The Maeander River Valley, from Priene
In the end, I suppose, all cities are temporary, changing and reforming over time, responding to the nature, literally, of their surroundings, and sometimes disappearing altogether. Witness Priene, an ancient Ionian city built on the shores of the Aegean, on the Anatolian Peninsula in Turkey.
Priene is a city now often studied by students of architecture and urbanism because it is one of the first cities built in a grid plan. The blocks are about 120 feet by 160 feet, and each block had 8 dwellings. There are 80 blocks.
Plan of the Ionian city of Priene
We had the opportunity to visit Priene last fall, and it is a very beautiful town, with spectacular views of the Maeander River valley, and the distant Aegean. When Priene was constructed sometime in the 4th century BC, the river and the sea met at Priene’s feet. The city, built on terraces on the side of Mt. Mykale, had a fleet of ships, and acted as a port. Alexander the Great lived in Priene for a while, and Priene was quite a civilized place, with a Gymnasium, theater, what was reportedly an excellent market, temples, even an acropolis on the summit of Mt. Mykale, 700 feet above.
But by the time of the Romans, things were getting a bit dicey in Priene. The Maeander River delta was silting up, and the Aegean was becoming more and more distant. By the middle of the 2nd century AD, Priene burned, and while residents returned and rebuilt, it was now plagued by epidemics of malaria: mosquitoes in what were now swamps surrounding the town swarmed Priene’s hapless residents. After a few centuries, even the swamps were gone, and the city remained inhabited until it was abandoned in the 14th century. Today the river is a trickle, several miles away, and the Aegean is more distant, nearly 8 miles away.
The Maeander River valley, from Priene
Priene was built first as a water city. As water disappeared, Priene tried to adjust, but nature, not to be denied, won in the end, as always. Sea town to hill town to no town.