Time is the wisest of all things that are; for it brings everything to light. – Thales of Miletus
Miletus is one of three ancient Greek cities located not all that far from each other, thanks to the modern marvel that is the automobile. It lies near the western coast of Turkey, near the Maeander River. In its heyday, Miletus was one of the (if not THE) greatest and richest Greek cities primarily because of its four harbours. But as we all know, what gets built up must eventually fall down. Today, Miletus lies in ruins, about 10km inland.
The area in which Miletus stands was first inhabited by a Neolithic population in 3500–3000 BC. The actual city, though, was first founded in 1400 BC by Minoans from Crete. It passed through various hands over the centuries until by the middle of the 6th century BC, Miletus was firmly under Persian rule. However, Miletus took part in the Ionian revolt of 500-494 BC, and was awarded complete destruction by the Persians, giving Ephesus the chance to become the most important city in the area. All was not lost for Miletus, though: by 479 BC, the Greeks finally defeated the Persians. Then in 334 BC, Alexander the Great came along. Staying at Priene, he laid siege to Miletus until it fell in to his grasping hands. However, the city apparently experienced a revival of its trades and fortunes under his rule.
Like Ephesus, Miletus is mentioned in the Bible. According to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, the apostle Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem in 57 AD after completing his Third Missionary Journey when he made a stop at Miletus. He didn’t feel like going to Ephesus so he made the city’s elders come to Miletus. In this meeting, he told them this is probably the last time they’ll meet because wherever he goes, he faces the possibility of persecution/imprisonment/worse. Considering he was kind of a prescriber of “how to lose friends and alienate people”, no surprises there. The elders were suitably horrified and then they put him on a ship for Jerusalem, probably waving goodbye from one of Miletus’ many harbours.
Around the 3rd century AD, Miletus began its decline and by the 6th century AD, silting in the city’s harbours became so bad that malaria began to be a serious problem. Not to mention the fact that silted harbours meant no ships which meant no sea trade. By the time the Ottoman period rolled around, the city that once was Important and Rich, was now a small village. Miletus was abandoned in the 17th century.
- Miletus had three harbors in the western part of the city and one in the eastern part. Today, the ruins of Miletus are located in a wide plain about 10km inland due to the silting of those harbours over time.
- Miletus is the birthplace of Isidore of Miletus, the architect of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. He also supposedly invented the flying buttress. Even though you may not know what that is, you probably have seen it before. Here are some examples: Burgos (photo called “Spires”), Astorga (photo called “Astorga church”) and Leon (photo called “Rose window from outside”).
- Miletus was an ally of Troy during the Trojan War according to Homer.
- Also according to Homer, Miletus was one of the first cities in the ancient world to mint coins.
- Thales of Miletus (624 BC to 546 BC) was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. He is considered the “founder of science” and has contributed greatly to geometry and astronomy.
- The Market Gate of Miletus, supposedly a beautiful example of architecture, is unfortunately not here anymore. It’s in Germany.
What to See
Fortress: It is accessible from the top of the theatre. When you first arrive at Miletus, just look for the flapping Turkish flag on top the fortress and you too can go flap there if you so choose. Beautiful views of the surrounding areas – just don’t trip into the sharp thistles!
Baths of Faustina: In 164 AD, Marcus Aurelius’ wife wanted to take a bath so she ordered one built. Actually I don’t know why it was built but she was the one who commissioned it. It is pretty large but unless you know ahead of time what you’re looking at, you won’t really know it’s a bath. There are still walls up and a couple of statues and niches for missing statues, but that’s it.
Byzantine Church of St. Michael: It is way off in the distance so if you’re there by tour, you won’t get to see any of it beyond its red tile roof. It was apparently built in the 6th century AD and like many ancient churches, it was built on the site of a temple (in this case, the temple was to Dionysus).
Theatre: It was originally built in 4th century BC and it was upgraded by Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD. After the renovations, it was able to seat 25,000 spectators. At the bottom middle of the seating area, there are four columns. Sit there and you’ll sit where imperial-god bums have sat before.
Should you Visit
It depends. If you love history, ruins, or generally any tourist/archeological site with minimal people, Miletus is definitely worth a look. If you want your history spelled out for you or just want to see one example of a ruin before heading back to the city, Miletus is not for you (Ephesus, is). If you go without a tour (and I suggest you do), make sure you bring along information about the site in order to know what it is you’re looking at. While a tour will provide you with the information, it doesn’t allow you the time to explore the place as much as you may wish. You’re only there for about an hour.