Patara – Archaeology and restoration 1998 to 2012

2012 Archaeologists at work

Over recent years there has been a fair amount of restoration work done on the ruins of Patara.  We have spent some time digging out our older photographs from previous visits, with some success, we have photos from this year and 2007, and older photos on paper, from 1998, which we have had digitised.   Our record of changes over the last few years.

2012 Bouleuterion and Theatre – Site view

Much of Patara has been covered with sand, we guess from the point of view of restoration this is a good thing because a great deal of the stone will have been preserved, or protected from being recycled which is what commonly happens.  The vision for Patara seems to be to remove vast amounts of sand and restore some of the buildings, this restoration using a mixture of original stone, new stone (carefully chosen to match the old stone), new marble, and cement where necessary.  From an archaeological point of view this is restoration, not necessary in terms of knowledge, but we guess this is not really about science.

1998 Bouleuterion

Newly restored is the bouleuterion, essentially a parliament building.  This has been significantly restored with a lot of new stone.  The official opening was the day before we got to Gelemiş  and, we arrived along with a couple of coachloads of tourists, many of whom had taken lunch at one of the village restaurants.  The bouleuterion is important as it was the meeting place of the Lycian League.  The League is being touted as the first multi-city democratic institution, which, in some senses, it was.   The restoration

2012 Bouleuterion

is carefully researched and everything fits.  It looks very good indeed but, again, whilst it gives the visitor an excellent idea of what the building originally looked like and whilst it has clearly been wired for light and sound, from an archaeological point of view, we are not sure that anything has been gained.

2012 Theatre

Also of note is that all the sand has been removed from the theatre.  We were told this was done by a local entrepreneur who realised that it did not contain salt, removed it in collaboration with the archaeologists, and sold it to local farmers for agricultural purposes.  We are not sure how true this tale is but it does sound plausible.

2012 Lighthouse

Currently work is being done on the lighthouse – we heard it had recently beendiscovered which is nonsense; the Romans mapped and recorded everything.  The archaeologists knew exactly where it was, so newly excavated from the sand is a more accurate description.  Perhaps the linguistic distinction between discovered and uncovered is a little pedantic.  The work being carried out seems to involve a lot of old stone being collected, new stones being brought in, and more cement, carefully crafted to the correct dimensions.  Our understanding is that the plan is to restore the lighthouse to a similar level to that of the work done to the bouleuterion.  Next up for this treatment is supposed to be the theatre, which will be a far larger project.

2012 Inside Bouleuterion

We are not sure how we feel about this level of restoration.  As we said it is not a matter of science – no new facts about the site are likely to be discovered (though it is possible that excavation will turn up something of interest).   This is about tourism – in Turkey the sites are managed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.  It is hoped that the restoration will attract mass tourism, will be good for the local village – Gelemiş – and for the area.  The talk we heard had phrases like, ‘bigger than Ephesus’.  Quite possibly true, there is a whole city under the sand.

Another issue is that, as with ‘Troy’ Patara was an important city in at least two epochs.  Which buildings do you restore?  Do you knock down the Roman remains to show the city built by the Lycian League?  How can you display the evolution of a city?

Will it bring more tourism?  Who knows…  Ephesus gets traffic not only because it is spectacular (and highly restored) but also because it’s one of the cities mentioned in the New Testament – it’s very much on the ‘Paul Trail’.  On top of that, Ephesus gets coaches out from the huge cruise ships which dock in Kuşadası.  I’m not sure that Kaş is big enough to support a similar degree of cultural tourism.  Antalya and Fethiye are, but they are a lot further from Patara than Kuşadası is from Ephesus.  And, sadly, even if the cultural tourists roll in, they are likely to roll out again without contributing greatly to the Gelemiş economy.  Building in Gelemiş is strictly limited due to the proximity of turtles and history so, whilst we love the simple accommodation and the home cooking, mass tourism demands more ‘luxury’ and more nightlife.

As to the restoration:  Here are the rest of the pictures, dated, so comparison can be made.  A good thing or a bad thing?  Draw your own conclusions.


4 responses to “Patara – Archaeology and restoration 1998 to 2012

  1. Patara was one of the first sites J and I visited in Turkey, way back. It was soon obvious that the site and beach was on the list for max exploitation for max profit. Admission prices went through the roof and visitors plummeted. Special Protected Status was on the books so the locals fired the area stop it and many species were lost. Restoration in this way has been rejected around the world as well as here in Turkey – better to build a replica (or Disney World) away from the originals.

    • I’m not sure. York Minster got restored, as did the Mary Rose, So too many building across Europe after various wars. I am not sure about the level of restoration going on at Patara, but I (Ashley) very much prefer things to remain in situ than to have replicas (or originals) elsewhere.

      The beach remains Special Protected and seems well respected by the locals and tourists we have met over our various visits to the area. I think the same is also largely true at other turtle beaches such as Iztuzu beach which is far more heavily touristed, and the more remote and wonderful Çirali beach. Of course there are always going to be pressures between human activity and preserving the environment, this happens the world over.

      Patara admission was 7.5 Lira for a 10 entry beach and ruins card. Pretty good value. We were allowed to use one for the two of us, giving us 5 entries each. Single entry was, I think, 5 Lira.

  2. first of all i agree with some of the comments in ‘omentide”s contribution and am very appreciative that Turkey leaves some of its heritage in situ to be enjoyed by its own people as well as tourists
    i am not sure if the author of the main article is aware that if it wasnt for the persistence of the archaeologists the area between the village and the beach might have been buried for ever but this time under concrete hotels and other tourist facilities etc
    the charge to enter the national park that the beach and archaeological site is included in is very reasonable, the money goes to upkeep etc and the national park status enables the government to control development which it has done for example there is only one cafe / restaurant on the beach, the sunlounger / umbrella area is limited and beyond this the turtles’ area and natural environment appear to be respected
    my partner and me were very impressed by the progress of the site and the huge efforts being made by the archaeologists to preserve and omigod how dreadful ‘resotre’ parts of it!
    finally, i don’t think it is the role of a guest in another country to decide what is or isnt ok for that country to do about its heritage especially with a large and complex country like Turkey where there are so many conflicting issues and Turkish people themselves are the best to decide


    • We didn’t mean to be critical of what is being done. Clearly there are good points and bad points to any restoration project and we try to take a balanced view.

      Certainly anything that benefits the village is desirable (provided it doesn’t destroy the turtles) but, all too often, these projects do not benefit local people or local business. We live close enough to Ephesus to see the reality of that every day.

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