Spectacularly sited, these remains top a steep hill above the flat valley of the Büyük Menderes Nehri (Great Meander River, whose twisting course gave us the verb meander). Dating from about 350 BC, the present-day remnants of this once-wealthy city were still under construction in 334, when Alexander the Great liberated the Ionian settlements from Persian rule. At that time, Priene was a thriving port, but as in Ephesus, the harbor silted over, so commerce moved to neighboring Miletus, and the city's prosperity waned. As a result, the Romans never rebuilt Priene and the simpler Greek style predominates as in few other ancient cities in Turkey. First excavated by British archaeologists in 1868–69, the site is smaller than Ephesus and far quieter and less grandiose.
One of the most prominent ruins is the Temple of Athena, the work of Pytheos, architect of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and the design was repeatedly copied
at other sites in the Greek empire. Alexander apparently chipped in on construction costs for the temple, a dwelling for the goddess Athena rather than a place for worshippers to gather—only priests could enter. Between the columns, look on the marble floor for a small circle, crisscrossed with lines like a pizza—a secret symbol of Ionia's ancient Christians. Walk north and then east along the track that leads to the well-preserved little theater, sheltered on all sides by pine trees. Enter through the stage door into the orchestra section and note the five front-row VIP seats, carved thrones with lions' feet. If you scramble up a steep cliff known as Samsun Dağı (behind the theater and to your left as you face the seats), you will find the sparse remains of the Sanctuary of Demeter, goddess of the harvest; only a few remnants of the columns and walls remain, as well as a big hole through which blood of sacrificial victims was poured as a gift to the deities of the underworld. Since few people make it up here, it is an incredibly peaceful spot with a terrific view over Priene and the plains. Beyond are the remnants of a Hellenistic fortress. (Check safety conditions before you climb.)