Day-Tripping to Miletus, Priene & Didyma
The ancient sites of Miletus, Priene, and Didyma are three of the best-preserved Ionian settlements in Anatolia, and worth an entire day of scrambling down steps and over crumbled ruins. For the highest level of independence and flexibility, I recommend that you rent a car; at a cost as low as 33€ per day, it's actually less than hiring a taxi to do the same circuit (and for little more than the price of the car, you can book a guided tour of the sites with one of the area travel agents). From Kusadasi, follow signs south to Söke, and then to Priene (38km/24 miles from Kusadasi). From Priene, it's 22km (14 miles) along the old road through miles of cotton fields to Miletus. It's another 22km (14 miles) from Miletus to Didyma, where you can either backtrack along the inland road to Söke, or continue down to Bodrum (from Didyma, 139km/86 miles; follow the more modern road via Mugla). Day tours to all three sites are available from most travel agents in surrounding towns for around 30€ to 40€ per person, depending on the tour company and the number of people they can rustle up for the tour.
The ancient Greek city of Priene, later inhabited and left relatively unchanged by the Romans, was the first city built on a grid plan. Formerly a port city and now stranded in the middle of acres and acres of cotton fields, Priene was once an important member of the Ionian League, around 300 B.C. The oldest remains here date to this time, and it's worth the short climb up if only for the Temple of Athena, which sits at the highest point of the city atop Mount Mykale, along with a small Greek theater. The temple was built by the architect Pytheos, the same man responsible for the construction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The theater was used for both performances and as a meeting place for the ekklesia -- the people's parliament. Notice the first tier of seating, which is furnished with both bench-backed and "armchair" seating designated for spectators of particular importance. Another section of similar seating, called a prohedria, was added to the center of the fifth tier at a later date.
One of the best-preserved buildings in Priene is the bouleuterion (Senate House), located south of the Greek theater. The bouleuterion is roughly square in shape (21m*20m/69 ft.*66 ft.) with three sides of tiered seating capable of seating a mere 640 people. The building contained both a central altar and an eternal flame. Among the many private houses is one occupying a whole city block, and obviously inhabited by one of the city's wealthier citizens. The house referred to as the Alexander the Great house is actually named for a small marble statue of Alexander (now in the Berlin Museum) that was found in another part of the city. Priene is open summer only daily 8:30am to 6:30pm; admission is 3TL.
Miletus, still for the most part buried under rubble, is actually larger than Ephesus. In fact, you'll be driving over half of it on the entry road to the Roman Theatre, one of the noteworthy ruins. Having surrendered to the silting up of four harbors, the city's fate was much the same as that of Ephesus. In fact, the hill 6.5km (4 miles) to the west of the theater was actually the island of Lade, destroyed by fire by the Persian fleet in 494 B.C.
Miletus gave the alphabet to the classical world and was also the breeding ground for many philosophers and scientists, including Thales, who calculated precisely the arrival of the solar eclipse. The archaeological site is notable for the great Roman Theatre and the Baths of Faustina, while a surprising quantity of remnants from the city's classical, Hellenistic, and Roman eras remains for the most part buried or overgrown with bone-dry shrubbery. Several maps and archaeological guides are available to help you walk through the ruins, including those sold at the entrance gate. Miletus is open daily 8:30am to 6:30pm in summer, and until 5:30pm in winter; admission is 3TL.
The Temple of Apollo is really all that's left of Didyma, but the time spent getting to and from the site is well worth it. Didyma served as a sacred sanctuary under the custody of priests called Branchids and was connected to Miletus via a marble road, only partially excavated and visible on the opposite side of the modern road.
The temple of Apollo, or Didymaion, with columns soaring over 20m (66 ft.) high, was the largest building of its time when it was erected in the 6th century B.C. (Reconstructed in the 3rd c. B.C., the temple was eclipsed in size only by those in Ephesus and Samos.) Present-day archaeologists stumbled upon the "key" to how ancient Greek stonemasons were able to create the entasis curve -- an imperceptible curve of each column of the Parthenon in Athens. This key was a "template" with a condensed version of a column with the entasis curve. Using such a template, stonemasons could then carve each drum section of a column to a precise width. The entrance to the temple is open, revealing the site of the much-revered oracle of Apollo. Don't overlook the colossal column behind the temple, which consists of layers and layers of massive stone discs supporting each other like so many felled dominoes. Didyma is open summer only, daily from 8am to 6:30pm; admission is 3TL.