Priene, Miletus, and Didyma

March 15, 2015

Today was the day for our grand tour of ruins, sorry, antiquities: Priene, Miletus, and Didyma. So after breakfast we got ourselves organized and headed out, passing through Kuşadası and Söke on the way to Priene, the first of our three ancient sites. Upon arrival we were startled to find the parking lot filled by no fewer than nine tour buses! The bus drivers beckoned us to drive through between the buses and up to the small area for car parking, right next to the entrance. We were worried that the site would be overrun with tour groups, but it turned out that several of the groups were on their way out. So we actually had some of the areas to ourselves.

Priene amphitheatre (VIP seating)

Priene amphitheatre (VIP seating)

Temple bits at Priene

Temple bits at Priene

Priene is a very large site with a large variety of buildings. We used the Lonely Planet’s description as a guide while making our way through the site, and that reduced our confusion a bit. The most impressive building was the theatre, a nice circular amphitheatre with about 6500 seats. Other buildings were not as well-preserved and for many of them you couldn’t really tell what they originally looked like. The Temple of Athena would have been very impressive to see, but as it is there are only five huge reconstructed columns plus tons of fragments lying on the ground.

Temple of Athena

Temple of Athena

Once we were finished we headed back to the car park, where we found all of the tour buses except one had left. We carried on along the main road towards the south side of the Dilek Peninsula, where we planned to visit the National Park visitor centre. The fields beside the road here were mostly flooded, so we looked for flamingos but didn’t find any. At the small village of Tuzburgazı we stopped at the grocery store to buy lunch stuff, but they didn’t have much variety so we ended up with juice and cookies.

After a while we saw the sign for the visitor centre, pointing us uphill along a side road, as expected. Shortly we came to another sign telling us to turn left. This sent us down a strange road, not paved but cobbled with large paving stones. We passed through a small creek and then up the other side to the little village of Eski Doğanbey, where the visitor centre was located. It looked closed, and next to the front door there was a sign in Turkish whose last two words meant “Closed on Sunday”. And today was Sunday. So we sat at the picnic table outside and got out our meager lunch fixings.

Eski Doğanbey village

Eski Doğanbey village

But then to our surprise a man, who we think was the caretaker, came out of the building and sat beside us with his lunch. He brought out a tray with a bowl of soup, a bowl of beans with tomato, some olives and bread, and three spoons and three forks, so it was obvious he meant to share it with us. In turn we shared our chocolate wafer cookies with him. It seemed strange to share in this way but it was an experience that we will remember. He spoke no English and we spoke almost no Turkish, but we managed to communicate a bit. Paul asked if the strange paving stones were the old road (“Bu eski yol mı”) and he said it was actually the new road, about 15 years old.

Houses still in ruins

Houses still in ruins

After lunch we walked up into the village to explore and take photos. It was an interesting mix of ruins juxtaposed with more up-to-date houses. The caretaker had told us it used to be a Greek village (“Rom köyü”) and had explained the 1924 population exchanges of Greeks and Turks with hand gestures, so that was why many of the houses are derelict now.

House being renovated

House being renovated

After we had explored the narrow streets we returned to the car, but were beckoned to enter the museum via the side door. It was kind of the man to open the museum, but it probably helped that there were six other people who joined us. There were a lot of stuffed birds and animals representing the local fauna, some of which looked a bit sad, and some other displays explaining the area.

Büyük Menderes delta

Büyük Menderes delta

Now we were on our way towards Miletus, our second ruin of the day. The road passed through the delta of the Büyük Menderes River, so we kept an eye out for flamingos again. But still no luck. Miletus is an interesting site because from the distance it rises on a mound. The site was quite empty, with only one tour bus in the parking lot. After paying our admission and parking fees we entered the site, and the first thing we saw was the Grand Theatre. When you enter the theatre you are at the main stage level and the seats rise in a semicircle above you, which makes it look very impressive.

Miletus theatre

Miletus theatre

Miletus is a much more compact site than Priene, and so it’s easier to understand. The area behind the theatre contains the ruins of an agora, a stadium, and the Baths of Faustina which were built for the wife of Marcus Aurelius. The baths are still in very good condition, but almost everything else was just tumbled-down stones. However that’s good habitat for Wheatears, of which there were two different species present.

Miletus ruins

Miletus ruins

Black-eared Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear

And so onward to Didyma. On the way out of Miletus we looked left and there were five flamingos in the flooded field. Finally! After pausing to photograph them we carried on. Luckily none of these sites were far apart, only about 20 km between them. When we arrived at the town of Didim it was quite easy to see what we were going to visit, the Temple of Apollo, but not so obvious where the entrance was. We finally parked in an open area, but there were no tour buses there so we were still a bit dubious. Anyway we walked down to the entrance and paid our fee to go in and look around.

Flamingos

Flamingos

Didyma’s Temple of Apollo was meant to be the biggest temple in the world, but with only 122 columns it didn’t quite make it, and over the years it was knocked down by earthquakes and other disasters. Recently they have re-erected a few columns to show what it would have looked like. The columns were monsters, thicker than Priene’s columns, and we really felt dwarfed by them. We walked down inside the temple, where the spring and the oracle were originally located, but now it’s just dry and dusty down there.

Temple of Apollo interior

Temple of Apollo interior

Temple of Apollo columns

Temple of Apollo columns

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to skip visiting Bafa Gölü and head straight back to Selçuk. We arrived back there about 5:30 pm, just as it was starting to get dark. We had ordered dinner at Homeros tonight, so we didn’t have to go out for dinner, which was really nice. Once again the food was really delicious. After dinner we wrote our journals and also talked with some of the other guests, finally going to bed about 10:30 pm.

Next: Ephesus