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. The other two are Priene and Didyma. 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.
Miletus was first founded in 1400 BC by Minoans from Crete. It has a long history of invasion and fortunes. Alexander the Great made his mark here. Like Ephesus, Miletus is mentioned in the Bible as a place at which the apostle Paul made a stop. Apparently, he didn’t feel like going the rest of the way to Ephesus so he made the city’s elders come to Miletus. In this meeting, he told them this was probably the last time they’ll meet because wherever he went, he faced 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 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.
Facts about Miletus
- Miletus had four harbors. Today, Miletus is about 10km inland due to silting of the land.
- 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”.
- The Market Gate of Miletus, supposedly a beautiful example of architecture, is not here anymore. It’s in Germany.
What to See in Miletus
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 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 (try Ephesus). If you go without a tour, 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. On a tour, I was only there for about an hour, unfortunately.