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
The Agora of Priene was an open place for people to meet, celebrate special days and festivals and do commerce like any other Hellenistic city Agoras. So it had an important place in the daily life of ancient cities.
The Agora was defined by Pausanias as being “a characteristic example of Ionic agoras.” It was built in the 3rd century BC and was of a horseshoe shape. One side is open and is surrounded on the other three sides by stoae. Both east and west side has 18 columns and 30 columns on the south side which were constructed in the Doric style. There are row of rooms (shops) at the rear parts of the south and west side of stotae. The shops at the rear part of the east stoa remain in the temenos of the Zeus Temple. From the middle part of the south side some of the rooms were removed and this area was turned into a large hall.
The marble and bronze statues in Agora created a very impressive atmosphere which represented the notabilities of the city stood. Where there was an art gallery in the ancient times, today only the bases of the statues are standing. The altar in the middle of the Agora which was 6.20 meters long by 5.15 meters wide was dedicated to the god Hermes. The small agora is on the left of the agora which served as a market place.
Priene was laid out in an orderly grid plan, unlike the more sprawling arrangement of most ancient cities. Six main streets run east-west and 15 streets cross at right angles, all evenly spaced. The town was thus divided into about 80 blocks, or insulae, each averaging 46 x 34 m. This impressive layout can be appreciated from the vantage point of the nearby cliff side.
About 50 of the insulae are devoted to private houses. The better-class insulae had just four houses apiece, but most had many more. A Priene private house usually consisted of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by living quarters and storerooms and opening to the south onto the street by way of a small vestibule. Ruins of several houses can be seen today, including the Alexander House.
Long stretches of the Hellenistic city wall have remained intact, in some places 1,85 m wide and 5,50 m tall. Inside, the city's remains lie on successive terraces that rise from a plain to a steep hill, upon which stands the Temple of Athena.
Temple of Athena Polias located on the culminating point of the city, rose over a wide terrace of rocks and the defence walls, and was the oldest, the most important, the largest and the most magnificent building in Priene. It was oriented on an east west axis in conformity with the city plan and faced east.
It is believed that the construction of the Temple had begun at the same time as the founding of Priene, i.e. ca. 350. The architect of the building was Pythius, who also constructed the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Temple is recognized as being a classical example of the Anatolian - Ionian architectural style.The edifice was destroyed completely in an earthquake in ancient times and the pieces were scattered over a large area. It also suffered great destruction in a later fire. However, the construction of the plan and the reconstruction of the building have been possible through the fragments found during the excavations.
Large - grained grey-blue local marble brought from Mycale was used as construction material.
The Ionic style of the temple features a pronaos (an entrance-hall), a naos (the sacred chamber where the statue of the cult was kept) and an opisthodomus (a porch at the rear). The pronaos is larger than in earlier examples. There was no opisthodomus in previous Temples; it is first seen here. Pythius has taken this characteristic from the Doric style and applied it to his plan, and has thus set a model for later Temples. The building, a combination of the Ionic and Doric architectural styles, emerges as a different architectural example.
The plan of the Temple is peripteral, with 6 columns on the short sides and 11 on the long ones. Together with the 2 columns each of the pronaos and the opisthodomus, the total number of columns adds up to 34.
The building rests on a three stepped platform (crepis), 37.17 m long and 19.53 m wide. The lower diameters of the columns are one tenth of their 10.10 m height (a feature of the Ionic style). The columns, of which the bases are built in the Ephesus type, have 24 flutes in their shaft. The capitals height is 0.48 m.
The Ionic foot (0.295 m) is used as a unit of measurement throughout. The total column height and entablature height equal 50 feet corresponds to half the length of the cella. The cella, of 100 feet, is thus a hekatompedon, and corresponds closely with the length of the cella of the Parthenon.
The entablature resting on the capitals consists of the architrave, made of three hands, and above it in rising order - a row of egg and dart moulding, dentils, another row of egg and dart moulding - the cornice; and on the top - a cymatium decorated with plant motifs and lion-headed gargoyles. These parts were polychromatic in bright colours, red and blue being the most used.
