Priene is a much less visited site than Ephesus, hence all the lizards scampering around the ruins, and its isolation gives it a lonely, faded grandeur that Ephesus lacks. Perched on a series of pine terraces graded into the south flank of Samsun Dağı, 35km south of Kuşadası, the compact but exquisite site enjoys a situation that bears comparison with that of Delphi in Greece.
Thought its original settlement was elsewhere in the Meander basin; the townspeople, following the receding shoreline – now just visible to the west – re-founded the city on its present site during the fourth century BC, just in time for Alexander to stop in and finance the cost of the principal temple of Athena. The Panionion sanctuary, cult centre of the league of Ionian cities, had always lain in Priene’s territory, just the other side of Samsun Dağı; as a result its priest was usually chosen from Priene, whose secular officials also presided over the regular meetings of the confederacy. Under Roman – and later Byzantine – rule, however, the city enjoyed little patronage from the emperors, with the result that Priene represents the best-preserved Hellenistic townscape in Ionia, without any of the usual later additions. The town was laid out by Hippodamus, an architect from nearby Miletus, who favoured a grid pattern made up of various insulae (rectangular units), each measuring roughly 42m by 35m. Within each rectangle stood four private dwellings; a public building had its own insula, sometimes two.