The ancient harbor city of Priene probably changed its location when the silt of the Meander River threatened to bury it. Now it is nearly 16 km / 10 mi from the sea. The original place of the city has never been found but it was probably a peninsula with two harbors. Priene was laid out on a Hippodamian system of grid plan at the foot of a spectacular cliff on Mount Mycale and contained many famous examples of Hellenistic art and architecture. All the streets intersect at right angles. Remaining small with about 4 or 5 thousand inhabitants and never of great political significance it shared the same history as the other Ionian cities.
History of Priene
It was founded on the Ionian coast by the inhabitants of an abandoned Ionian city of the same name in c.350 BC. It participated in the Battle of Lade with 12 ships in 494 BC. Alexander the Great assigned the city to watch the unreliable city of Miletus. He also lived in the city and paid for the construction of the Athena Temple. After flourishing during the Hellenistic and passing through the Pergamene Kingdom periods the city declined under Roman rule and was later abandoned. Excavation began at the site in the early years of the 20C and the city has been partially restored.
The city is organized in four districts, the religious (Athena Temple), the political (bouleterion and prytaneion), the cultural (Theater) and the commercial (agora). In addition to the Athena Temple, the people of Priene built shrines dedicated to Zeus, Demeter and Egyptian gods.
The Theater is a 4 or 3C BC building and one of the finest extant theaters of the Hellenistic world. Although it was rebuilt in the Roman period it still remains as typically Hellenistic as the city of Priene itself. The theater was carved into the hillside and held a capacity of 5,000 people. Five marble seats with arms were provided for priests and dignitaries. In the middle of the prohedria there was an altar which was sacred to Dionysus. Performances used to start with sacrificial rites. The proskene is well-preserved and consists of a colonnade supported with 12 Doric half-columns. The skene had an upper floor which no longer stands.
The Bouleterion is the most intact in Anatolia today. It was used for meetings of the town council. The bouleterion consisted of seats on three sides with a capacity of 640 people, and was covered with a wide wooden roof. The sacrificial altar was placed in the middle of the arc of seats.
The Prytaneion is located to the east of the bouleterion. It was the seat of the elected city administration and housed official receptions. Rooms were set around the courtyard. The shrine of Hestia was in an inner chamber where the eternal sacred flame was burned.
The Temple of Athena Polias was rebuilt in 334 BC as a gift from Alexander the Great and was a standard Ionic structure with eleven columns along its sides, six at the ends and two in antis. Athena Polias was the goddess of Priene and protectress of the city. The proportions of this temple were taken as a classical model or pattern by the Roman architect Vitruvius. The architect of the Athena Temple was Pytheos who also built the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
Miletus, an ancient city located near the present Akkoy at the mouth of the Buyuk Menderes (Meander) River, owed its importance to its position on trade routes. It was one of the largest cities in Anatolia with a population of between 80,000 and 100,000. Highly prosperous, it founded many colonies and was the home of the 6C BC philosophers Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Thales, the town planner Hippodamus and architect Isidorus. Miletus seems to have produced geniuses the way Aphrodisias produced sculptors.
History of Miletus
According to legend, the city was founded by Neleus, son of King Codrus of Athens. Neleus came to settle with his men and killed the resident males compelling the women to marry the newcomers. After this took place the women swore not to sit at the same table with their husbands and also not to call them by their names.
In the 11C BC Ionians came to Miletus, and by the 7C BC Miletus was at its peak which was to last for more than two centuries. With other cities of Ionia in 499 BC, Miletus rebelled against the Persians, who had captured, burned it to the ground and enslaved its surviving population. This last battle was that of Lade in 494 BC, just outside the harbor of Miletus where the Persian fleet of 600 warships defeated the Ionian force. The destruction was so bad that when the play of Phrynichus, The Capture of Miletus was performed in Athens, as Herodotus reported, “the whole theater burst into tears, and the people sentenced the playwright to pay a fine”. The role of Miletus was significant in the defeat of the Persians at the Mycale battle in 479 BC. Shortly after the battle, Miletus joined the Delian Confederacy with a contribution larger than that of Ephesus. Upon an agreement between the Persian Satrap and Athens, Miletus and other Ionian cities of Anatolia came under the rule of the Persians again. At the end of the 5C BC Miletus was ruled by the Carian satraps.
Captured by Alexander the Great after a siege in 334 BC and ruled by the Seleucid Dynasty in the following years, Miletus remained an important trade center into Roman times.
St. Paul stopped there in 57 AD on his way back to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey. In Miletus Paul sent word to his friends in Ephesus to join him, and after speaking with them for the last time he bade them an emotional farewell, boarded his ship in Miletus and sailed off via Cos and Rhodes to Patara.
The Roman period was followed by Byzantine and Turkish periods.
Miletus was a major port city located on a peninsula with four harbors. With the silting of the Buyuk Menderes (Meander) River the ruins of the ancient city today are a few kilometers away from the sea.
The city had a grid plan which was developed by Hippodamus when it was rebuilt in the 5C BC after the Persians had sacked it.
