Before the Persian invasion in the middle of the 6th century BC, Miletus was considered the greatest and wealthiest of Greek cities. Evidence of first settlement at the site has been made inaccessible by the rise of sea level and deposition of sediments from the Maeander.
The first available evidence is of the Neolithic. In the early and middle Bronze Age, the settlement came under the Minoan influence. Legend has it that an influx of Cretans occurred displacing the indigenous Leleges. The site was renamed Miletos after a place in Crete.
When Neleus, son of King Kodros of Athens, decided to found a city, the gods told him that he must choose a site where the earth of a young maiden mingled with water. Neleus wandered through Anatolia until he came to a place where a young girl named Kaeira was collecting clay from a river bed with which to make pots. Remembering what the gods had said, Neleus founded his city here. This was to be the celebrated Miletus.
Another version of the founding myth of the city relates that Akakallis, daughter of the King of Crete, bore a child named Miletus, to the god Apollo. Afraid of her father King Minos, however, she abandoned it in the forest. Wolves cared for the baby, which was subsequently found by shepherds and brought up by them. Years later, he sailed to Anatolia, where he founded a city in his name. Later he married Kyane, daughter of the god Maiandros of the Meander river, and they had two children named Kaunos and Biblys.
Whatever the claims of these respective stories, it became a renowned center of scholarship and art. It was here that the positive sciences were born, and where the celebrated natural philosopher Thales first predicted a solar eclipse in 585 BC. Other famous philosophers such as Anaximenes and Anaximandros, and Hippodamos, an innovator in the field of city planning and after whom the grid plan was named, were from this city. Daphnis who built the Temple of Apollo and Isidorus, architect of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, were both from the same city. So were Aristeides, author of the obscene the tales, the first geographer Hecataios, and Leucippus who posited the existence of atoms. Aspasia, the mistress of the Athenian statesman Pericles, was born here. It was a thriving center of trade which founded more than ninety trading colonies, including Samsun and Giresun on the Black Sea coast.
The Milesians were known for their rationality, and could even better the gods in argument, as one legend illustrates: One day Zeus was debating with a poor man in the city agora. Both were determined not to give in to the other. Finally, Zeus shouted angrily, Look here, do not go too far or I will destroy you with a thunderbolt! His opponent said, See, great Zeus. You have proved that you are wrong. Another story relates to the citizens’ love of animals.
One day a man named Koaranus purchased a dolphin that had been caught by a fisherman and returned it to the sea. Some time passed and Koaranus was on a voyage when his ship sank, but he was saved from drowning by dolphins which carried him to the shore. Years later when Koaranus died, as his funeral procession passed by the harbor, a shoal of dolphins was seen to slowly follow it along.
The ancient city was once one of western Anatolia’s most important ports but is now stranded 10 kilometers inland. It is situated south of Izmir, in the province of Aydın, 20 kilometers north of Didyma. The theatre here is one of the best preserved in Anatolia, and once sat twenty thousand people. The Faustina Baths are one of the largest ancient baths in Turkey. Other ancient remains are a Hellenistic storage building, Temple of Serapis, stoa, harbor monument, Temple of Athena, nymphaion, Temple of Dionysus, Capito Baths, heroons, and two agoras.
There are also monuments dating from medieval Turkish times: Ilyas Bey Mosque and complex, Beylik Hamam, a kervansaray, Kirk Merdivenli Mosque, a dervish lodge, and Pireli Han.
Miletus was first settled as early as the 5th Millenium BC, and its heyday was the 5th and 6th centuries BC. In 494 BC the city was razed following a Persian victory at the naval battle off the island of Lade (now a hill 4 kilometers from the city), but rebuilt according to a plan designed by Hippodamus. There are also monuments dating from medieval Turkish times: Ilyas Bey Mosque and complex, Beylik Hamam, a kervansaray, Kirk Merdivenli Mosque, a dervish lodge, and Pireli Han.
The city retained some of its importance through Roman and Byzantine times, but as the four harbors silted up it gradually declined. The city was still inhabited under the Turkish Menteseoglu principality and early Ottoman times, when it continued to trade with Venice and Genoa, but finally it was reduced to no more than a village, named Balat, which was abandoned entirely in 1955.
A team of German archaeologists is currently engaged in excavating the area, of which the museum has findings from Priene and Didyma as well as Miletus. Despite its now landlocked position, you can still sit on the tiers of seats in the theatre and watch the sun dip into the distant sea across the alluvial plain of the Meander.