Turkey (part 8) – Priene, Miletus, Didyma

Today was Friday and our second last day in Selcuk. The plan was to see Priene, Miletus and Didyma – popularly known as PMD. We were once again going on a group tour despite the rather unimpressive experience the day before. The motivation again was to avoid having to figure out how to get to the sites.

Just like the prior day, the day started early. The van came and picked us up. There were 3 other people on the tour. The tour actually got off to a good start because the new guide seemed more engaged, interesting and definitely presented better – or so we thought.

The site of Priene is close to Selcuk. So, we didn’t have to take a 3 hour trek to the site like the day before. The city once again was located on an elevated site. So, we took the ramp up. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful drive. This region of Turkey is gorgeous. It’s dotted by small hills and not heavily populated.

Like Pergamon, Priene was a Greek city. Alexander used Priene as his base to attack Miletus which had become a Persian stronghold. The other interesting point about Priene is that the city was right at the edge of the water once upon a time. The water has since receded. But back in the day, its proximity to the water was no doubt the backbone of its commercial strength. Today as you stand at the edge of the site near the remains of the temple of Athena, the view is glorious. There are vast plains and farmland where the water was once.

The view from up high at Priene

The view from up high at Priene

The city suffered the wrath of the Persians when they swept through Asia Minor on their way to Greece. The city was rebuilt when Alexander turned the tables on the Persians. Eventually as the water receded, the city slowly died. The location of the city meant that it was always going to have a limited and small population. Without access to water, it eroded the city’s commercial value further.

Right at the edge of the site of Priene

Right at the edge of the site of Priene

The two main highlights of the site are the temple of Athena and the house that Alexander stayed in. Some columns of the former still stand and present a stunningly beautiful sight with the towering mountain in the background.

Columns of the temple of Athena in the shadow of the mountain

Columns of the temple of Athena in the shadow of the mountain

The next highlight is the house that Alexander lived in during his stay at Priene. I asked our guide if we could see it but she said that it was a long hike. I could be wrong but based on what I read, it didn’t seem like a hike but once again the no frills nature of these group tours hindered us from truly enjoying the site.

the magnificent columns of Temple of Athena from another angle

the magnificent columns of Temple of Athena from another angle

The last highlight of the site was the small theater which we saw on our way out. The interesting thing about this theater was the distinct seats built into the theater for dignitaries.

the theater of Priene

the theater of Priene

one of the special seats dedicated for dignitaries

one of the special seats dedicated for dignitaries

looking from atop the theater

looking from atop the theater

The other thing I think worth seeing at Priene must be the super high acropolis. Considering the tour guide wasn’t even willing to go to the other side of the temple of Athena where the house of Alexander is located, she definitely wasn’t going to say yes to the acropolis. Guess I will have to go see it on my next trip.

the remains of a Christian church

the remains of a Christian church

As we were wrapping up our whirlwind tour of Priene, the guide said she knew of a great tea place nearby and she wanted to buy us tea as her treat. People started rattling off their choices. I’m not a tea person but I picked something.

We left the site and the bus took us to a lower level where of course, instead of tea, we were ushered into some handicrafts store. The owner showed us samples of his work. I had read about these commercial “oh let’s stop at a carpet/leather/handicrafts store” ambushes but since we escaped them yesterday, I thought we’d get lucky today as well. But we weren’t second time lucky. The owner emotionally blackmailed people into buying stuff with his puppy dog act. I, of course, am completely heartless especially since I felt that precious time that should have been spent at the historic sites was being wasted at this stupid store.

Mansoor agreed and had no interest in buying anything. But we had to hold Greg back. We could see he was becoming vulnerable to the owner’s sappy story about how his father handed the store down to him, etc. So, we had to give him emotional support and make sure he didn’t buy anything out of white guilt. Not sure what it is about white people that makes them vulnerable to these commercial tearjerkers.