The Theater was a small Hellenistic theater with a seating capacity of 5,300, but in the beginning of the 2C AD it was modified to a Roman theater and held about 15,000 people. The lower section was built onto a natural hillside, and the upper is supported by vaulted substructures up to a height of 40 m / 131 ft. The facade facing the harbor is 140 m / 460 ft long. During the Roman period the stage building had three stories and was 34 m / 111 ft wide. In front of the stage building it is still possible to see pieces depicting hunting scenes of Eros.
At the top of the theater hill was a Byzantine fortress which is thought to have been built mostly with the stones of the theater in the 7C AD but restored later by the Seljuks. Harbor monuments stood in front of the Lions’ Harbor. There were two of them; different in size but similar in style. The large piece was 7.5 m / 25 ft high, mounted on a three-cornered base built on a round foundation with a diameter of 11 m / 36 ft. The smaller one was only 5.3 m / 17.5 ft.
The Delphinium was a Hellenistic open air shrine surrounded by stoas on four sides with a 6C BC altar in the center. Together with Apollo, the dolphin was sacred for the Milesians as they believed that when the first settlers sailed they were guided by god in the form of a dolphin. The annual festival and celebrations of Didyma were started here. An Ionic Stoa lay parallel to the processional road on the south of the Delphinium. It is a 1C AD structure which had 35 Ionic columns and 19 shops behind the columns.
The Bouleterion was a 2C BC building which consisted of a propylon, a courtyard and an auditorium. The propylon had three Corinthian columns and friezes depicting war scenes. It opened into a courtyard with a monumental tomb in the middle. There were four gates that opened into the main hall. The auditorium seated 1,500 people and had a wooden roof. The Nymphaeum was first built in the 2C AD and rebuilt in the following century. It faced the bouleterion across the processional road and had three stories with statues of gods placed in niches and water spouting from the mouths of bronze fish.
The South Agora lay behind the bouleterion. It was a Hellenistic structure which was later remodeled in the Roman period. Today the North Gate is unfortunately another of the gems from Anatolia currently housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. The South Gate was 180 m by 150 m (196 yards by 164 yards) and destroyed during the construction of Ilyas Bey mosque.
The Temple of Serapis lay between the south agora and the Faustina baths. It consisted of a pronaos and a naos with Corinthian columns and a relief of Serapis on the pediment. The temple was a 3C BC building which was rebuilt in the 3C AD with a donation by Emperor Julius Aurelius.
The Baths of Faustina were 2C AD Roman baths which were built by Faustina, Marcus Aurelius’s wife who usually accompanied her husband on his journeys through the Empire. The frigidarium had a reclining statue of the river god probably personifying the Meander River.
Ilyas Bey Camisi (The Ilyas Bey Mosque) was part of a complex which consisted of a mosque, medrese, cemetery and an imaret. It was built in the early 15C by Ilyas Bey, the regional Ottoman military commander. The dome of the mosque was made of bricks. At the entrance are three arched partitions separated by two columns. The entrance is through the center arch. The mosque was destroyed in 1955.
The Caravansary is a 15C building built by the Mentese Principality which had a lower floor for animals and an upper for people.
The word Didyma meant “twins” and was associated by some as being the meeting place of Zeus and Leto to have their twins Apollo and Artemis.Didyma was famed as a prophecy center dedicated to Apollo which served a similar purpose as the Delphi of Anatolia. It was not a city but a sanctuary linked to Miletus by Milesians with a 19 km / 12 mi sacred road. However, this road may not have been constructed until the end of the 1C AD. In addition to pilgrimages made by sea, some festivals of drama, music and sports were held there every four years.
Even though it is thought that there was a shrine there before the Ionians came in the 10C BC, a temple at the same site was built in the 6C BC, and later destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC. In the 4C BC Milesians started to rebuild the temple but could not complete it because of financial problems. In the 1C and 4C AD Roman emperors tried but could not complete the construction either. Later in the Byzantine period Theodosius II had a church built in the open air courtyard which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 15C AD. Even in its unfinished state the Apollo Temple was regarded as one of the largest temples of the Hellenistic world, comparable to the Artemis Temple in Ephesus or the Heraion at Samos.
The temple was 110 m / 360 ft long and 51 m / 167 ft wide with a height of 24 m / 78 ft. It is a dipteros in Ionic order with 120 columns 108 of them surrounding the building by a double row and 12 in the pronaos. As George Bean points out in Aegean Turkey, the Apollo Temple “serves as a reminder that vastness in architecture was not purely a monopoly of the Romans”. It was an unusual temple, not only because of its huge size but also for its antechamber with two Corinthian columns and two tunnels that led into the cella. The antechamber which was also termed as Cresmographeion probably served as an oracle office where prophecies were written out and delivered to people. In the middle of the temple there is an open air courtyard (adyton) with another Ionic shrine which housed the cult statue of Apollo. There were a few hot springs where the priestess of Didyma immersed her feet or inhaled the water’s vapors for inspiration before prophesying.
The huge Medusa relief standing next to the temple is a 2C AD piece which has fallen off the frieze. A little further stand the remains of an altar and a well. Before asking for a prophesy from the priests in the pronaos, people purified themselves with water from the well and gave votive offerings in the altar.