Turkey, Ancient city of Prien

Turkey, Ancient city of Prien

Near the Turkish resort of Didim is the ancient city of Prien, one of the twelve most famous ancient cities of Asia Minor. The polis is very well preserved to this day, and is now a great example of a Hellenistic city.

Prien was founded in the 11th century BC by the son of Neleus Epitus and is located at the foot of the Mikale hill. This Ionian city was originally located on the coast of the Gulf of Latmiya and had two harbors in which there was a small fleet. Prien belonged to the union of twelve Ionian cities and was only 17 kilometers from the famous Miletus. Ten kilometers from the policy flowed the river Meander. However, in the middle of the 4th century, due to the deposition of this river, the coastline penetrated further into the sea, and the city was located several kilometers from the water line. Just at that time, Priene was rebuilt again after the destruction by the Persians and the city had to be moved. In the 3rd and 2nd centuries. BC. Prien was a part of Seleucid, then the Pergamon kingdoms; later – a provincial city of the Roman Empire and Byzantium. During the years when the polis was ruled by Byzantium, the residence of the Byzantine bishop was located in the city. Later, due to heavy sedimentation caused by sediments of the river, Priene lost its former importance. Perhaps this led to the death of the city. But there are other versions to this effect. One of them claims that earthquake caused Prien’s death, the other blames the malaria epidemic.


The city existed until the XIII century, when the attack of the Turks and an even greater retreat of the sea made it a small village, which completely lost its former significance. Despite this, Priene is well preserved and contains almost no more recent reconstructions, such as Ephesus. That is why it is considered one of the best antique monuments on the Aegean coast.

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Prien is one of the few policies of Hellas that have brought to our time sufficiently complete information about the town planning of the Hellenistic era. The ruins of the city have terraces, so they were the subject of detailed scientific study by the English Society of Amateurs in 1765 and 1768, and in 1895 – 1899 Théodore Wegand thoroughly studied them for the Berlin Museum. At the end of the XIX century, they were investigated by Karl Hoeman, who found out that the city was built up according to the system of the architect Hippodam. Prien was divided by six streets into 80 mini-blocks, the dimensions of which were approximately 42 by 35 meters. In the quarters there were four residential buildings each, and the whole block was usually occupied by public buildings. The skill of the architect who has inscribed such a strict rectangular urban composition in the mountain relief is striking. Only in Pompeii, this layout of the city plan has been preserved in such an untouched form, but it is at least three centuries younger than the Prienian one.

One of the first in Priene was built an ancient theater, otherwise called the Acropolis and dating back to the 4th century BC. In the II century AD, the Romans reconstructed it, in particular, they rebuilt the scene. The theater is located at the very top of one of the spurs of the mountain, at the base of which lies the ancient city. From here there is a magnificent view of the surroundings. The theater is made in the shape of a horseshoe in the classical Hellenic style and has a small size. Its highlight is that there is an altar in the center, used earlier for sacred offerings to Dionysus. Initially, the theater had 50 tiers of benches and accommodated 50 thousand spectators, and the length of the stage was 18 meters. The most striking feature of the building is the presence of five large marble thrones for local dignitaries. The theater is perfectly preserved. Behind the building you can see the ruins of the Byzantine basilica.

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The most famous monument of Priene is the Temple of Athena, which is located against the background of a sheer cliff and is visible from a great distance. It was built by the architect Pythaeus, who was also the author of the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus. The temple was dedicated to Athena Polias, which translates as “keeper of the city.” The construction of the temple began in the middle of the fourth century BC, when Alexander the Great of Macedon freed Priene from Persian rule. It was he who allocated money for the construction of the temple of Athens. The inscription with the dedication of the temple to Alexander the Great is preserved in the British Museum in the form of fragments of a huge cult statue of the goddess. The construction lasted about two centuries. The length and width of the base of the temple are approximately 37 and 20 meters. A colonnade of 6 rows of 11 columns surrounded the temple, but only five Ionic columns have survived to this day. The proportions and methods of building the temple were used as standard even in Roman times, when the building was re-dedicated to Athena Polias and Augustus, the new Roman emperor. At that time, all existing sanctuaries and temples of Priene were adapted to accommodate the busts and statues of the emperor, his family and ancestors. In front of the temple of Athena, the ruins of a magnificent altar are preserved.

On the highest terrace of the city, just north of the temple, are the sanctuaries of Demeter and Cora, which are one and a half to two centuries older than any other building of the city. A little below the temple of Athena is the center of vital activity of the city – the Agora (commercial area). It dates from the 3rd century BC. In the northern part of it there is a sacred hall 16 meters long, and on three sides it is surrounded by column porticoes. Nearby is the Buleterium (parliament building), designed for 640 people, next to which there is a place for the sacred fire – the pretapeon. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is in the eastern part of the agora, and the market is in the western. On both sides of the road connecting Agora with the western gate, there are once rich residential houses, the walls of some of them are up to 1.5 meters thick. Recently found staircases of houses prove that in antiquity they had at least two floors. In addition, in Priene, you can see the ruins of the gymnasium, the stadium and the term, which are in fairly poor condition.

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