Turkey has no shortage of really cool ruins. The most famous one is, of course, Ephesus. However, there are many smaller and less popular ruins that are pretty awesome in their own right. Priene is one such site. I was able to visit Priene while staying in Selcuk; it is accessible either on your own or via a day tour that visits three ruins in the trip.
Priene, due to its location, was pretty much doomed to be a ruin from the beginning…and its beginning dates back to 1000BCE when it was founded by a colony from Thebes. Earthquakes forced builders to relocate the city a few times. The current location of Priene, built about 350 BCE, saw attacks by Persians. And on top of this, the area in which Priene lies meant its dreams of being a port city didn’t last too long. Sure it was built at the mouth of the Meander River – however, the Meander River had other ideas. The harbour of Priene frequently got filled with silt leaving city dwellers to enjoy the unexpected results: life in swamps and marshes. Could you imagine the gnats and mosquitoes?? The original city of Priene (pre-350BCE) has not been found as of yet. But that really isn’t surprising when you stand up on the bluffs of Priene and look out onto the vast plains of fertile land currently used for agriculture. Somewhere under all that lovely land, lies the original city waiting to be unearthed.
Priene was probably a quiet city. Sure, it would have been bustling with maritime trade when the harbour was silt-free, but the population apparently never grew more than 5000 people. Being stuck between water and Mount Mycale, there wasn’t exactly the physical space for the city to grow. Besides, if anyone wanted more action and bright lights, Miletus was relatively nearby… As Priene gradually lost its battle with the Meander River, which meant it progressively lost its access to the Aegean Sea, the city declined. Once the Turks arrived and took over the city in the 13th century, Priene was abandoned.
If you are going on your own, access to Priene is through a small town (originally an old Greek settlement) called Güllübahçe and you can get there by dolmus from Selcuk (two dolmuses, I believe). I think it would be worth going to Priene on your own if you especially like ruins. The next time I am in the area, I certainly plan to revisit Priene on my own as to allow myself the time to see all the nooks and crannies. When I went, it was with a small tour group (five of us). We were there for about 90-120 minutes which was enough time to get a taste for the place but not enough for a shutterbug like me. I really liked Priene because it wasn’t a ‘clean’ ruin. There were building pieces all over the place and the vegetation has started to reclaim the area. To me, it was beautiful.
Priene is pretty intact for a ruined city – in other words, as you wander around, you actually kind of get a feel for what Priene would have been like as a functioning city. Much of the city was constructed with marble, with wood being used for roofs and floors. Of course, the wood is long gone. The city was laid out in a grid pattern so you can still see many of the streets. Due to its location near water (back then, not now), the wealthier residents of Priene had indoor plumbing! Sounds like my kind of ancient city…
There are four pretty distinct areas to Priene:
Political: An example of Priene’s politics could be found with its 2nd century BCE bouleuterion. It was a city council chamber and once held 650 people. Priene was a democracy. Hopefully not all those 650 people were part of the decision making process. Though it could explain why no lasting solution to the silting problem was found…
Cultural: In the center of town lies the theatre which was built in the 4th century and expanded in the 2nd century. It held about 6000 people. While a theatre isn’t exactly unique, this one is pretty different with its five armchairs with some pretty awesome lion-paw armrests. These fancy chairs were for the important folk. Of course, I sat in one.
Commercial: Not a whole lot left of the agora other than ruin pieces and a sign declaring this was the fish and meat market!
Religious: Built in the 4th century, and dedicated by Alexander the Great (who stayed in Priene while invading Miletus), the Temple of Athena is considered to be a classic example of the pure Ionic style. Only five of the original 66 columns still stand but they are a pretty impressive five. Also, the stage of the theatre was used as a church when Christianity infiltrated Priene and if you look carefully around the area, you can find some evidence of its Christian history.
The atmosphere of Priene, the ruins seemingly being reclaimed by vegetation, is what makes this place one of my favorite ruins. What makes a set of ruins special for you?