Part XXVIII: Patara, Turkey
Skiff. Kalkan, Turkey
Skiff. Kalkan, Turkey

At least the drum has stopped.

The amplified, sunrise call to prayer still peals forth from the nearby mosque, but I now feel confident enough to assert that the 4:30 Ramadan drumming is not a local Kalkan custom. I suspect that the holiday crowd — a mix of Brits, Aussies, and Germans — would lynch anyone foolish enough to try. So that's something positive to jot down on Kalkan's scorecard.

I like to begin my reports with a focus on the positive, but, to date, I have to admit that Kalkan is not working its magic on me. I am not a lover of resorts. I do not want to travel somewhere in order to lay about on the beach all day and eat overpriced, poorly prepared food in a waterfront restaurant. Kalkan seems to exist for one purpose: to separate tourists from their lira. People come here (especially from Britain) to do nothing for a week. The streets are lined with bars advertising “Margaritas” and “Sex-on-the-beach,” souvenir shops, and restaurants (“full English breakfast!”). It is a beach resort, interchangeable with a thousand other resorts across the world. I am finding it difficult to love.

Kalkan, Turkey
Kalkan, Turkey

Kalkan is a new town. There was a fishing village on this site for centuries, but the few people who lived here abandoned their homes after a devastating earthquake in 1957. For decades the town stood empty. Then, a famous Turkish actor, Erkut Taskin, moved here and opened a small hotel. This led to an influx of tourists, which revitalized the town. Today the surrounding hills are covered with holiday homes ― many owned by the British.

The town is built around a natural harbor. A breakwater has been recently installed (it is not present in pictures from a guidebook that probably dates to the early 90s), creating a small harbor that is lined with excursion boats. East of the harbor is a pebble beach where we have been swimming the past two afternoons. The girls and I purchased masks and snorkels, and have been developing our diving skills. The water is intensely salty, which increases our buoyancy and makes it difficult to swim underwater. As soon as the inertia from our surface dives drains away we pop back to the surface like wine corks. There isn't much too see along this rocky beach: some flourescent fish, glowing in shimmering rainbow blue tones. Ann and I found two purplish black sea urchins yesterday, clinging to the lower face of a boulder. Aside from that, it is pretty barren. I imagine that the constant motion of the pebbles, grinding against each other in the surge, limits what can grow along the beach.

I can only take so much inactivity, so after a couple of days of lounging, it was time to resume our explorations. In the heat of the afternoon, we climbed aboard a mini-bus and drove 20 km to the beach at Patara. Here, according to the guidebook, is the best beach on the Mediterranean ― a long white strip of sand. In addition to having 18 miles of unspoiled beach, Patara is also home to nesting sea turtles. These floating green boxcars lumber ashore at night to lay their eggs. The beach is a protected nesting area and humans are not allowed on it after dark.

Patara Beach, Turkey
Patara Beach, Turkey

Contrary to the bold assertion of the guidebook, the sand on Patara beach is not white. It is the same, standard beach brown found worldwide. The strip of sand did stretch westward out of sight, so if you grew tired of people there was plenty of room to go find your own acre of sand. A faint breeze rattled the blue and red sun parasols and mild waves gathered and broke across a sandbar just offshore. The girls immediately headed for the water, like sea turtles too long ashore. With four hours before our mini-bus returned, I decided to do the sensible thing, setting off to explore the ruins of the ancient city of Patara.

There are two things to note about Patara: the first, is that unlike some of the ruins we've visited on the Euro2008 expedition, Patara is still largely unexcavated. Large portions of the buildings still lurk five to ten feet beneath the sandy topsoil. Moreover, most of the site is covered by a dense thicket of brush and brambles, making it difficult to get around. There are no gift shops, guides, nor even signs to explain what you are viewing. Definitely an undeveloped tourist attraction.

The second interesting thing about Patara, is that it is the birthplace of St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus or Father Christmas). Rather strikingly, there are no Christmas shops doing business near the site ― another unexploited business opportunity.

