According to history books, two extremely important treasures emerged from the ruins of ancient Priene, a former city in the Aegean region of Turkey. They are the Priene Inscription and the Priene Calendar, two informative scripts passed down for future generations.
Albeit no city could ever leave behind as greater legacy as that, but for me, strolling around the ancient ruins provoked a state of joyful excitement, even though they are not as extensive as the ruins seen at other ancient cities like Ephesus.
As a hobby, I love reading about Turkish history and have visited enough ancient cities across the country to easily imagine them in their former prime and glory, as if I lived there like a citizen. Walking along the ruins of an agora street, I can see in my head, the shopkeepers, and slaves.
Sitting in the remains of an ancient theatre, I can play out an imaginary scenario in my head of the acoustic sound of musician’s music bouncing off the stones, or in certain cases, sacrificial rituals typically made before the beginning of the games. I can stand in the middle of a square made of stones and feel the ambience of an old house, primitive of our current day modern standards of living.
At Priene though, I didn’t have to use my imagination. Known for its devout loyalty to the ancient city of Athens, it seemed to ooze a playful yet innocent ambience. I was on a group tour with other photographers, so maybe being with like-minded people bumped up my spirits.
My photography instructor also regularly pointed out specific shadows, lines of symmetrical stones and background landscapes so maybe it was because I looked at it through the eyes of a photographer rather than a hobbyist historian. Either way, exploring the ruins was an enjoyable dive into history.
The Priene Calendar, Inscription, and the Athena Polias Temple
Dating from the 9th century BC, the Priene calendar, found on two stones in the old market place says that the 23rd of September does not just signify the birth of the great Roman ruler Augustus but also heralds a new era.
On websites around the Internet, Christian religious experts feverishly talk about this calendar with reference to the Gospels and the coming of Jesus Christ. Probably due to my lack of interest in Christianity, I am still naïve as to the significance of this calendar but greatly interested in the Priene Inscription instead.
Inscribed in approximately the year 330BC, the Priene Inscription is one of the most significant traces back to Alexander the Great, the young military commander who successfully conquered half of the world before supposedly being poisoned by one of his generals.
Discovered in the 19th century and now housed in the British Museum, the marble slab details in ancient Greek language, the dedication of the city temple to Athena Polias. Known as the goddess of many honourable attitudes, “polias” refers to her role as protector of the city.
Built in the 4th century BC, just five tall columns and a scattering of large boulders remain of the Athena temple. Overlooking the plains of the neighbouring Soke region, apart from Greek inscriptions and intricate patterns on the stones, its most dramatic appearance is as the foreground to the large rock face standing behind it. In its former state, though, it would have been a magnificent building with no cost spared in the construction.
The Theatre of Priene
Visible ruins of the city include the bouleuterion, agora, gymnasium, and the houses of which Alexander the Great stayed in one. However, the highlight for me was the small but majestic Hellenistic theatre.
The ground floor façade that once consisted of two levels has straight standing columns looking out onto a half circle orchestra floor. Shadows fell across them in a geometrical fashion as if to symbolically worship the great arts of that time.
Surrounded by rows of seating carved into the hillside and now covered with a thin layer of grass, the front line of the audience section includes five majestic marble stone seats that could resemble thrones.
Reserved for dignitaries or priests, a fleeting thought crossed my mind to sit in one but I felt that to be like an intrusion or disrespect of their preservation.
Feeling immensely satisfied at having seen the theatre, I walked out the back entrance and into the remains of the gymnasium to come across a small group, working on a roped off area. Guided by experts, they were students from a university carefully dusting off an artefact embedded in the hard mud bank.
They would not let me past the rope so filled with jealousy, I remember thinking what a wonderful experience to put on a resume and remember for life. To be part of the excavation of one of the greatest cities of the Ioanian kingdom is a job, I would die for.
Maybe in another lifetime….