunze of Berlin and the University of Antalya, who were excavating the site of Patara, Lycia, on the Mediterranean coast, in Turkey. Patara is a world famous archeological site with miles of white sandy beaches.


              The entrance gate to Patara with a Lycian tomb.


Patara, dating to the 5th century B.C., is mentioned in the ancient writings of Herodotus. Just 200 miles south of the city of Ephesus, Patara had a natural harbor which allowed it to become a prosperous community of traders and merchants with ship traffic from the East to Greece and Rome.  As Lycia’s leading maritime and trading city, it was captured many times throughout history.  Alexander the Great in 333, Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt (the Egyptians ruled it for over 100 years), the Rhodians, and Brutus and Cassius when in search of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra; all wanted to rule Patara.  The Romans finally annexed it in 43 A.D.

              Patara ampitheater archway.


In addition to its ancient fame, the biblical fame of Patara includes mention in the New Testament as the place where Paul and Luke met.  Several important early Christian bishops were born in Patara, such as Eudemus (Council of Nicaea) and Licineus.  Legend is that Jesus spent time in Patara.  The city adopted Christianity early and became a pilgrimage destination during Byzantine times.

One of its most famous residents, St. Nicholas, was born in Patara in c. 260 A.D.  He later became Bishop of the neighboring town of Myrna.  Nicholas became hugely popular performing miracles and representing the people before the Emperor for the purpose of lower taxation.  Myrna thrived because of Nicholas, and he became a cult over the next several centuries, especially in the Russian and Greek Orthodox Church where he became the Patron Saint of Greece and Russia.  Pilgrims flocked to Patara and Myrna for St. Nicholas.  Italian pilgrims stole his body from his grave in Myrna in the 11th century and transported it to Bari, Italy, which then became his pilgrimage site.  Nicholas became the patron saint of children, soldiers, merchants, scholars and travelers.  Many legends about him survive based on his kindness and giving.  These have led over the centuries to develop him as Santa Claus.

              The main street of Patara.


Today, excavations during two months in the summer have revealed ancient temples, amphitheaters, public baths, columns, roads, tombs and churches from Greek, Roman and Byzantine civilizations.  Many of the building materials were reused from one civilization to build structures of another.  Excavation will continue for hundreds of years and will undoubtedly reveal many more treasures and information about the past.

One Response to “Patara: The Ancient City Where St. Nicholas – Later Known As Santa Claus – Was Born”

  1. Dilly | 12.24.11 at 8:46 AM said…

    This is way better than a brick & mortar estbalismhent.