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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.