Priene was an ancient Greek city of Ionia (and member of the Ionian League) at the base of an escarpment of Mycale, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) north of the then course of the Maeander (now called the Büyük Menderes or "Big Maeander") River, 67 kilometres (42 mi) from ancient Anthea, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from ancient Aneon and 25 kilometres (16 mi) from ancient Miletus. It was built on the sea coast, overlooking the former Latmian Gulf of the Aegean
on steep slopes and terraces extending from sea level to a height of
380 metres (1,250 ft) above sea level at the top of the escarpment.Today, after several centuries of changes in the landscape, it is an
inland site. It is located at a short distance west of the modern
village Güllübahçe Turun in the Söke district of Aydın Province, Turkey.
Priene possessed a great deal of famous Hellenistic art and
architecture. The city's original position on Mount Mycale has never
been discovered; however, it is believed that it was a peninsula
possessing two harbours. Priene never held a great deal of political
importance due to the city's size, as it is believed around 4 to
5 thousand inhabitants occupied the region. The city was arranged into
four districts, firstly the political district which consisted of the bouleuterion and the prytaneion, the cultural district containing the theatre, the commercial where the agora was located and finally the religious district which contained sanctuaries dedicated to Zeus and Demeter and most importantly the Temple of Athena.
The city visible on the slopes and escarpment of Mycale
was constructed according to plan entirely within the 4th century BCE.
It was not the original Priene, which had been a port city situated at
the then mouth of the Maeander River. This location caused insuperable
environmental difficulties for it due to slow aggradation of the riverbed and progradation in the direction of the Aegean Sea.
Typically the harbour would silt over and the population find itself
living in pest-ridden swamps and marshes. The underlying causes of the
problem are that the Maeander flows through a slowly subsiding rift
valley creating a drowned coastline and that human use of the previously
forested slopes and valley denudes the countryside and accelerates
erosion. The sediments are progressively deposited in the trough at the
mouth of the river, which migrates westward and more than compensates
for the subsidence.
Physical remains of the original Priene have not yet been
identified, because, it is supposed, they must be under many feet of
sediment, the top of which is now valuable agricultural land. Knowledge
of the average rate of progradation is the basis for estimating the
location of the city, which was moved every few centuries to renew its
utility as a port. The Greek city (there may have been unknown
habitations of other ethnicities, as at Miletus) was founded by a colony from the ancient Greek city of Thebes in the vicinity of ancient Aneon
at about 1000 BCE. At about 700 BCE a series of earthquakes provided
the opportunity for a move to within 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) of its 4th
century BCE location. At about 500 BCE the city moved again to a few km
away at the port of Naulochos.
At about 350 BCE the Persian-empire satrap, Mausolus (a Carian)
planned a magnificent new city on the steep slopes of Mycale, where it
would be, it was hoped, a permanent deep-water port (similar to the many
Greek island cities, which seem to delight in being located on and up
seaside escarpments). Construction had begun when the Macedonians took
the region from the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great
personally assumed responsibility for the move. He and Mausolus
intended to make Priene a model city. He offered to pay for construction
of the Temple of Athena to designs of the noted architect Pytheos, if it would be dedicated by him, which it was, in 323 BCE; the dedicatory inscription is in the British Museum.The inscription translated to: "King Alexander dedicated the temple to Athena Polias".
The leading citizens were quick to follow suit: most of the
public buildings were constructed at private expense and are inscribed
with the names of the donors.
The ruins of the city are generally conceded to be the most
spectacular surviving example of an entire ancient Greek city intact
except for the ravages of time. It has been studied since at least the
18th century and still is. The city was constructed of marble
from nearby quarries on Mycale and wood for such items as roofs and
floors. The public area is laid out in a grid pattern up the steep
slopes, drained by a system of channels. The water distribution and
sewer systems survive. Foundations, paved streets, stairways, partial
door frames, monuments, walls, terraces can be seen everywhere among
toppled columns and blocks. No wood has survived. The city extends
upward to the base of an escarpment projecting from Mycale. A narrow
path leads to the acropolis above.