Photos by Jack A. Waldron
After running around Magnesia, because I arrived a bit late in the afternoon, I made it back to the site guard office only to discover a flat rear tire. The guards told me they were leaving, so I couldn't stay to fix it. Hoping it would hold air for at least a little while, I pumped it up and started down the road in search of a camp sit. It was getting dark, and after riding about one kilometer I feel the back of the bike riding a soft wave of deflated rubber, and then there on my left a woods with a trail heading deep into an abyss. I took it.
I set up camp in a small hallow next to an elevated train line, which was quiet the whole of the night. Around six o'clock I could hear a rumble rushing in my direction, until wooosh! The train blew its whistle as it passed, and that was my alarm to get up and fix the flat tire. Before I could exit the tent I heard a dog far off in the distance coming closer toward me. It was still quite dark in the woods, but the rustling through the bush stopped, and a growl began. After some shouts and shaking the tent from the inside, I heard him carry on his way/ Flipping the bike over, a quick mend of the tube, packed, loaded, and on to Priene.
Pictured above is the beginning of the Western Wall of the city, which can be seen climbing the left side of the illustration blow. I really would like to take more time investigating these ancient cities in more depth, but number one, I always feel pressed for time, and there are too many ancient sites to visit. Number two, this feeling of hurriedness is compounded by the fact that my cycling clothes are not conducive to hiking through snake and scorpion infested bush. However, I am determined to fix this problem, and yes, I must return to Priene again in order finish my exploration of the Stadium, the Acropolis (top of the mountain in the photo above), the Sanctuary of Demeter, the Lower Gymnasium and, circumnavigate the City Wall. Whoa! It really takes two days to explore this massive site.
The site guard office is located near the East Gate of the city (on the right side of the illustration above), and this is where I left my bicycle during my visit. This is actually my second time to visit ancient Priene, the first being in 2005, when I was still backpacking my way around the world. I do have some photograph prints and their negatives from that tour, but they are in storage, need to be scanned, and so on. Perhaps I can add them to a Priene Pt.2 or Pt.3 in this series of posts.
The city is situated on a steep slope facing south under the Acropolis of Mount Mycale. Running east and west are 6 main streets that are approximately 6 meters wide, and these are crossed by 15 side streets that are often stepped, and measure about 3 meters in width. The right angle grid creates about 80 insulae, with sometimes 2 to 4 insulae being occupied by a single purposed entity.
Pictured below is the ancient road leading to the East Gate, which can be seen in the distance. This gate was protected by two towers on each side of the entrance that were probably the same height (or a bit higher) as the other 14 towers along the wall, which stood 14 meters high.
The East Gate is integrated into the 4C BCE city wall that surrounds the lower city up against Samsun Mountain (Mount Mycale), at the top of which the wall continues around the Acropolis, known in ancient times as, Teloneia.
Pictured above is a composite of my photo on the East Gate today, and the rough sketch of the gate, which was taken from an information board on site.
Pictured above, standing outside the East Gate of the city. Below, the illustration gives an idea of the size and strength of the gate. After entering the East Gate, the road continues until a bit before meeting the stepped portion of the road (pictured below).
The terrace wall pictured above supports the upper section of the city, where it appears was mostly residential, and I have seen no significant archaeological finds on display in that area. Pictured below, continuing along the path brings us to a staircase, and this is the same road that runs in front of the Theater, which you can find on the city plan above.
For most visitors to the city, your first point of importance is usually the Sanctuary/Temenos of the Egyptian Gods and the remains of a Roman era temple dedicated to the Egyptian gods (pictured below). Why did some Greeks and Romans worship the Egyptian gods?
There are two key reasons for this; one, the Ptolemaic rule out of Alexandria was a powerful force within Anatolia from the 3C BCE onward, and two, the Egyptian religion offered an afterlife, where the fore-mentioned did not.
The remains pictured above are of the Distyle or In Antis temple dedicated to the Egyptian gods, which was built in the Roman architectural tradition sometime between the 1C BCE and the 1C CE. Below is an illustration of its basic design.
You will notice the term 'Insula' used in the illustration below: Priene was laid out on a grid of evenly proportioned city blocks with streets bisecting these blocks, which are referred to as 'Insulae'. Below, the insula where the Sanctuary of the Egyptians Gods and its remains have been illustrated by archaeologists.
Of course, for some structures or areas, these 'Insulae' were doubled, tripled or even quadrupled, but in the end the city was divided up by evenly measured 'Insulae'. As you can see in the photo below, the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods sits on a terrace with commanding view over the Bay of Miletus.
Directly across the bay from Priene was ancient Myus, then further around the other side was ancient Heracleia under Mount Latmos, until following the bay around, we arrive at ancient Miletus.
The picture below is of an Egyptian priest in the process of performing a ritual related to the worship of the Egyptian Gods. This particular statue is on display at the Selcuk Archaeological Museum, near Ephesus, which is about 35 kilometers north of Priene.
There was no information telling where this statue was found or where it originated from. It is sometimes the case that these artifacts are recovered from the black market, under which circumstances, the location of origin is forever lost.
