Priene is an ancient Greek city which lies between the popular holiday resorts of Kusadasi and Bodrum. It is one of many important ancient sites in the area and is close to both Miletus and Ephesus. Even though it is a very small city, the real charm of Priene lies in its quiet appeal and off-the-beaten-track atmosphere.
The origins of Priene are unknown, though legend dates the city’s founding to Athenian settlers in the 11th or 10th centuries BC. Although Priene itself may have never been a major power, its location in the heart of a region that constantly witnessed the clashes of empires ensured it saw an almost continual flow of conquerors, occupiers and ‘liberators’.
Originally an ally of Athens, Priene was conquered by the Lydians and then by the Persians in the 6th century BC. The city fought in the ill-feted Ionian Revolt against Darius (which would eventually lead to the Persian invasion of Greece and their defeat at Marathon) and, to punish the rebels, Priene was devastated. This destruction prompted one of many re-locations of the city that took place over the centuries, and the new Priene was founded in around 350 BC.
Built on a steep hillside to an innovative grid-pattern design, Priene was a more ordered construct than many contemporary ancient settlements. However, this new incarnation of Priene did not have to wait long for the next regime change, with Alexander the Great conquering the region in around 334 BC. In fact, Alexander himself dedicated a temple to Athena, the remains of which can still be seen at Priene today.
Further rule by the Seleucids and Pergamon followed, before Priene was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The city suffered during the invasions of King Mithridates of Pontus in the 1st century BC but recovered to prosper in the early Imperial period under the Emperor Augustus.
In the Byzantine era Priene became the seat of the local Bishop and an important local Christian centre. However, after the Muslim conquest, Priene began a gradual decline which, combined with the slow silting of the coast and harbour led to the eventual abandonment of the city.
Today the ruins of Priene are located next to the modern village of Gullubahce near the town of Soke. The site remains relativelyfree of tourists, though several tour companies offer trips from local resorts.
Visitors to Priene can view the Temple of Athena, the ancient theatre and the well preserved council chamber (Bouleuterion). Also found at the site are the remains of Roman baths and gymnasiums, the ruins of an ancient Synagogue and the ‘House of Alexander the Great’ – where it is reported that the young conqueror stayed during his siege of Miletus in 334 BC.
As well as these historic sites, visitors to Priene can simply wander the side streets and houses of this Hellenistic city to explore the ruins in peace and quiet.