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Temple of Athena in Priene. Source: Yilmaz Oevuenc / CC BY-SA 2.0

Is Zeus To Join Stellar Crowd At Ancient City In Turkey?


A temple has been discovered by archaeological excavators in the ancient city of Priene in Turkey. The Ionian ruins of Priene are located within the borders of the modern village Güllübahçe, 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) southwest of the town of Söke in the province of Aydın, in southwestern Turkey.

The first researchers to excavate the ruins of Priene were the members of the Society of Dilettanti from London between 1765 and 1868 and the Museum of Berlin sent famous archaeologists Carl Humann and Theodor Wiegand in 1895-1898, who first revealed the entirety of the ancient city including its gates, public buildings, temples, and residences.

Modern archaeological excavations in the city are being led by Uludağ University Professor İbrahim Hakan Mert with the contributions of the Culture and Tourism Ministry. Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency (AA), Mert said Priene was “one of the most modern cities of the Hellenistic period” and he noted its streets crisscross and create parcels “made on the basis of a certain mathematical formula”.

Beautiful ancient ruins of Priene where the temple was discovered. (Michal / Adobe Stock)

Possibly a Temple Dedicated to Zeus?

This ancient city is a ruined matrix of grand residential areas with fountains and sewage systems which wind beneath and around temples of Athena and Demeter, the former having been built about 335 BC using the funds provided by Alexander the Great. It also contains a massive theater, agora, gymnasiums, an Egyptian temple, and a Byzantine church.

Mert told AA that the city “attracted the attention of the important personalities of the period,” but this really is something of a gross-understatement, where in reality this city has ‘always’ attracted the ‘very most’ important historical personalities. Legendary Macedonian commander Alexander the Great funded the first phase of construction and it was completed by Roman Emperor Augustus. However, an article in Turkish Archaeological News says there had already been an earlier settlement, before the Greek colonists first arrived around 1000 BC, and that the cities origins “go back to Minoan times”.

According to a report in Hurriyet Daily News the newly discovered temple is “small with an altar in front and an area of honor monuments around it” and the archaeologists said that they “look forward to seeing which god or goddess it belonged to”.

It is known there was a cult of Zeus in the city yet no temple dedicate to Zeus has ever been discovered so hopes are high that this is it. Further drilling into the bedrock will soon reveal exactly what the temple’s functions were within the sacred strata of Priene.

Ancient Magnet for Big Personalities

Perhaps the most famous ancient resident of Priene lived there in the 6th century. Bias the famous Greek lawyer, thinker, and poet, was renowned for his good heart and sharp sense of justice. Considered as one of the Seven Sages of Greece, Cicero later quoted Bias in Cicero’s Paradoxa Stoicorum as having repeatedly said “Omnia mea mecum porto” meaning “All that is mine I carry with me” - expressing his strong belief that real human value is found within ones interior.

Returning to Dr. Mert’s note that the city streets “crisscross” according to a “certain mathematical formula”, what he means is that when the Macedonians recaptured Priene from the Persians, Alexander the Great applied new rules in urban planning which had been popularized by Hippodamus of Miletus. The main street was aligned on an east-west axis orientated with the March and September equinoctial solar events. Therefore, the smaller streets that crossed it at right angles, created ‘parcels’ or blocks and buildings within the city related geometrically to the primary east-west spiritual axis which spelled out the Hermetic axiom “As above, so below”.

The western part of the main street, Western Gate Street, with drainage. (Peterdhduncan / Public Domain)

The western part of the main street, Western Gate Street, with drainage. (Peterdhduncan / Public Domain)

Visiting Ancient Priene

Ancient Priene is located close to Güllübahçe, a village with several great traditional restaurants, tea houses, and small B&Bs. You can access the ruins of Priene daily from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm during the summer, between April and October, and from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm between November and March.

A long unshaded path leads uphill from the ticket office to the terraces of Priene so remember to bring water and sun protection for there are many interpretation panels explaining the foundations and functions of the city which all require being sun-blasted.

Top image: Temple of Athena in Priene. Source: Yilmaz Oevuenc / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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