Leaving the Sanctuary of the Egyptians Gods and continuing west into the city, on the north side of the same road sits the Theater of Priene (pictured below).
Leaving the Sanctuary of the Egyptians Gods and continuing west into the city, on the north side of the same road sits the Theater of Priene. This well preserved Hellenistic theater dates from the second half of the 4C BCE, and saw extensive restoration during the Roman period. Pictured above, a street view of the theater stage building.
Pictured above, the east entrance to the Theater. The lower cavea is in a very good state of condition, while the upper sections of seating are not. It appears that, as the city declined over the centuries, the lower cavea continued to be used, while the upper cavea may have been mined for building stone.
Also of interest is the large space separating the seating from the prohedria that surrounds the orchestra (pictured above). As you can see, there do appear to be stepping stones across the space, as this may have been designed for the drainage of rain water. Or, perhaps this space was filled with water in order to give the audience a cool breeze during the performances or long speeches and presentations.
The odd disparity between the lower and upper cavea sections shows that the original Hellenistic design may not have incorporated the upper tier, which probably a later addition. The seating capacity is estimated to range between 5 and 6.5 thousand. Needless to say, the elongated design reminds one of the theater at Pergamum.
The Theater was most likely also used for public assemblies to discuss matters of the city and beyond, and evidence of this is the clepsydra (or time clock) located at the west entrance to the theater. The clepsydra would have been used to limit the time a speaker was allowed to make a presentation.
Unfortunately, I was not astute enough to get a photo of the clepsydra, which you can see in the right of the photo above just in front of the seating to the right of the entrance. In order to give a better picture of the clepsydra (until I return again) I borrowed the photo below, and I am linking it HERE to the site from where it came.
With the original design of the theater, the actors would emerge from the stage building into the orchestra to give their performance. Following alterations to the stage building, it was converted into a proskeniona, on which the performances took place. Further, a skene was added as a backdrop.
In the center of the photo below you can see the Theater Altar, which is dedicated to the god Dionysus, and is part of the prohedria that surrounds the orchestra. The sacrifices on the altar were meant to honor Dionysus in order to have his guiding hand over successful theatrical performances.
Directly behind the altar in the fifth row of seats you can see an honorary bench for the seating of dignitaries or other special guests. The prohedria also has five elaborately sculpted chairs that were reserved for religious or governmental dignitaries. An inscription found at the site states that these chairs were donated by Nysios.
Pictured below, an ancient inscription left in the theater, which is very common within ancient theaters and stadiums around the Mediterranean.
Located in the insula southeast of the theater we come to the Roman Thermal Baths (pictured below).
Directly south of the Roman Thermal Baths in the insula across the street and down the slope at a lower level are the Bouleuterion and the Prytaneion, which stand side-by-side (see city plan illustration below).
Pictured below, we have a view on the now silted bay from the above the Bouleuterion. In ancient times, the Bouleuterion would have been covered by a roofed wooded structure. Also in view in the photo below is the recess in the south wall where speakers once stood to address the magistrates or councilors of the boule.
The Bouleuterion at Priene could seat around five-hundred. The large stone block sitting in the center of the orchestra is an altar with carved depictions of the gods. The pillars pictured in the center of the cavea were most likely used to shore-up the lengthy wooden beams supporting the roof.
Pictured below is the staircase or street that runs down the west side of the Bouleuterion. I took the photos above from up this staircase, and I cannot say from 'the top of this staircase', because these steps continue further up the slope to the theater. The Bouleuterion can be seen to the right of the staircase.
Before examining the Bouleuterion more closely, I first took a look at the Prytaneion, or offices of the magistrates (pictured below). The magistrates, or prytanes would locate themselves in these offices during their period of duty, as the executives of the boule. The Bouleuterion can be seen in the back of the photo below, with the seating rising above the Prytaneion.
Pictured below, a dedicatory base with a lengthy inscription is situated across the portico lane that runs in front of the Bouleuterion and Prytaneion.
The Bouleuterion Altar (pictured above and below) is made of a fine marble and is decorated with reliefs of the gods, garlands and bull's heads.
In the photo below, the Bouleuterion sits on the right, or north side of the lane on which I am standing. This lane was a long roofed portico with shops along its up-slope side, and ends after two insula, where begins another portico. The Temple of Athena Polias is located at the end of this lane and up one insula.
The road that runs between the Roman Thermal Baths and above the Bouleuterion brings one to the Temple of Athena when heading west (pictured below). This road continues west on the other side of the Athena Polias Temenos.
The Temple of Athena Polias at Priene was considered a model for architects in ancient times. It was designed by Pytheos of Caria, whose treatise on the structure, which also included instruction for the training of architects, became the manual for the construction of future Ionic temples.
One benefactor of the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene was Alexander the Great, who stayed in the city during his campaign to defeat Miletus. Facing the front of the Temple of Athena Polias in the photo above, the stone wall directly in front of me is the Altar of Athena Polias.
