The three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins.
The ruins of ancient Didyma are located at a short distance to the modern Didim in Aydin Province of Turkey, whose name is derived from Didyma's. It contained a temple and oracle of Apollo (didymoi in Greek), known as the Didymaion. Next to Delphi, Didyma was the most renowned oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.
Didyma was the largest and most significant sanctuary on the territory of the great classical city Miletus. In the ancient time, the pilgrims walked 20 km along the Sacred Way from Miletus to the sanctuary at Didyma. Along the way were the ritual waystations, and statues of members of the Branchidae family (the line of priests of Didyma), male and female, as well as animal figures. People came here to participate in the annual spring festival, the Didymeia. The festival became Panhellenic in the beginning of the 2nd century BC.
The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma rivaled that of Delphi; pilgrims flocked to Didyma not only to worship Apollo and attend the festival, but also to find answers about their future. Famous persons known to have visited Didyma's Temple of Apollo include Alexander the Great's generals Lysimachus and Seleucus I, and the Roman emperors Augustus and Trajan.
A strict ritual surrounded the giving of oracles. Oracles could only be given on a limited number of days; the absolute minimum was every four days, but the interval was often much longer, perhaps many months. The session began with a three-day fast by the priestess, during which time she resided in the adyton (sacred precinct).
On the appointed day, the priestess would take a ritual bath and enter the naiskos (inner chapel). Meanwhile, those who wished to consult the oracle sacrificed outside and choruses sang hymns to the gods.
The priestess sat on an axle suspended over the sacred spring and, when a question was asked of her, she would dip her foot or her dress into the spring before giving her answer. The oracular responses were probably given in prose, which were then turned into verse by the priests or prophets, who were appointed by Miletus.
Didyma means twin and refers to the twins Apollo and Artemis, who were born to Zeus and Leto. The Temple of Artemis was in the nearby city of Miletus, while the much more important Temple of Apollo was in Didyma.
The Temple of Apollo at Didyma has a long history. Pausanias (160 AD) said the Didymaion was constructed before Greek colonization (10th century BC), and some date it to the 2nd millennium BC. However, the earliest fragments of the temple found thus far date to the end of the 8th century BC. This Archaic temple was in the charge of the Branchidae, a priestly caste named after Branchus. Three prose oracles and one dedication survived from this period.
Until 494 BC Didyma's sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchidae, who claimed descent from a purely eponymous Branchos, a youth beloved of Apollo. The priestess, seated above the sacred spring, gave utterances that were interpreted by the Branchidae.
Both Herodotus and Pausanias dated the origins of the oracle at Didyma before the Ionian colonization of this coast.
The original temple was destroyed and burnt and the Branchidae were expelled and exiled to Sogdiana by Darius I of Persia in 494 BC, who carried away to Ecbatana the archaic bronze statue of Apollo, traditionally made by Canachus of Sicyon in the 6th century BC, looted many of the statues and its vast treasury built up by the generous gifts of Croesus, King of Lydia; the spring dried up, it was reported, and the archaic oracle was silenced.
After Alexander the Great conquered Miletus in 334 BC, the oracle of Apollo at Didyma was re-sanctified and quickly regained its importance. Callisthenes, a court historian of Alexander the Great, reported that the spring began once more to flow after Alexander passed through (during which time the oracle proclaimed him “the son of Zeus”). Thereafter Miletus administered the cult of Apollo, annually electing a prophet. In 313 BC, the Milesians began to build a new Hellenistic temple on the site of the earlier shrine, which they intended to be the largest in the Greek world. It is this temple that visitors see today.
Construction continued during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and portions were still under construction in the Roman period. It was never entirely completed. Modern experts believe the magnificent temple would have been one of the seven wonders of the ancient world had it been completed. Even incomplete, the temple is enormous and impressive; it is the third largest in the ancient world after those of Ephesus and Samos.
In 278 BC the sanctuary suffered under the raids of Gauls, but construction work on the temple was resumed. In 70 BC pirates sacked the sanctuary and work on the temple was terminated.
The sanctuary, however, continued to function and in 100 AD Trajan commissioned a new paved road to the sanctuary from Miletus. By the 3rd century AD Christianity had become well established in the Miletus area and the sanctuary at Didyma fell gradually into disuse.
In 262 AD the Apollonian Oracle temple was converted into a fortress against invading Goths and Saracens.
Didyma's fate was probably sealed in 303 AD, when an oracle advised the Emperor Diocletian to initiate his persecution of the Christian church. Constantine the Great, who was raised in the court of Diocletian and later converted to Christianity, closed the oracle and executed the priests.
In the 5th century AD, Emperor Theodosius I built a Christian basilica in the adyton (sacred precinct) of the temple at Didyma, which testifies to the site's religious importance. Indeed, a number of oracles have been found on inscriptions and in literary sources that postdate Constantine's closure.
The church and much of the temple stood until the 15th century, when a great earthquake reduced the temple to rubble. Excavations made between 1905 and 1930 revealed all of the incomplete Hellenistic temple and some carved pieces of the earlier temple and statues.