Church Ruins, Patara, Turkey
Church Ruins, Patara, Turkey

The afternoon sun was so hot that it was melting the lizards on their rocks. I trudged along the dusty beach road, back into the ancient city. As I approached the the ruins, I passed the mostly devestated walls of an ancient church. Was this Saint Nicholas' home church before he moved to the North Pole? I found nothing to support that view, but it certainly was possible. The outline of the church conformed to the traditional Roman basilica layout used by early church builders: it was oriented along an east-west axis, with the rounded walls of the altar on the eastern end. A baptistery clung to the northwest corner of the building. Very little of the church remains, stone walls and a few columns lining the aisle. It stands open to wind, wasps, and flies, unused and unloved. A cross was inscribed into the face of one of the standing walls, but I doubt if it dates back to the heyday of this church: it is not deep and unprofessionally cut, more graffiti than church art.

I continued to follow the main road until I reached the northern edge of town and the old Roman gate. This structure is in remarkably good condition: three arches built of crisp, cleanly dressed stone blocks. I do not know whether it still stands because of superior Roman building techniques or, as I suspect, it has been recently restored. Nevertheless it makes a fine sight, standing alone in a field of straw, a symbol of the enduring Roman legacy.

Roman Gate, Patara, Turkey
Roman Gate, Patara, Turkey

Up the hill from the gate is the necropolis. Several sarcophagi are visible on this slope, as are the foundations of destroyed tombs. Patara's necropolis is not nearly as impressive as the necropolis at Hierapolis, but it is still interesting. Nearly every sarcophagus has a triangular shaped wedge broken out of it just beneath the heavy stone lid. I suspect that grave robbers were responsible for this damage, breaking a hole large enough to slide an arm inside. Why not just get six or seven beefy lads and lift the lids off? My theory (and as I have often pleaded in these pages, I am no archaeologist so take this for what it is worth) is that the lids must have been mortared to their bases after the body was interred. Consequently it was easier to smash in the sides rather than try to work the tops off.

Sarcophagus, Patara, Turkey
Sarcophagus, Patara, Turkey

After a good wander in the domain of the dead, I follow what would have been a main road from the gate toward the center of the city. I come to a bathing complex with well preserved stone walls and columns. Adjacent to these baths is a great circular clump of palm trees. It is an oasis in the desert. I enter the magic circle expecting to find camels and dancing Bedouin girls but, alas, only cow dung and hoof prints in the soft earth. The palm trees are amazing, however, standing thirty feet in the air and their serrated leaves offering blissful shade from the scathing sun.

If Patara is ever developed into a tourist attraction, visitors will be able to continue down the main road into the city. Now, however, a thick wall of brush blocks the way and I am forced to detour back out to the main road in order to continue south. Turning in at the next access road, I find the center of the old city, more baths and a colonnaded, marble-paved street. In the fields around the remains, the archaeologists have lined up countless rows of blocks and columns, pulled out of the site. Will they ever be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again?

Architecture awaiting reassembly. Patara, Turkey
Architecture awaiting reassembly. Patara, Turkey

A short walk south brings me to the town theater, which appears to be in a remarkably good condition. It squats, gray and low at the base of a hill, looking out over the town. Here I see the only sign of restoration: four Turkish workmen lay in the shade taking a break from their exertions. Freshly cut blocks have been pieced into the ruins of the theater, forming new walls and arches. There must be some plan to restore the city, but with only four men working away at it, it may take some time. Well, Patara, like Rome, was not built in a day.

Theater. Patara, Turkey
Theater. Patara, Turkey

I hike up a nearby hill to take a picture of the theater, and then cut across country, making my way across the dunes to the beach. By the time I return to my sunbathing, body-surfing, sandcastle-building girls, I am exhausted. I drink a full liter of water and then take a dip in the warm waves that roll ashore at Patara.

A most satisfying outing.

Colonnade. Patara, Turkey
Colonnade. Patara, Turkey
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