Priene (Ancient Greek: Πριήνη, Priēnē) was an ancient Greek city of Ionia (and member of the Ionian League) at the base of an escarpment of Mycale, about north of the then course of the Maeander (now called the Büyük Menderes or "Big Maeander") River, from today's Aydin, from today's Söke and from ancient Miletus. It was formerly on the sea coast, built overlooking the ocean on steep slopes and terraces extending from sea level to a height of above sea level at the top of the escarpment. Today, after several centuries of changes in the landscape, it is an inland site.
Physical remains of the original Priene have not yet been identified, because, it is supposed, they must be under many feet of sediment, the top of which is currently valuable agricultural land. Knowledge of the average rate of progradation is the basis for estimating the location of the city, which was moved every few centuries to renew its utility as a port. The Greek city (there may have been unknown habitations of other ethnicities, as at Miletus) was founded by a colony from the ancient Greek city of Thebes in the vicinity of today's Söke at about 1000 BCE. At about 700 BCE a series of earthquakes provided the opportunity for a move to within of its 4th century BCE location. At about 500 BCE the city moved again to a few km away at the port of Naulochos.
The ruins of the city are generally conceded to be the most spectacular surviving example of an entire ancient Greek city intact except for the ravages of time. It has been studied since at least the 18th century and still is. The city was constructed of marble from nearby quarries on Mycale and wood for such items as roofs and floors. The public area is laid out in a grid pattern up the steep slopes, drained by a system of channels. The water distribution and sewer systems survive. Foundations, paved streets, stairways, partial door frames, monuments, walls, terraces can be seen everywhere among toppled columns and blocks. No wood has survived. The city extends upward to the base of an escarpment projecting from Mycale. A narrow path leads to the Acropolis above.
Despite the expectations of the population Priene lasted only a few more centuries as a deep-water port. In the 2nd century CE Pausanias reports that the Maeander already had silted over the inlet in which Myus stood and that the population had abandoned it for Miletus. Apparently, Miletus was still open then, but Priene could not have been. Very likely, its merchants had preceded the people of Myus to Miletus. By 300 CE the entire Bay of Miletus, except for Lake Bafa, was silted in.
Today Miletus is many miles from the sea and Priene stands at the edge of a fertile plain, now a checkerboard of privately owned fields. A Greek village remained after the population decline and was joined by a Turkish population in the 2nd millennium CE. In the 13th century CE it was a primarily Turkish village known by the name the Turkish population had assigned to the escarpment, Samsun Kale or Samsun Kalesi, "Samson's Castle", where Samson had come to represent any mythical strong man (note that Turk in Turkish folk etymology is believed to mean "strong man").
By 1923 whatever Greek population remained was expelled in the population exchange between Greece and Turkey and shortly after the Turkish population moved to a more favorable location, which they called Güllü Bahçe, "rose garden", the old Greek settlement partly still in use, today with the name Gelebeç or Kelebeş. The tourist attraction of Priene is accessible from there.
Priene was a small city-state of only 6000 persons living in a constrained location. The population density of its residential district has been estimated at 166 persons per hectare living in about 33 homes per hectare (13 per acre) arranged in compact city blocks. The entire space within the walls offered not much more space and privacy: the density was 108 persons per hectare. All the public buildings were within walking distance, except that walking must have been an athletic event due to the vertical components of the distances.
The source of Ionian wealth was maritime activity; Ionia had a reputation among the other Greeks for being luxurious, against which practices the intellectuals, such as Heraclitus often railed.
The mechanism of democracy was similar to but simpler than that of the Athenians (who had a many times greater population). An assembly of citizens met periodically to render major decisions placed before them. The day-to-day legislative and executive business was conducted by a boulē, or city council, which met in a bouleuterion like a small theatre with a wooden roof. The official head of state was a prytane. He and more specialized magistrates were elected periodically. And yet, as at Athens, not all the population was franchised. For example, the property rights and tax responsibilities of a non-Prieneian section of the population living in the countryside, the pedieis, "plainsmen", were defined by law. They were perhaps, an inheritance from the days when Priene was in the valley.
Orophernes, the rebellious brother of the Cappadocian king, who had deposited a treasure there and recovered it by Roman intervention, restored the temple of Athena as a thank-offering. Under Roman and Byzantine dominion Priene had a prosperous history. It passed into Muslim hands late in the 13th century.
On the lower slopes of the acropolis was a sanctuary of Demeter. The town had six main streets, about 6 m (20 ft) wide, running east and west and fifteen streets about 3 m (10 ft) wide crossing at right angles, all being evenly spaced; and it was thus divided into about 80 insulae. Private houses were apportioned eight to an insula. The systems of water-supply and drainage can easily be discerned. The houses present many analogies with the earliest Pompeian. In the western half of the city, on a high terrace north of the main street and approached by a fine stairway, was the temple of Athena Polias, a hexastyle peripteral structure in the ionic order built by Pytheos, the architect of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halikarnassos, one of the seven wonders. Under the basis of the statue of Athena were found in 1870 silver tetradrachms of Orophernes, and some jewelry, probably deposited at the time of the Cappadocian restoration.
Around the Agora, the main square crossed by the main street, is a series of halls. The municipal buildings, buleuterion and prytaneion lie north of the Agora, further in the north the Upper Gymnasium with Roman baths, and the well preserved Hellenistic theatre but all, like all the other public structures, more or less in the centre of the plan. Temples of Isis and Asclepius have been laid bare. At the lowest point on the south, within the walls, was the large stadium, connected with a gymnasium of Hellenistic times.