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June 3: Priene, Miletos, Didyma August 3, 2010

Posted by msmith78 in Uncategorized.


Priene is one of the best preserved Hellenistic cities because unlike most that we have seen so far Priene is not layered with other periods’ cities above and below it.  It was built in the middle of the 4th century BC from scratch because the city had to move to an new location due to the shifting river. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century BC and never reconstructed. The territory it belonged to was conquered by Alexander the Great and therefore attained a Greek character and organization. The four kingdoms of the Hellenistic period were Antigones(Greek), Celokids(Atolia), Petolomy(Egypt), and Pergamon; Priene fell under the control of Pergamon.

The city’s main source of income was agriculture with its fertile land from the shifting river. The city wall enclosed the acropolis but this area was left bare and only encloses due to the terrain and its military importance. The walls of the city with their zigzag pattern provided the defenders with the ability to hit the enemy on two sides: the front and the flank.


Priene is an example of an early example of an urban grid, but it is not a literal grid like we know from the ideas of the 18th and 19th century. It is more the establishment of relationships and divides in space similar to the grid ideas applied ot the architectural designs introduced by Pythios. The east-west streets were the major arteries of the city along the longest/flat surface of the slope of the town and were about 23 feet wide. The north-south streets were about 11 feet wide. The middle area of the zoning was for political space while other portions comprised the religious, educational/theatrical, and residential.

The city also hosts the first example of a fully colonnaded street which is a characteristic of the later Roman structures. The fact that the covering was arched makes its even more reflective of the later Roman practices. Stoas were used throughout the city as a means of delineating space.


This bouleuterion from 350 BC is the best preserved bouleuterion, but it is different from the other bouleuterion we have seen because of its square shape. This is an important as a different architectural shape and a new model for finding other bouleuterion. Its shape became a model for what archeologist thought all bouleuterions should be, Metron Thompson’s excavations in the agora revealed a similar foundation he believed to be the bouleuterion, but further studies have reveled it was probably an archive.

Temple of Athena Polias

This temple was built in the 4th century BC, and is a predecessor of the Erectheon which shares the same guardian Athena, Athena “protector of the city”. It was created by the most famous architect of the period Pythios who had just completed the Asolym of Carthasos. Pythios was the model of Vitruvius’s architect with an artistic as well as construction based understanding. It was an Ionic temple which is set to a carefully modeled grid, but not of equals but rather similar relationships; the relationship between columns, between columns and open space, between the inner sanctuary and outer border, etc. Alexander the Great sponsored the construction of the temple at the beginning of his push through Asia Minor. With the attention to order it marks the intellectual merging of the Doric and the Ionic styles. Vitruvius loved the mathematical relationships within the structure and the organization; symmetria was not the idea of reflection as we think of symmetry today but rather more an idea of a balanced measure between parts.


This skena is one of the best preserved and resorted that we have seen yet. The skena was used for holding the background and hiding the actors while they changed. The backgrounds were eventually made of periaktos which were 3 to 4 sided polygon slats put together to make a big picture that could be rotated to make other pictures. The proskeneion is the part is the colonnade in front of the skena proper. This skena can be identified as Hellenistic due to the four rather than two metopes between columns that would have been expected in Classical times.  In the center of the front row of seats was the alter and the front row had elaborate benches and throne-like chairs for the priests and other important people to sit who needed to help with the sacrifice at the beginning; while there were a series of special benches in front of center stage up several rows that were used for important people not involved in the sacrifice. *diagram of seating


This was a colony in the 8th century BC on the coast of the river Meander that the Hittite people would have also known in their time. It in itself became successful with forty to eighty of its own colonies. It was conquered by the Persians in the 6th century BC; at the end of the 6th century Miletus rebelled against the Persians. The Persians in turn destroyed the city. The Athenian poet Frenecus wrote a tragic poem about the cities history and upset the Athenians so much he was exiled.  The city could therefore be built from scratch in the Hippodomian plan in 479 BC when the Greeks defeated the Persians.  This was not the first grid plan but it incorporated public spaces into the model.


The theater was rebuilt by the Romans in the 4th century BC to hold 15,000 people.

Temple of Apollo Delphinios

This was the most important temple in the area. It was as big as the temple of Apollo in Delphi with its own prophetic spring.


Temple of Apollo

This temple was never completed. There was an oracle here like in Delphi. The scale of this building was massive with 122 columns and 10 columns along the front. The innermost space was unroofed and open to the sky. To enter the temple, it is very axial but then you reach a point where the interior level is raised to about eye level and you must go right or left through side walk ways to enter the inner most space. At the center most location of the temple is the ancient prehistoric site of the spring where a niskos or little temple is erected opposite a laurel tree, the sacred tree of Apollo.


The temple at Didyma really helped me to put the temple of Artemis to scale. These structures were so massive that it took several of us holding hands to circle a single column. Vitruvius accredits the construction of this temple with the architects of the Temple of Artemis. The temple of Artemis now only has a single column remaining, and is one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Like the way churches were built on top of churches usually with the altar always being aligned to the past altars, which were aligned to a tomb; the central original temple was preserved as the core of the Temple of Apollo.  Exploring today in Priene was so exciting; I actually felt a little tinge of the excitement that the archeologists must feel when they discovered these areas.



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