If you like to eat up your history in great big slabs, then a full day organised excursion in which Priene is included along with Miletus and Didyma is a giant feast of antiquity. If you prefer smaller chunks, digested at your own pace, then driving to the ruins of Priene and spending time just wandering at will is a more tranquil and personal way to experience these remarkable remains.
The city, which moved many times, was finally abandoned in the 13th century after endless wars and periods in which it was Greek ruled but fell under the Persian, Roman and finally Byzantine empires. Originally a port, centuries of silting up was also a cause for relocation to continue its connection to the sea, which was finally lost in the 1st century BC.
Ruins of the city you see today lie inland, secluded and peaceful, next to the village of Gullubahçe and near to the town of Söke. The endless wars throughout its long history point to its importance as a once prosperous city. Its famous support for the Ionian Revolt, as one of the 12 cities of the Ionian League, led to the Persian invasion of Greece and its devastation in an act of revenge.
For the modern day visitor there is something stirring about walking pavements where great names of legend and history have trod, roaming freely among toppled and partly rebuilt columns and where once fine mansions stood. The ruins you see are those from when the city was rebuilt in around 350 BC and laid out according to an early example of the grid plan
There is plenty to see, but chiefly the Temple of Athena, whose 4th century BC architect Pytheos also built one of the wonders of the ancient world: the mausoleum at Halicarnassus; the remains of Roman baths and gymnasiums, the ancient theatre built to seat 5000, the ‘House of Alexander the Great, a synagogue and the council chamber, the Bouleuterion – one of the best preserved examples of a town hall of the ancient world, built around 200BC.
Stretches of the imposing, high Hellenistic city walls survive intact and the city inside rose on terraces from the plain to a steep hill topped by the Temple of Athena, of which five of the original 66 columns stand. The ‘posh’ residential areas were built at a density of four houses per insulae, an area which averaged 150x 110 ft (46 x 34m), others were much more crowded.
From Kusadasi Golf & Spa resort, the ruins of Priene can be reached by car in a little over half an hour. Being less trampled upon than other important sites, it offers peaceful insights into the ways lives were led long ago and with good timing you might have only the sounds of nature to accompany you, if you prefer to carry out your investigations solo that is.