Priene was built as a coastal port in the 11th century BC. By the 4th century BC, however, the magnificent deep-water port had already silted up so badly that the city had to be relocated to avoid the "bad miasma" (unhealthy air) that led to the wasting sickness that we now know as mosquito-borne malaria. The new (only 2,400 years old) location of Priene was constructed on the slopes of the escarpment of Mycale on the order of the Persian-empire satrap, Mausolus (whose fantastic carved marble burial monument gives us the word "Mausoleum").

When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire in the latter half of the 4th century BC, he continued the work Mausolus had started on the temple of Athena, using the noted architect Pytheos to design the perfect temple for the environment. Here are the remains of the agora, or civic square and market place of ancient Priene. By the time this agora was built in the 4th century BC, Priene was a full democracy, with every (adult, male, free, property-owning male) citizen able to vote on major decision and to elect a city council that took care of the many daily needs of the city, such as fixing the streets or inviting great poets to recite or playwrights to stage performances in the city theater.

Priene, although estimated to have had no more than 3,000 residents around 300 BC was nevertheless important as a site for Ionian congresses and festivals. The Meander River wound through the plain below, eventually depositing enough silt to close up the harbor. Because of this the Romans refrained from building here when they conquered the area, so what remains are unusually Hellenistic (Greek) ruins.

The streets of Priene were laid out in a deliberate grid, a precursor to modern city design. Priene's ruins are among the most attractive on Turkey's west coast. Conspicuous by their absence is the immense Roman structures so familiar at other sites. Priene's buildings are small and intimate, a feeling, which pervades the entire setting.

The ruins include the once exquisite Temple of Athena, destroyed by an earthquake in the middle ages. Only the foundation and five reconstructed columns remain of these textbook example of temple design. The Temple was in fact the model for a book on design by its architect Pytheos. His book was still a classic in Roman times. Attractive smaller buildings at the site include the council house, complete with altar used for sacrifices before each city council meeting, and the Sanctuary of Demeter, the Earth Mother, and her daughter, Core, where sacrifices were made to the gods of the underworld."

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