Patara – Birthplace of Saint Nicolas (Santa Claus)

Patara, later known as Arsinoe is an ancient maritime city on the south-west coast of Lycia in the Antalya Province of Turkey.

According to legend, the city was founded by Patarus, a son of Apollo, with evidence of settlement as early as the 5th century BC (although there are archaeological remains of earlier Bronze Age occupation on Tepecik Hill adjacent to the site and references in Hittite text).

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Contemporary writers record Patara as one of the principal cities of Lycia where the assemblies of the Lycian league were held, and famous for its temple and oracle of Apollo, with a similar status to that of Delphi.

The city was incorporated into the Empire founded by Alexander the Great around 333 BC as a Macedonian hegemony, along with the rest of Lycia.

Image Credit : Vadimph  – CC BY-SA 4.0

In the Wars of the Diadochi among the successors of Alexander, Patara became an important naval base for the Antigonid dynasty, being ruled by Antigonus I Monophthalmus and Demetrius I.

After falling to the expansion of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt enlarged the city and renamed Patara to Arsinoe in dedication to his wife (and sister), Asinoe II.

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Patara was annexed by the Roman Empire in AD 43, becoming one of the principle centres of the provincia Lycia, before being attached to Pamphylia in the province of Lycia-Pamphylia. The Romans constructed various public buildings, including a large theatre, basilica, bathhouses, granaries, and numerous commercial buildings.

Image Credit : Vadimph  – CC BY-SA 4.0

The city would become an important Christian centre during the Byzantine period, with the construction of several churches, even being famed as the birthplace of Saint Nicolas in AD 270. Saint Nicolas had many miracles attributed to his intercession but is also known for his generous practice of gift-giving that gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus (“Saint Nick”) through Sinterklaas.

From the 12th to 15th century AD, Patara was ruled by the Turks in the midst of the collapsing Byzantine Empire. The port which served as the primary source of income and trade for the inhabitants silted up, forcing the eventual abandonment of the city which was left to ruin.

Header Image Credit : Vadimph  – CC BY-SA 4.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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