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, especially because how nature has started to reclaim the 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 different ruins (the other two being Miletus and Didyma).
Priene, due to its location, was pretty much doomed to be a ruin from the beginning. 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??
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.
Priene is pretty intact for a ruined city – in other words, as you wander around, you 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…
What to See in Priene
Political: An example of Priene’s politics (democracy) could be found with its 2nd century BCE bouleuterion. It was a city council chamber and once held 650 people.
Cultural: In the center of town lies the theatre which was built in the 4th century. It held about 6000 people. There are five unique armchairs with some pretty awesome lion-paw armrests.
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: The Temple of Athena was built in the 4th century, and dedicated by Alexander the Great. 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 so if you look carefully, you can find some evidence of its Christian history.
If you are going on your own instead of a day tour, access to Priene is through a small town (originally an old Greek settlement) called Güllübahçe and you can get there by dolmus from Selcuk. I think it would be worth going to Priene on your own if you especially like ruins. With a group, you’re only 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.