We wasted about 30-40 minutes here before heading to our next stop – Miletus. Miletus is near Priene. Miletus also fell to the Persians and remained one of their strongholds even as Alexander swept into Asia Minor. Nowadays, not much of the site remains except the glorious theatre. The theatre at Miletus is huge -but not as big as the theatre at Ephesus or as exotic as the one at Pergamon but still an impressive structure.

the theater of Miletus

the theater of Miletus

beautiful gryphons engraved

beautiful gryphons engraved

more ancient art

more ancient art

The guide warned us about snakes which apparently are plentiful at the site for some reason. We bummed around the theatre for a while. It is an amazing structure especially when you get into the corridors and covered walkways on the upper levels that led to the upper seats. This theatre could seat up to 25,000 people which is 2.5x the seating capacity of Pergamon’s gorgeous theatre.

view from the top

view from the top

another view looking down

another view looking down

one of the walkways at the top of the theater

one of the walkways at the top of the theater

I don’t really remember much of the site apart from that. Once again, the guide wasn’t really interested into going to any of the other landmarks at the site. We did see remains of a bath complex which if I remember was paid for by and dedicated to the wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Miletus like Priene was also located on the water and derived its economic backbone from the city’s harbor. And like so many other sites, the water has since receded and the ancient city now lies inland.

the baths at Miletus

the baths at Miletus

We motored along. Next up was lunch which wasn’t terrible. After lunch, we headed for Didyma.

Didyma

Didyma

Didyma was a religious sanctuary and not a city. There once was a sacred way that linked Didyma to Miletus directly. Didyma also housed an oracle. The oracle here was second only in importance to the oracle of Delphi. Apparently the temple was such a grandiose project that it was never truly completed. The size of the columns that cover the temple is astonishing.

the base of a gigantic column

the base of a gigantic column

a couple of standing columns

a couple of standing columns

The other interesting part is the inner courtyard. The courtyard features incredible artwork. It truly is amazing what the ancients achieved without the benefit of moderns machines that we have access to today.

the inner courtyard

the inner courtyard

gryphons

gryphons

beautiful pattern

beautiful pattern

beautiful work

beautiful work

the massive columns under the glare of the sun

the massive columns under the glare of the sun

We hung around the temple for a while. It was some time in the afternoon as the group tour wrapped up. So, we headed back to Selcuk. As we approached the town, the guide said something about a Turkish tradition of finishing things on a sweet note.

And of course, we stopped at a Turkish sweets store where we were told about the different flavors of Turkish delight, etc. If I was less than impressed with the guided tour from yesterday, today’s tour was pushing me towards the edge of my patience. We had managed to escape these commercial stops in the tour to Pergamon. But today the guide had managed to sneak in not one but TWO such stops.

Once again I refused to buy anything – not that there was anything to buy. Mansoor got interested in buying something. But the price changed on him from the time of the demo to the time he took it to the counter. So, he decided to drop it.

After another wasted 20 minutes, the van dropped us off our hotel and that was the end of the PMD tour.

We stayed at the hotel for a bit before venturing out for food, etc. I forget where we had dinner. After dinner, we went for a walk on the opposite end of the town. Where we were staying seemed to be dedicated for tourists going by the number of hotels in the neighborhood. The locals live in the opposite end of town.

We walked through the local neighborhoods which seemed to get higher and steeper. As we ventured deeper into the neighborhood, we came across 5-6 kids who must have been around 8-9 years old. First thing they did as soon as they saw us was use the F word quite liberally and loudly. Greg and I looked at each other but seems like Mansoor missed it. So, he went closer to engage them. They asked where we were from, what our names were, etc. They were eager to practice their English on us. After having a small conversation of the kind you have with kids, we turned to leave. And as soon as we did that, there it was – the rascals swore at us again! This time Mansoor heard them too and we quickly ambled away from the little monsters.

Eventually we ended up in a new part of the town. As we descended from the hill and made our way through the new construction, a huge wolf like dog came rushing out of nowhere. Mercifully, he kept his distance as we tried to get away. I don’t like dogs and they don’t like me. Even the littlest dog is capable of making me bawl like a baby. Thankfully, this wolf-like dog didn’t chase us. Otherwise I would’ve definitely ended up in the fetal position.

looking at the new part of town from atop a small hill

looking at the new part of town from atop a small hill

After that fun adventure including our encounters with the sponsored guide, the gang of foul mouthed hoodlums and the wolf-like dog, we slowly retreated to our hotel. The following day was our last full day in Selcuk and would be the day dedicated to Ephesus.

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