We retain a quiet affection for Priene, it being our favourite place in Turkey. Having made Kuşadası our base, we meant to explore the surrounding areas of Ephesus, Pamukkale, Şirince, a beautiful hilltop Ottoman town near Selçuk and if time permitted, the ancient Hellenistic city of Priene, located on the southern slopes of the Mycale Mountain also called Samsun Daği, south west of Soke.
Having a whole day to escape from the madding crowds at all the favourite tourist haunts, we managed to convince ourselves the need to do something deviously deviant. For instance hire a scooter for lack of a better option, other than the ubiquitous organized tours and easy car rentals. This turned out to be quite an amusement at first, since the scooter didn’t look like a 100 cc one promised and then to our consternation appeared to defy gravity on the now challenging 30 km to Priene.
Armed with Google maps on the phone and Wikitravel, our two helmets that instantly singled us out as tourists and our refined spirit of adventure, we embarked on a scooter ride determined to reach the picturesque ruins of the Great temple of Athena, whose construction was supported by Alexander the great and which was designed by the renowned architect Pytheos. How hard could 30 km be?
At 25 km per hour, on the mostly deserted highway towards Soke and Bodrum, our conveyance was like a kite in the wind but we felt blithe and gay, despite the previously forecasted light showers and cloudy skies. No Nephelae could intimidate us until of course Zeus poured down his wrath as we neared Soke.
Two very hospitable café owners served us çayı and refused payment but offered direction suggestions in halting English. And of course, we got inconsolably lost and had to stop many accommodating Turkish people for directions. The Turkish in the countryside are very amicable; needless to say, we felt at home, right away.
Being the only vehicle for miles as we neared Güllübahce, we could smell the olives in brine from afar; hundreds of vats with their charge, brining away under the now sunny skies, Olive trees scattered in the distance and the wind caressing our tresses or rather mine.
As we passed through the quaint Güllübahce town with its pretty whitewashed houses, each surrounded by its own patch of olive, fig and pomegranate trees, we decided to stop for some supplies. Having bought some Ayran and hazelnuts, opening the scooter’s hatch or boot space, turned out quite a challenge and prompted several bystander to volunteer their efforts to help us.
Nearing Mycale, albeit a small climb, the machine huffed and puffed and spluttered! There were a couple of vehicles at the entrance. The entrance tickets were fairly inexpensive and the guard stored our helmets for safekeeping.
Walking through the ruins in the dappled sunlight, abounding in Turkish Pines and others around, there were very few people who were about to leave, and so we ran into mostly no one.
Up to the temple of Athena with its magnificent columns, houses, amphitheatre and all that amid the natural flora, we breathed in the sounds of silence wafting through the trees and soaked in the lovely vistas of citrus dotted hill slopes and olive orchards in the distance; we felt ourselves far back many centuries past, alone, at last.
The magnificent temple is the oldest and most significant edifice of Priene. Built between the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C., it is a classic example of the Anatolian – Ionian style of architecture. As we wandered through the Agora and then the colonnades of the Stoa, we came upon the well preserved theatre. Having settled into one of the five armchair seats, I began to admire the detail of the lion-paw armrests, while soaking in the antiquity of Priene, appreciating the 6000 spectator capacity of the imposing theatre.
The 8th century BC saw Priene become a member of the Ionian League. The League’s central shrine, the Panionion, lay within the city’s boundaries, making Priene an important holy city. Its well-preserved remains are a major source of evidence about ancient Greek town planning. Long stretches of the Hellenistic city wall have remained intact and are in some places are 6 feet wide and 18 feet tall. The remains of the city lie on successive terraces ascending from a plain to a steep hill, upon which stands the Temple of Athena.
Presently, the ruins are from when the city was rebuilt around 350 BC. Priene, being originally a port city, had its access to the sea blocked by the continuous silting caused by the Maeander River. The new city was therefore built farther inland, on the present site on the slopes of the Mycale.
We spent almost two hours in the ruins having found some comfortably royal seats to partake of our frugal lunch of salty Ayran and hazelnuts. The wind rustled through the trees down to the olives and citruses in the valley below. It was a serenely beautiful day.
Eventually, we had to make our way back to Soke and shopped at some outlets nearby. As we neared Kuşadası towards evening, we halted at a local cafe on the hill and sat under the shade of a fruiting olive and watched the sun set over the Aegean.