Like Miletos, Priene was one of the twelve cities of the Pan-Ionian League and also like Miletos, its geography changed over the years. The Priene ancient city (population 5,000) was situated just at the point where the where the Maiandros River ran onto the Aegean. Mykale (Samson), on the slopes of the mountain to the south would have been the other point of reference. Now we would say that Priene is in the province of Aydin, 15 kilometres (24 miles) from the district capital Söke, and near the village of Gullubahce.
The name "Priene" comes from the ancient Luwi tongue and is a combination of the words "pura" or "pira" and "wana" or "ana" which define the early settlement as "a fortified habitation". In his work "Geography", Strabon recounts the founding of Priene, naming Aipytos, the son of Neleus. He also speaks of Philotos and his small band of settlers who later came from Thebes. The first city was probably a peninsula with two harbours but there is little factual knowledge of these early days. In 495 BC the citizens of Priene participated in the Battle Lade with their contribution of 12 warships. The result was that their city was also raised to the ground by the Persians. In 359 BC Priene was rebuilt on its present site which in those days was nearer the sea. It had a port called Naulochos.
Help for the task for rebuilding the city was provided by Athens thought Priene was never to the forefront of the political life of the times. Bias, considered to be one of world's seven most important philosophers, traditionally thought to have lived in Priene at around 600 BC. Plutarch tells the story of how the King of Egypt consulted the great thinker as to which evil should be removed from an unhappy man in order that he should be cured of his misery. "His tongue," was the reply. Bias was aslo famous as a judge. Priene is best known for being the oldest and finest example of the Hippodamian system of town planning which was based on a grid system with streets intersecting at right angles. The original plan is still clear today.
Priene was a city of which to be proud, as was known as "The Pompei of Anatolia". In the Hellenistic Period Priene was governed from Athens and later came under the rule of the Kings of Bergama before the time of the Roman Period and administration from Prome which began in the 2nd century AD. The Bishop's Church which is near the Theatre is evidence that the city continued to develop into the Byzantine Period. During the Roman period the Maiandros River began to silt up its estuary and gradually Priene found itself in the middle of a swamp which proved a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. Malaria struck in epidemic proportions and people moved elsewhere to try to escape the disease.
By around 1400 the city had been completely abandoned. And yet today when you wander among the ruins of Priene it is easy to see the streets as they once were and even to hear shouts and laughter and the cries of the children whose voices linger on.