The front of the temple with its altar in the forecourt is facing east, where the propylon entrance to the sanctuary was located. The portico along the southern wall of the sanctuary was built during the 2C BCE
The Temple of Athena Polias is an Ionic peripteros structure with 6 columns across the front and 11 columns along its sides. The stylobate measures 19.5 meters by 37 meters.
The temple was built with a rich marble quarried from Mount Mycale, which rises above city.
Pictured below, an inscription on the architrave commemorating the re-dedication of the temple during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, to whom Athena would share her authority over the citizens of Priene.
The ornamented parts of the temple, such as the lion=headed gargoyles that are incorporated into the sima, were painted with red and blue pigments, as traces of these colors are still visible on recovered sections.
Pictured below, a section of the sima of the Temple of Athena Polias on display at the Miletus Archaeological Museum.
Sections of the sima are scattered throughout the temenos, such as that pictured below, and what I think is the lower left corner of the rear pediment.
Within the cella of the temple was the cult statue of Athena, which is said to have been modeled after the infamous statue of Athena Parthenos by Pheidias that once stood in the Parthenon in Athens.
Fragments of the Nike statue held in Athena's hand were recovered by the British Museum in the excavations of 1868-1869.
Pictured above in the British Museum is the Alexander the Great dedicatory inscription found at the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene. The inscription notes Alexander as a patron of the temple, as the inscription reads `King Alexander presented this temple to Athena Polias.'
The road running down the slope behind the back side of the Athena Temenos is stepped and quite steep, but this take you to the terrace below. Turning left on this main street (pictured below) is the Food Market. The column drums in the photo have landed in place from the terrace above, and belong to the Temple of Athena Polias.
Pictured below, food stands remain in place as they were a thousand years ago. This area most likely continued as the location of the Food Market throughout the Byzantine period.
Continuing along the same main road brings us to the Agora Complex. On the north side of the street we find the Northwest Portico and the Sacred Hall. On the south side of the street, the Agora.
Piece together the illustration above and the photo below. In the illustration above, a statue is standing on a round base, while next to it is a long dedicatory bench. In the photo below, you can see the round statue base in the center right of the photo, with the long dedicatory bench just beyond.
The Sacred Hall or Stoa measures about 116 meters in length, and was constructed during the 2C BCE. The stoa is recorded to have been a gift of the Cappadocian King, Ariarathes VI. As you can see in the photo below, six steps lead up to the 6.5 meter deep promanenade of the Sacred Stoa.
Dedicatory exedrae can be seen throuhout the area of the Sacred Hall or Stoa. There is a reason that Priene is often referred to as the `Hellenistic Pompei', and that is because of its extremely good state of preservation.
The nearby local village, Gullubahce, is very small, so the stone on the city was not quarried for more modern projects. Also, being on a slope and covered in pine, once the city was abandoned it take long for nature to bury the city. Even today, as you can see in the photo below, the brown piles of pine needles often make it nearly impossible to both see the ruins and navigate the stairways throughout the city.
The Agora was built from the 3C BCE on, as porticoes were added over following decades, and which finally covered an area of 35 meters by 75 meters. The East Portico and the West Portico had shops, as did the east and west ends of the South Portico. The center of the South Portico contained a promenade that was atop a wall that is thought to have protected the Agora from the elements. It also allowed a commanding view over the Bay of Miletus. Just below the wall were the Lower Gymnasium and the Stadium. The North Stoa of the Lower Gymnasium was also home to an ephebeion, or, a place of study for male students between the ages of 18-20. We know this was an ephebeion because the students left graffitti scratched in its walls. I will try to get photos of these when I return to the city.
With some large stone fragments from the Agora stoa in the foreground of the photo above, the steps of the Sacred Hall or Stoa can be seen with Mount Mycale rising six-hundred feet over the city. The small statue of Aphrodite pictured below was found in the city, and was sculpted in marble between the 3-2C BCE.
Marble statues would have been found on sale at the Agora, or perhaps at a sacred stoa connected with one of the various sanctuaries of the city. This statuette of Aphrodite is also dated from the 3-2C BCE. Both of these statues are on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
An altar dedicated to Hermes, the god of commerce, was located in the center of the Agora. Fragments of the Agora porticoes are scattered throughout the area and offer a fine picture of the decorative reliefs used (pictured below).
Some of the fragments in the area resemble those of the Temple of Athena Polias, and may have found their way down the slope due to earthquake or by other means (pictured below).
Pictured below is the Temple of Zeus Olympios, which could be accessed through the East Portico of the Agora (pictured below). The stepped crepidoma has a stylobate measuring 8.5 meters by 13.5 meters, and supported a prostyle temple in the Ionic order.
The north side of the temenos had a colonnade, and the eastern side saw the construction of castle during the Byzantine period. There can be little doubt that the stone blocks from the cella of the temple were used to build this castle. All that remains today is the stylobate, crepidoma, and the base of the altar.
Pictured below is the lower western section of the 4C BCE City Wall. The 2.5 kilometer long wall has a thickness of 2 meters and height of 6 meters, with gate towers reaching as high as 14 meters. There were 16 towers in total along what has been described as a `saw-toothed' design, meant to zigzag in order to protect the flank of the preceding section of wall.
*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)
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