The Year of Patara in Turkey

2020 is celebrated as “The Year of Patara” in Turkey with several special events. Patara is located between Antalya’s Fethiye and Kas districts and  is one of the most important cities of the Lycian civilization where the ancient Xanthos valley meets the sea. Patara is famous with its assembly building which was featured in a New York Times article and is one of the first democratic assemblies of the ancient world.  [1]

This summer, different cultural events have been organized in the ancient city of Patara such as “Letters from Patara”. During this event all guests are welcome to express what they feel when they see the ancient city in their own handwritten letters. [2] The selected letters will later be published as a book in commemoration of the 2020 Year of Patara.

We, Papillon Hotels have prepared an article about Patara, an important part of Antalya’s historical heritage. If you want to add a cultural dimension to your holiday, you can get information from the Information Desk about trips to Patara and other ancient cities such as Aspendos and Perge.


Patara: Lycia’s Assembly Centre

Antalya has hosted many different cultures throughout history. Among them, the Lycian League is a very important one, which consists of 23 different city-states in the region west of Antalya in the 1st century BC.

These city states, in which independence was highly valued, were the last to accept the dominance of Eastern Rome in Anatolia. It is even rumored that famous philosopher Socrates said, “No one could really rule over Lycia.” [3]

Lycian cities which were occupied by Persians in the 5th century BC and Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC developed a spirit of unity after these harsh periods. Lycian League was first institutionalised in the 2nd century BC and was based on a democratic election and administration of 23 city states within the framework of a common law.

In the senate which has gathered in Patara every autumn, six major cities had 3 votes (Xanthos, Patara, Pinara, Tlos, Myra and Olympos) and some cities had 2 votes or a single vote. Also in Lycia the representatives of the Lycian League were largely civilians, contradicting the tradition of Ancient Greece where representatives were generally of military origin.

In this senate in Patara, a new president was elected every year and issues related to revenue, expenditure, war decisions and the army were decided. This “union constitution” of the Lycian League was the first example of the concept of “proportional representation” in the sense we know today, especially when compared to aristocracy-based democracy of Athens, which was the dominant power at the time.


A Congress Building Buried in the Sand

Patara, where archaeological excavation was still continuing back then, became well known in 2005 due to an article in New York Times titled “A Congress Building Buried in The Sand” [4]. The article featured the ancient city and mentioned about its connection to the founding fathers of U.S.A.

After excavation, Patara’s ancient parliament building was restored in 2012 under the sponsorship of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. This 1,500-person council building is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

The concept of “proportional representation” and the common law of the union, which forms the basis of the Lycian Union impressed French philosopher Montesquieu as he was quoted: “If I were to give an example of a perfect confederate republic, I would show Lycia.”

The Lycian League, which Montesquieu praised in his book “Spirit of Laws”, inspired the founding fathers and the constitution of the U.S.A. in 1787. The influential names such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison has presented Lycia’s union structure as an example for the U.S.A.

In the U.S. Constitutional Congress held in 1878, some states wanted all states to have equal voting rights in the US Senate, but larger states were opposed to it. The Connecticut representative asked: “On what date was a confederation established in the world that states did not have equal voting rights?” James Madison responded to the question by saying: “The Lycia of Montesquieu is the best example of this.” [5]

In addition to the concept of proportional representation, Hamilton and Madison emphasized both the danger of single person rule and the importance of the power of a central suprastate structure in a series of articles titled “ Federalist”, by referring to the Lycian League. Lycia, just like its literal translation “Land of Light” [6] , has been a source of enlightement for the U.S.A. in its establishment.


Patara Ancient City Today

Patara Ancient City can be visited between 08:30 and 19:30 during the summer period (April 15- October 2) and between 08:30 and 17:00 during the winter period (October 3-April 14).

You can enter the city through a Roman triumphal arch. On the western slopes of the city, there is a cemetery area where sarcophagi are carved into the rock, a practice that is specific to the Lycian civilization.

The theatre at the south of the city and Kurşunlu Tepe behind it offer the most beautiful views of the city. From here you can see the bath, temple, port and granary. The famous Patara assembly building is located to the north of the theatre.

Patara Ancient City is located on the Lycian Way which is listed among the “most beautiful scenic trekking routes in the world” by  Sunday Times newspaper.  [7]

In addition to its archaeological importance, the city has a touristic value with its fine sandy beach right next to it. Patara Beach is one of the beaches where Caretta-Caretta sea turtles lay their eggs. [1]



[1] Turkish Culture Portal: Patara
[2] Sözcü: Patara’dan Mektuplar
[3] Kaş Belediyesi: Tarihçe
[4] New York Times: A Congress Buried in the Sand, Inspired One on a Hill
[5] TCA: The Lycian Confederation and the American Constitution
[6] Vikipedi: Likya
[7] Culture Routes in Turkey: Lycian Way