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Photographer's Note

Another shot from Priene; the Priene Theater.

Priene is one of the antique Ionian Cities in Turkey. It's located 15 km away from Soke - Aydin.

What we see of Priene today was constructed around 350 BCE. It is one of the earliest cities to be built in accordance with the grid system developed by architect/town planner, Hippodamus of Miletus. The town was designed to face southward. This enabled the buildings to be protected from the sun in the summer, but to receive more sun in the winter.

*About The Theater;
The horseshoe-shaped theatre at Priene represents one of the best-preserved and earliest forms of Hellenistic theatre constructions in Turkey. The city of Priene is located on the northern edge of the Meander River plain approximately thirty kilometers from the present day Turkish city of Kusadasi. The ancient city was once a flourishing port, but the Meander River, true to its name, isolated the city by depositing silt, thus producing the fertile farmland we see today.

The city of Priene dates from 350 BC, and the theatre was constructed at the site soon after (ca. 332-330 BC). Although the remnants of the theatre we see today are the product of numerous alterations by both the Greeks and Romans over several centuries, the ruins retain many of the Hellenistic features associated with the staging conventions of the New Comedy. Current research speculates that this original structure had stone seating, an orchestra of packed earth, and a wooden skene. This theatre on the southern slopes of Mt. Mykale was in use for five hundred years and although it could accommodate over 5000 people in its 47 rows of seating, only 15 rows of its lower cavea remain.

In keeping with Vitruvius' description of a classic Hellenistic theatre design, the cavea is horseshoe-shaped. The forty-seven rows of seats (22 in the lower and 25 in the higher cavea - ima and summa cavea) were divided by six staircases and one diazomata. It has been speculated that temporary awnings were erected in the cavea to shield audience members from the sun and rain. Square holes in the marble seating are cited as evidence for the posts that held up these rectangular canopies. Around 200 B.C. marble armchairs (prohedria) were built around the edge of the orchestra as seating for distinguished guests. The prohedria were decorated with lions' claws and have inscriptions recording that the seats were dedicated to Dionysos by Nysios, son of Diphilos. The lowest row of seats is separated from the row of prohedria in the orchestra by a 1.85 m-wide water canal that was covered with smooth stone slabs. At the western end of the water canal, there is a rectangular pedestal with hollows on top. It was probably a clepsydra, or water clock, which was used to time speeches when political meetings were held in the theatre. During later Roman times the slabs over the water canal held wooden or iron balustrades to protect the audience during gladiatorial or wild animal displays.

The cavea faces south, but for an unknown reason the eastern analemmata (cavea supporting wall) is not in line with the north-south plan of the city. The analemmata were erected in the later 4th century BC or, at the latest, in the beginning of the 3rd century and demonstrate excellent examples of rustica stonework.

A stone scaenae (Roman term for skene) replaced the original wooden structure in the third century B.C (ca. 269-250 BC) and a roof was added to the area in front of the skene (the proskenion). Stone beams that once supported the floor of the stage are visible in the space between the skene and the proskenion. The New Comedy was introduced in the mid-2nd century and staging conventions de-emphasized the use of the orchestra while placing greater demands on individual performers. This led to the raised stage (logeion) as a preferred performance location and provided performers with a commanding position to address the audience. The theatre at Priene accommodated this staging requirement by moving the dramatic action from the packed earth orchestra to the roof of the proskenion.

When the action moved to the proskenion roof a new set of prohedria was constructed in the fifth row of the cavea, so that the noble guests would have a better view. Work on the proskenion and prohedria was finished by 135 BC, when statues of the prominent citizens Apollodorus and Thrasybulus were placed in front of the proskenion.

Where the cavea meets the two open-air parodoi (entrance to the orchestra), there are large pillars that once held bronze statues dedicated to Zeus Olympios and the people of Priene. The proskenion, which is longer than the skene, has twelve Doric half-columns, on which traces of red and blue paint have been found. The spaces between the columns often held pinakes, or painted wooden panels for scenery. The two-story skene projects somewhat into Theatre Street, which runs behind it, and has three rooms per floor. In the lower story each of the three rooms has a doorway opening onto the orchestra. The middle room also has a door opening onto the street adjacent to the theatre. A flight of steps on the outside of the western side of the building leads to the second story. The second story had three doors (thyromata), which opened onto the stage. In Roman times, the deus ex machina operated in a shaft between the middle and western rooms of the skene. In the skene, Roman mortar-bonded tiles are easy to distinguish from the earlier Hellenistic cut stonework.

The Romans made additional modifications to the theatre during the 1st century AD. They removed the front of the stage building and pushed it back two meters, doubling the depth of the stage. They also integrated the five armchair prohedria around the orchestra into a row of bench seating. The altar to Dionysus was set in the center of the row. The Romans built barrel-vaulted rooms in the stage building. They also built plaster walls between the columns of the proskenion, leaving only the doorways open.

Two English merchants who were trading in Smyrna discovered the Ruins of Priene in 1673, 400 years after its last habitation. Based on their report, the London Society of Dillettanti sponsored excavations in Priene from 1764-66, from 1811-12, and finally from 1868-9. In 1895, Carl Humann of the Berlin Museum began excavations, and was succeeded after his death in 1896 by Theodore Weigand and H. Schrader. The excavations have been under the charge of the Berlin Museum and the German Archaeological Institute ever since. By 1992, the theatre had deteriorated due to environmental factors and vandalism, so the German excavators began a reconstruction project to restore and protect the theatre. They set up the row of prohedria bordering the orchestra, rebuilt the vault of the western skene, and rebuilt the proskenion and its twelve columns.
*Author: Amanda Heffernan (student research assistant), Whitman College. 2003 j

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Additional Photos by Selen Ediger (SelenE) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 131 W: 11 N: 330] (1276)
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