The artist, desiring to bring to the attention only the architectural characteristic of his work, has put in no other decoration. There are no sculptural examples except the cult statue. Only a woman's head, revealed in the excavations, may have been one of the votive statues on display in the pronaos.
When Alexander the Great conquered to the region 334 BC he donated a considerable amount of money for completion the Temple. The inscription on the tablet found in time of excavation and now displayed in the British museum reads: King Alexander has dedicated this Temple to Athena Polias.
Under the Roman rulers, after 27 BC, the Sanctuary was rededicated to Athena Polias and Augustus, and continued to be an important cult centre throughout the Imperial period.
The Hellenistic Theatre at Priene. The horseshoe-shaped theatre at Priene represents one of the best-preserved and earliest forms of Hellenistic theatres built in Asia Minor. The theatre was constructed at the site soon after the foundation of the city 332-330 BC.
Although the remnants of the theatre we see today are the product of numerous alterations by both Greek and Romans over several centuries, the ruins retain many of features associated with the Hellenistic theatres that were to follow: horseshoe-shaped seating area (theatron) dug into the slope of a hill, a two-story scene house with a high stage above the lower scene house facade (proskenion), and a performance space that de-emphasized the importance of the chorus and featured the actor. The condition of Priene's remains and the significance of its features prompt Beiber to cite the theatre as the earliest, best preserved, and most important among the new theatres which were erected in Hellenistic times. This small theatre on the southern slopes of Mt. Mykale was in use for five hundred years and although it could accommodate over 6.000 people in its 47 rows of seating, only the 15 lower rows remain.
The seating area (theatron) of forty-seven rows of seats (22 in the lower and 25 in the higher theatron seating sections) were divided by six staircases vertically and one walkway (diazoma) horizontally. Square holes in the marble seating are cited as evidence of posts that once supported temporary shade awnings. Around 300 BC, marble armchairs (prohedrai) were built around the edge of the orchestra as seating for distinguished guests. The existing prohedrai are decorated with lions' claws and have inscriptions recording that the seats were dedicated to Dionysos by Nysios, son of Diphilos. The lowest row of seats is separated from the row of prohedrai in the orchestra by a 1.85 m wide water drainage canal that is covered with smooth stone slabs. At the western end of the water canal, there is a rectangular pedestal with hollows on top. Identified as a water clock (clepsydra), it serves as evidence that political meetings were once held in the theatre and the water clock timed speeches.
The seating faces south, but for an unknown reason the eastern seating support wall (analemmata) is not in line with the north-south plan of the city. These retaining walls were erected in the later 4th century BC or, at the latest, at the beginning of the 3rd century.
At Priene, the skene was rebuilt in stone in the 3rd century BC, 269-250 and a roof was added to the area in front of the skene (proskenion) forming a raised acting area or stage. Stone beams that once supported the floor of this stage are visible in the space between the skene and the proskenion. The raised stage provided performers with a commanding position to address the audience.
The proskenion, which is longer than the skene, has twelve Doric half-columns, on which traces of red and blue paint have been found. Bieber speculates that the spaces between the columns often held pinakes, or painted wooden panels for scenery. The two-story skene projects somewhat into Theatre Street, which runs behind it, and has three rooms per floor. In the lower story each of the three rooms has a doorway opening onto the orchestra. The middle room also has a door opening onto the street adjacent to the theatre. A flight of steps on the outside of the western side of the building leads to the second story. The second story had three doors (thyromata), which opened onto the stage. Two cylindrical statue bases at either side and in front of the proskenion can still be seen: the western one once bore a statue of Apollodorus, son of Poseidinius (160 BC) and the eastern one in honour of Thrasybulus, son of Pylius (150 BC)
Roman modifications to the theatre during the 1st century AD included the widening of the stage by removing the front of the stage building and pushing it back two meters, thus doubling the depth of the stage. They also integrated the five armchair prohedria around the orchestra into a row of bench seating. The altar to Dionysus was set in the centre of the row. The Romans also built barrel-vaulted rooms in the stage building and constructed plaster walls between the columns of the proskenion, leaving only the doorways open.
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