Alexander the Great was here, and so was Saint Paul, on his way to Ephesus.
Centuries later, the drafters of the American Constitution took the ancient Lycian League, which was based here, as an early example - in fact, it was history's earliest example - of the form of republican government they envisaged as well.
The Lycian League was mentioned twice in the Federalist Papers, once by Alexander Hamilton, once by James Madison, so it could safely be said that it entered into the history of the formation of the United States.
Now, after centuries of neglect, teams of Turkish and German archaeologists have been working under the hot sun of this small Mediterranean seacoast town, uncovering some of its treasures.
Among them, liberated from the many hundreds of truckloads of sand that covered it, is the actual parliament building where the elected representatives of the Lycian League met. It has rows of stone seats arranged in a semicircle, the same arrangement used in the chambers of the American Congress. Its stone-vaulted main entrances are intact, and so is the thronelike perch where the elected Lyciarch, the effective president of the League, sat.
The discovery has excited the archaeologists, and some others as well.
"It blew my mind to find out that the parliament building of the first federation in history, which served as an inspiration for the framers our own Constitution, was being excavated 15 minutes from my house on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey," said Stephen J. Solarz, the former congressman from Brooklyn.
Like a few hundred other foreigners who are attracted to this relatively undiscovered spot of turquoise waters, rocky coves and cerulean skies, Mr. Solarz and his wife, Nina, built a house in town nearby and spend a couple of months of the year there. They have become informal patrons of the archaeological project, and hope to persuade the United States Congress to sponsor a celebration here in 2007, the 220th anniversary of the framing of the American Constitution.
But other things make Patara important besides the inadvertent role it played in the creation of the United States. It is often said of Turkey that it has more Greek ruins than Greece. But Patara is a Greek ruin, a Roman one and a Byzantine one as well, which is what makes the site, buried in sand for centuries, an important newcomer to the Turkish archaeological scene, likely to take its place alongside Troy, Pergamon or Ephesus as one of the most important ones.
"It's very exciting," said Fahri Isik, a professor of archaeology from Akdeniz University in Antalya who is in charge of the dig. In fact, Mr. Isik is hopeful that further excavations will not only increase knowledge of the Lycian League but also help illuminate what are often referred to as the "dark ages" of early Mediterranean history, the 12th to the 8th centuries B.C., about which very little is known.
"It's nice to have beautiful buildings," he said, drinking mint tea a few hundred yards from the ancient Patara parliament, "but we hope that we'll be able to learn some new things as well."
Mentioned in the "Iliad," Patara was a port city that was used by the Persians in the fifth century B.C. during the Persian Wars, written about by Thucydides. One of the archaeological expedition's major findings so far is the impressive ruins of an ancient lighthouse, which guided ships crossing the wine-dark sea to harbor two millennia ago.
The Lycian League itself had some 23 known city-states as members, which sent one, two or three representatives, depending on the city's size, to the parliament, or Bouleuterion, as it was called. Inscriptions recently uncovered at the site provide the names of the various Lyciarchs who sat in special seats about midway up the semicircular chamber.
Later, Lycia was a province in the Roman Empire. An inscription uncovered by archaeologists at the ruins of an immense granary, which has also been dug out of the sand in recent times, indicates that the Emperor Hadrian and his wife, Sabine, visited Patara in the spring of 131 A.D. Lycia ceased being a federation in the fourth century A.D., when it was taken over by the Byzantines.
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