According to history books, Priene ancient city in Aegean, Turkey is important for two reasons: the Priene Inscription and Calendar, two informative scripts passed down for future generations. Although no city could ever leave behind a more significant legacy like that, for me, strolling around the ancient ruins provoked a state of joyful excitement, even though they are not as extensive as other ancient cities like Ephesus.
As a hobby, I love reading about Turkish history and have visited enough ancient cities to easily imagine them in their former prime and glory, as if I lived there like a citizen. Walking along the agora street ruins, I imagine shopkeepers and slaves in my head.
Sitting in the remains of an ancient theatre, I play out imaginary scenarios in my head of the acoustic sound of music bouncing off stones, or in some instances, sacrificial rituals typically made before the beginning of 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.
Exploring Priene Ancient City
At Hellenistic Priene, though, I didn’t have to use my imagination. Known for its devout loyalty to ancient Athens, Priene oozed 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. On the other hand, 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 was an enjoyable dive into history.
The Priene Calendar and Inscription
The 9th century BC Priene calendar, found on two stones in the old marketplace, says the 23rd of September signifies the birth of the great Roman ruler Augustus and heralds a new era. On websites around the Internet, Christian religious experts feverishly talk about Priene calendar regarding the Gospels and the coming of Jesus Christ. Probably due to my lack of interest in Roman 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 refers to Alexander the Great, the young military commander who successfully conquered half of the world before one of his generals poisoned him. Discovered in the 19th century and now housed in the British Museum, the marble slab details in the ancient Greek language, the dedication of the city temple to Athena Polias. Known as the goddess of honourable attitudes, “polias” refers to her role as city protector.
Temple of Athena
Five tall columns and a scattering of large boulders remain of the 4th century BC Athena temple in Priene. Overlooking the plains of neighbouring Soke, apart from Greek inscriptions and intricate patterns on the stones, the large rock face behind Athena temple promotes a dramatic appearance. In the temple’s former state, it would have been a magnificent building with no cost spared in the construction.
The Theatre of Priene
Visible Priene city ruins 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 geometrically fell across them 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 of Priene, 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 impressed, I walked out the back entrance and into the gymnasium to meet a small group working on a roped-off area. Guided by experts, they were students from a university in Turkey carefully dusting off an artefact embedded in the hard mud bank. However, they would not let me past the rope. I remember thinking what a wonderful experience to put on a resume and remember for life. To join excavations of Priene is a job I would die for.
Miletus: Combine a trip to Priene with the ancient ruins of Miletus that stand nearby. This former sea trading port was a crucial Ionian city, and along with Priene ancient city, it makes for a great day out in Aegean, Turkey.