The Site, Priene
The site of Ionian Priene is not known. It probably lies deep under the alluvial plain of the Maeander. It certainly did not occupy the site of the new Priene which Athens founded in the middle of the fourth century B.C. as a rival to Miletus and which Alexander the Great helped to complete after 334 B.C. The principal temple was dedicated to Athena by Alexander himself. Under Turkish rule from the end of the 13th century Priene, now called Samsun Kalesi, declined and decayed.ExcavationsSystematic excavations were begun in 1895 by Carl Humann for the Imperial Museums in Berlin. After his death Theodor Wiegand continued the work which was completed in 1898. Important finds from the site can be seen in the British Museum, the Louvre, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and also in Istanbul.
The finely coursed town walls (2m/6.5ft thick) of Priene extend on both right and left for 2.5km/1.5mi up the citadel. Apart from the walls themselves there are practically no ancient remains on the summit. A rough footpath leads up from the lower town to the acropolis, the place of refuge in emergencies.
The lower town of Priene was laid out according to Hippodamian principles with streets intersecting at right angles to create some 80 rectangular blocks. The main streets which ran along an east-west axis were 5-6m/16-20ft wide. Two of these roads led to the main east and west gates, another to a subsidiary gate which gave access to a spring.From the parking lot at the end of the Güllübahçe (district of Söke), the entrance to the ruined site is through the east gate. Continue westwards across the town to the west gate. Immediately to the right is the gate-keeper's lodge, consisting of a single room and a porch. Just beyond stands the Sanctuary of Cybele with a sacrificial pit. The Sacred House may have been a dynastic shrine.From this point up to the agora, the main street is flanked on both sides by private houses, of interest as they date from the fourth century B.C. and give an idea of what a classical dwelling was like.
Agora (Sacred Stoa)
The main street of Priene continues through a cutting in the rock passes the small meat and vegetable market on the right (30x16m/98x52ft) and leads to the large Agora (128x95m/140x105yds), all the more impressive in such a relatively small town. An Altar of Zeus would probably have stood in the center of the square which would have been the scene for festivals and sacrifices.On the north side of the street on a seven-stepped base stood a double-aisled roofed colonnade or stoa (150 B.C.) with an outer row of Doric columns and an inner row of Ionic columns. It was here that the town's political business was conducted. The better preserved west wall is to be found in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. A series of larger rooms, probably the offices of the city officials can be found to the rear of the stoa. The Bouleuterion and the Prytaneion are situated at the east end of the Sacred Stoa.
The Bouleuterion in Priene, the chamber for the people's assembly and city council, met here. Thanks to its sheltered position beneath a steep slope it remains one of the best-preserved buildings in Priene. Constructed about 200 B.C., it resembles a small theater. In the center of a small square is an altar decorated with reliefs and on three sides are thirteen rows of seating with room for 640 people, accessible by a number of stairways.The Prytaneion (offices of the civic authorities), a courtyard with rooms opening off it, was altered in Roman times. A marble table and a water-basin can be seen in the courtyard and in one of the rooms stands a large hearth, perhaps the civic hearth with an eternal flame.An Ionic Temple of Zeus occupied a position on the east side of the agora, but it was destroyed by the construction of a Byzantine castle.
Temple of Athena
Priene's principal sanctuary the Temple of Athena is situated at the western end of "Athena Street" above the Bouleuterion. According to an inscription on one of the pillars in the entrance hall, now in the British Museum, the temple was dedicated to Athena Polias by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. Built by Pytheos, architect of the Mausoleion at Halikarnassos, it was an Ionic peripteral of six by eleven columns, five of which have been restored. The cult image, almost 7m/23ft high, was a copy of Phidias' "Athena Parthenos". Outside the entrance at the east end was a large altar with figures in high relief between Ionic columns and further east an entrance gateway dates from Roman times. Part of the south wall is intact up to a height of 4.5m/15ft.
On the right of the street which leads west from the East Gate of Priene above the Sanctuary of Isis lies a well-preserved example of a third century B.C. theater. Only eight rows of seating have been excavated in the auditorium. The city's principal Byzantine church can be reached through the middle of the stage building.
Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore
Near the church of Priene is a path which runs up to the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. Of the two statues which once stood outside the entrance one can now be seen in a Berlin Museum. The sanctuary itself, a temple in antis of unusual form and fitted with wooden roof-trusses, is badly damaged. To the left of the temple is a sacrificial pit.
To the east of the Temple of Demeter in Priene, adjoining a tower on the town walls, is a settling basin which was constructed in such a way that the water could be purified without interrupting supplies. The water was brought from Mount Mykale. From here it is possible to climb up the steps to the summit of the hill or descend to the East Gate.