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MİLETUS (MİLET, ESKİ BALAT)

miletus1The site of ancient Miletus could hardly be more different from that of nearby Priene, lying as it does right on the floodplain of the Büyük Menderes river with parts of the site underwater for much of the year. It is often visited on so-called PMD tours out of Kuşadası or Selçuk that also take in the ruins at Priene.

As at Priene this is a site that was eventually abandoned rather than rebuilt over the centuries which means that extensive ruins remain to be visited.

Later, Miletus was an important city for the Menteşe Beylik and the restored İlyas Bey Cami is as important in its own way as the better known ruins of the ancient city. Other ruins of hans and hamams are scattered around the perimeter of the site.

Despite the importance of this site today a terrible air of neglect hangs over it. Although the museum has been restored and reopened much of the actual site is covered by unsightly algae. In contrast the mosque has been beautifully restored. This is a rare instance where vistitors would be entitled to complain that the old, non-Islamic heritage has been passed over in favour of the Islamic one.

The backstory

Although this was a site that was settled as long ago as the 16th century BC, it wasn’t until the seventh century that the great Miletus that gave birth to a succession of philosophers and intellectuals was born.

This Miletus became one of the 12 cities of the Panionic League and was initially successful in standing up to the Persian invaders who poured into Ionia in the sixth century. However, it then made the fatal error of siding with the Athenians in a rebellion against the Persians, forfeiting its freedom in the process.Miletus6Statues from the Sacred Way to Didyma, Miletus Museum

In its heyday Miletus was linked by a Sacred Way lined with huge statues to the oracle in the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. Some of those statues are on display in Miletus Museum.

The city was rebuilt on a new site, and went on to flourish under the Romans who were responsible for much of what is to be seen there today.

For a small place it produced a disproportionately large number of famous people, including the seventh-century astronomer and mathematician Thales; Aspasia, the 5th-century philosopher who became mistress to the Athenian leader Pericles; and, later, Isidore, one of the two men responsible for the design of Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in İstanbul).

Miletus also bequeathed the Latin alphabet to the world, having picked it up from Phoenician traders and then transmitted it to Athens in 402 BC.

miletus3Around the site

Far and away the most striking monument at Miletus is the stupendous, free-standing ancient theatre which was built to accommodate 15,000 people. Unexpectedly a castle was later built right above the top tier of seating.

From the top row of seats it’s possible to gaze out over the rest of the site which lies scattered to the north and east. There you will see the remains of a stadium, a bouleuterion (council chamber) and several ancient agoras (market places), one with the mosaic floors of adjoining houses or shops locked away inside a shed.

Much of the site is under water for much of the year including what was once the Large Harbour, a site now dominated by a round plinth on which sits a monument adorned with the image of Poseidon and dedicated to the Roman general, Pompey, who had driven out pirates who had been making life difficult for the locals. It was probably erected in 63 BC.miletus2Large Harbour monument

The most solid remaining structure once housed the Baths of Faustina which were built for, and named after, the wife of the second-century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

One of the more picturesque bits of the site is the waterlogged area overlooked by the remains of a Temple to Apollo Delphinion. It sits right beside the hefty ruins of a hamam dating back to the Menteşe period.

Easily overlooked on the outskirts of the site are remains of a 3rd century Temple to Serapis, one of the Egyptian gods.

It would be a big mistake to view the ruins and then rush away because just a short walk away to the south stands another rather wonderful sight: the newly restored early 15th-century İlyas Bey Cami on the site of Eski Balat, much of its façade covered with marble pilfered from the ruins.

The mosque was built by the Menteşe emir İlyas Bey in gratitude for the safe return of his wife who had been captured by Tamerlane in one of the never-ending raids that made life in the Middle Ages so insecure. Today both the mosque and the cells of the surrounding medrese have been restored. Also preserved here are the dank, bat-ridden remains of a contemporary hamam.

Miletus5Restored İlyas Bey CamiMiletus Museum is set apart from the ruins and is closer to the mosque. One might well argue that the building is too big and in the wrong location but the contents are beautifully presented.

Transport info

There is only one minibus a day from Söke to Balat, near Miletus, leaving at 12 noon. Unfortunately it returns to Söke via a loop that does not return to Balat which means that you will have to walk or hitchhike back to Akköy (5km) in order to get another bus. Balat is 1.5km from the ruins.

Such is the difficulty of getting to Miletus by public transport that you'll probably be better off signing up for a "PMD" tour taking in Priene and Didyma as well from either Selçuk or Kuşadası.

miletus4Temple of Apollo Delphinion

 

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