Before the harbor silted over, Miletus was one of the greatest commercial centers of the Greek world, and the Milesians were renowned for their quick wits and courage. The first settlers were Minoan Greeks from Crete who arrived between 1400 BC and 1200 BC. The Ionians, who arrived 200 years later, slaughtered the male population and married the widows. Like the other Ionian cities, Miletus was passed from one ruling empire to another and was successively governed by Alexander's generals Antigonus and Lysimachus and Pergamum's Attalids, among others. Under the Romans the town finally regained some control over its own affairs and shared in the prosperity of the region. St. Paul preached here at least twice in the 1st century.
The archaeological site is sprawled out along a desolate plain, and laced with well-marked trails. The parking lot is right outside the city's most magnificent building—the Great Theater, a remarkably intact 15,000-seat, free-standing amphitheater built
by the Ionians and maintained by the Romans. The fabulous vomitoria, huge vaulted passages leading to the seats, have the feel of a modern sporting arena. Climb to the top of the theater for a look at the walls of the defensive fortress built atop it by the Byzantines, and a view across the ancient city.
To see the rest of the ruins, follow the dirt track down from the right of the theater. A row of buildings marks what was once a broad processional avenue. The series begins with the Delphinion, a sanctuary of Apollo; a stoa (colonnaded porch) with several reerected Ionic columns; the foundations and remaining walls and arches of a Roman bath and gymnasium; and the first story of the Nymphaeum, all that remains of the once highly ornate three-story structure, resembling the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, that once distributed water to the rest of the city.
A three-minute drive outside the gates of the site, the small, newly opened Milet Müzesi presents interesting artifacts from the site and the surrounding area with panache. Their bright displays will help you conjure a vision of ancient Miletus and its world. Ask your tour guide in advance if you can make at least a short stop here. If driving, ask the guards to point you in the right direction as you exit the Miletus archaeological site.