Temple of Apollo (Dydimaion). The design of the Temple of Apollo was influenced by the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Temple of Hera at Samos, as it was designed by the renowned architects who worked on all of these temples, Paionius of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus... read more
Priene is an ancient Hellenistic city located just to the north of Miletus in western Turkey. It was an ancient Greek holy city and the home of an important temple of Athena. Priene's picturesque ruins include several columns of the Temple of Athena, much of the city wall, a well-preserved theatre and a council chamber. The ruins are next to the modern town of Güllübahce.
The city of Priene, one of the settlements of Ionia was laid out on Mount Mycale (Samsun) and contained many famous examples of Hellenistic art and architecture. The original location of the city has never been found but it was probably a peninsula with two harbours.
It was a small city with 4 or 5 thousand inhabitants and never of great political significance sharing the same fate with other Ionian cities.
The Ionians first arrived and settled here in the 11th century BC and the city was founded either by Aegyptus of Athens, Philotas of Thebes or Amazon queens (like Pitane, Myrina, Kyme and Ephesus.
It was situated on a peninsula close to Miletus and that it had two ports. No concrete evidence could have been determined the site of this first city. The only piece found is the electurum coin discovered in Clazomenae.
This coin which can be dated back to 500 BC had a head of Athena on it, and is evidence that Priene was attached to the Ionian League.
The new city's main temple of Athena Polias was dedicated by Alexander the Great in 334, who stayed here during his lengthy siege of Miletus. Another famous resident of Priene was the philosopher Bias, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, who was born here. Priene was sacked by Ardys of Lydia in the 7th century BC but regained its prosperity in the 6th, which was its most prosperous era.
The brilliant era ended when Persian King Cyrus attacked the city in 545 BC. The city was burnt down completely and people were enslaved.
A difficult period stated for Priene and in 494 BC. Priene participated in the Ionian revolt by joining the Battle of Lade with 12 ships against the Persians. However the city is sacked again as a result of the Persians completely destroyed the Ionaian fleet. But it didn’t take too long; Athens and Spartans attacked and burnt the whole Persian fleet in 479 BC. Following upon this battle and victory the “Attic - Delian Sea League” was established immediately.
The Priene war was ended with joining of Priene. Up to the mid- 4th century, the city is thought that under the influence of Athens.
At about 350 BC, Priene is believed to have been rebuilt. Priene was originally a port city, but the continuous silting caused by the Meander River had by this time blocked the city's access to the sea. The new city was thus built farther inland, on the present site and its outlet to the sea was secured by the port of Naulochos. The city was built in concordance with the “grid system” developed by architect Hippodamus of Miletus.
In 129 BC Priene was added to the Roman province of Asia Minor. It was sacked by Mithridates, King of Pontus, in 88 and 84 BC, but regained its former wealth and prosperity under the Emperor Augustus. The cult of the Roman emperor was performed in the Temple of Athena and the Sacred Stoa.
The little city grew slowly over the next two centuries and led a quiet existence. Unlike its more well-known neighbours, Priene's population was limited and probably never exceeded 5,000. This was probably due in part to its cliff side location. Priene is not mentioned in the Bible, but it is likely that the early Christians of Miletus had contact with the city.
Priene had a substantial Christian community during the Byzantine period and was the seat of a bishop. Four of Priene's bishops are known: Theosebius, present at the Council of Ephesus (431); Isidore, who was living in 451; Paul, present at the Council of Constantinople (692); and Demetrius (12th century).
Priene gradually declined due to its increasing distance from the sea, and it was abandoned after passing into Turkish hands in the 13th century.
The important landmarks of Priene ... read more
Placed at the mouth of the Meander in the south of the province of Ionia on the western coast of Asia Minor, the ancient city of Miletus was the oldest and the most powerful of the twelve Ionian cities in Asia Minor. Its four harbours made it a major player in the commerce of the ancient world. It was also repeatedly captured by envious invaders.
Miletus also founded over ten colonies on the shores of the Marmara and the Black Sea, while its commercial activities extended as far as Egypt. Its schools made a very great contribution to the intellectual and scholarly development of the Mediterranean world and one cannot talk of Miletus without mentioning the great contributions to geometry and science made by Thales, one of the greatest scholars produced by the city.
Miletus is renowned as the first city to which the principles of modern town-planning were applied. The grid plan introduced by Hippodamos was later to form the basis of town-planning in all Roman cities. As a result of the silting caused by the alluvium washed down by the Meander the city now lays at a distance of several kilometres from the sea. The fact that Miletus formerly possessed four separate harbours well indicates the important role played by the Meander in the history of the city.
The Miletus alphabet was accepted as the normal script employed in writing ancient Greek.
It was mentioned by Homer in The Iliad (II.868). The city eventually declined due to the silting up of its harbours.
History and important landmarks of Miletus ... read more
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
♦ The Archaeological Museum of Izmir exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Roman and Roman artefacts recovered from area
excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…? Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more