The garden is a soggy mess and tomorrow another crew is coming to tear out and replace the old driveway, and I don’t want to talk about that. What I want to do is revisit memories of our 2010 trip to Turkey. I’ve already done a few posts about this, but not about the day we visited the site of an abandoned ancient city.

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We were staying in a market town called Selçuk, a few miles from the Aegean coast in western Turkey. Wanting to visit some of the antiquities in the region, we hired a driver. First thing he did was take us to the base of a hill with a very long flight of stone steps. This was the path to the abandoned Greek city of Priene.

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Though the driver spoke little English, he made it clear we should get out of the car and climb – he would return in 90 minutes. And so we did. We were completely alone, except for the occasional lizard. We could also hear herds of goats grazing nearby. No people at all.

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Priene was built about 2,300 years ago by Alexander the Great. The eastern shores of the Aegean Sea were populated by Greeks in those days. For its first few hundred years, Priene was a port city at the mouth of the River Maeander  – isn’t that a great name, the River Maeander?

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Priene was fairly small, even by ancient standards – about 6,000 people. But it was a wealthy town.

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Thanks in part to Alexander’s patronage, it had a theater, aqueducts, indoor plumbing, and grand temples.

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We took turns making ourselves comfortable on the equivalent of courtside seats, clearly a perk for the local elite.

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David looks right at home in one of the best seats in the house.

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Greek inscriptions were visible on many of the stone buildings. I wished I could understand them – do they impart ancient Greek wisdom or something prosaic, like “Fresh Goat Milk 20% Off Every Tuesday”.

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Explorers have been excavating Priene off and on since the late 18th Century.

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Pieces of ancient stonework litter the ground or sit in piles like old auto parts at a junkyard.

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These columns belong to a temple dedicated to Athena.

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Here and there wild Anemones were blooming. This was around the end of December.


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By about 1,800 years ago the Maeander River filled with silt and Priene was no longer a port. People left, the city declined. Eventually the population that remained was moved to another location.

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From the ruins of the city you can look out at fields that had once been a gateway to the sea.

Visiting these old sites makes me think of the chain of human experience that connects our times to older ones. The past is not as remote as we like to think.

22 Comments on “On a Hilltop in Turkey”

  1. I had my morning giggle at the ‘goat milk 20% off…’ I too would like to know what that writing meant. What we could learn if we could read that type of script. It seems like a lot to give up. All of those stone columns and seating. It makes me wonder what life was like then. Where there gardens and what did they look like????

  2. I visited Priene many years ago with an international group of journalists. It was a fascinating a place then as your photos show. I learned then that our word meander came from the name of the river and the way it meandered across the countryside. I’d love to return… this time to experience the luxury that you had, of being there on your own. That’s a very special memory.

    • That day we visited two ancient sites in addition to Priene, all within a few miles of each other. There was Miletus – a large city in the pre-Roman times. There is a massive theater that still stands, and a few other things. Also Didyma, one of the major temples and oracles of that era. There were only a handful of people at each.

  3. I was trying to remember this city, one I visited with my parents in the late 60s. I am so glad I found it and hope you will let me credit your photos, one or two of which I’d like to include in a Quora answer to “What Inspired You to Become an Architect?” This place was truly magical and the abandoned effect was unforgettable. My father explained a few things about the place and I read a little in the guide books. I think that after I ran my fingers over those ancient stones and thought about the people who once lived there, worked and played — I was transfixed in a profound manner!

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