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x0x An Ancient Utopia Priene

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    [See more at http://turkradio.us/k/priene/ ] x0x An Ancient Utopia Priene By NERMiN BAYCIN The people of Priene created a small but magnificent city not with
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 11, 2006
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      x0x An Ancient Utopia Priene

      By NERMiN BAYCIN

      The people of Priene created a small but
      magnificent city not with wealth but with
      consummate skill and a common purpose.

      I n very ancient times, in ages when cities were
      countries, there were places so wonderful that
      they were considered to be the center of the
      universe, immortalized by their citizens in
      legends of heroic founding shepherds. In the
      dreams of kings, statesmen, thinkers and
      travelers, these cities came to symbolize power to
      some, to others an ideal way of life, exactly like
      the city of Babylon, `Gateway to the Gods'. Or,
      like cities that seemed to embody the ideas and
      identities of people who lived in a place very far
      from here, in a time when citizens had control
      over their government.

      Priene is one of those places. Founded on a steep
      slope in the Samsun Mountains along the Aegean
      shore south of Soke (AydIn), this ancient city,
      with its meeting halls, educational institutions,
      senate and popular assembly, stands out as a
      symbol of the age of ancient Greece, the
      Hellenistic period in particular, when the concept
      of the state was confined to a small independent
      world unto itself.

      For the picture it presents, in its extremely
      well-preserved houses, streets and quarters,
      virtually conveys the way of life unique to that
      world down to the smallest detail.

      A 2400-YEAR-OLD PHOTOGRAPH

      Thrilled by the view that met his eye, Wiegand, a
      scholar who carried out excavations at Priene at
      the end of the 19th century, dubbed it `the
      Pompeii of Asia Minor'. The construction of the
      houses in the city's western districts especially
      and the rich findings recovered from their
      interiors are like a photograph reflecting life
      2400 years ago. Many valuable monuments, such as
      banquet and dining rooms with ostentatious decor,
      walls covered with painted reliefs or drawings,
      various household furnishings, small statues and
      fragments of a bronze bedstead take their place
      among the slices of everyday life brought to the
      light of day. Like Pompeii preserved under the
      ashes of Vesuvius, here too life was suddenly
      brought to a standstill by natural disaster and,
      with the exception of a handful of houses,
      remained in that state for thousands of years.

      HIPPODAMUS' PERFECT CITY PLAN

      This famous city, near Gullubahce, which has
      attracted attention ever since it was discovered
      in 1673, in fact since even earlier, is truly
      impressive despite its diminutive size,
      particularly in the orderliness it presents to the
      eye. The Prienians created their city by following
      a previously sketched out plan, in a way that is
      astonishing even to people of our day. The area is
      divided into islands of equal size, and these
      islands are further divided into equal plots on
      which, in particular, houses will be built.
      Haphazard settlement of any kind is strictly
      prohibited. The walls that divide the lots
      uncovered in the excavations are a striking
      indication of how important planning was for
      people of antiquity. Likewise the principle of
      equality. This texture, woven by the orderly
      streets that intersect each other at right angles,
      reflects another striking feature: Hippodamus,
      originator of the `grid' or `checkerboard' city
      plan.

      Hippodamus of Miletus, who is thought to have
      lived in the 5th century B.C., is said in the
      ancient sources to have invented this form of
      settlement.

      Although this theoretician, who is mentioned by
      the famous philosopher Aristotle (4th century
      B.C,) lived a full century before the founding of
      Priene, the city put its signature on the ancient
      world as the oldest and finest example of this
      system of planning.

      LIVING IN SPLENDOR

      But Priene is not merely a model of the grid
      system of city planning.

      It also hands down values and traditions in its
      surviving buildings, inscriptions and other
      findings. The Prienians so nurtured their culture
      in all its aspects that one cannot help but think
      that they once lived extremely well here. For it
      is a matter not only of functionality but also of
      aesthetics, a refinement expressed even in the
      city's marble defense walls. More care is lavished
      on the facades of the houses that face the
      avenues. Most of the sloping side streets are
      equipped with steps. And the water brought down
      from the mountains is distributed through clay
      pipes over almost the entire city after being
      purified in sedimentation pools.

      The splendor of the fountains is apparent at every
      turn in a successful harmonization of function and
      aesthetics.

      A TOUR THROUGH THE CITY

      The agora where the shops stood draws one into the
      heart of the city.

      This center, where people came together, is for
      them both a marketplace and the area where
      political, commercial and social activity of all
      sorts takes place. To stroll in some place
      different, to watch passersby or follow the
      goings-on in the agora, they climb up to the long,
      multi-columned `sacred Gallery', which is situated
      somewhat higher up, opposite the main avenue that
      passes through the market area. And if they want
      to get a view of the Plain of the Meander
      stretching into the distance and the bay, which is
      filled in now with the river's alluvion, they go
      up to another viewing gallery on an even higher
      terrace, in front of the temple built for Athena,
      goddess of cities. The builder of this temple is
      Pytheus, architect of the monumental tomb of
      Mausolus, which was one of the seven wonders of
      the ancient world.

      Meanwhile, as one of the best preserved sites of
      antiquity, the assembly building with its
      600-person capacity, provides important
      information concerning the system of government of
      the period, as does the theater. It is thought
      that the popular assembly that passed on the laws
      also met at this 6500-person theater where
      tragedies and comedies were acted. The pedestal of
      the water clock found here and the space reserved
      for the actors in the stage structure stand out as
      rare examples of their kind. In the Gymnasium,
      graffiti such as "This is Alexander's place" or
      "This is Apollo's place", which are commonly
      inscribed on the walls of sports and training
      centers, offer fascinating further insight into
      the youth of Priene.

      SPONSORS OF PRIENE

      Although they were not particularly wealthy, the
      Prienians, whose economy was based on agriculture,
      were in no way inferior to the other cities of
      their time in either splendor or skill.

      Their public buildings, where every single detail
      was worked out with meticulous care, are
      monumental and quite eye-catching. The names of
      the citizens who labored on behalf of the city or
      made financial contributions are honored with
      statues or plaques. Beyond sponsorship, a
      condition of being an official, bureaucrat,
      administrator or priest was that one should
      underwrite some of the city's expenses or
      activities. Indeed the blatant sale of offices is
      even observed, in return for privileges such as
      occupying the seat of honor at the theater,
      wearing a crown on special days or being hosted at
      the state guesthouse.

      Archaeological excavations at Priene today are
      being conducted by Wulf Raeck of the University of
      Frankfurt. One of the new discoveries recently
      made by the team, which is focusing its efforts on
      the residential areas and the vicinity of the
      Temple of Athena, is that the disaster sustained
      by the houses on the city's west side was caused
      by an earthquake.

      Meanwhile a subject of particular interest to
      Raeck, who reports that they have begun to obtain
      more enlightening information about the city's
      development, is where archaic Priene was situated.
      All that is known is that the Prienians abandoned
      their old settlements and, coming to Gullubahce,
      created their new city here.

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