REVIEW: Philipp Niewöhner (ed.) Miletus/Balat: Urbanism and Monuments from the Archaic to Ottoman Periods.

Anyone who has ever read Herodotus’ tales of archaic Miletus can’t help but be disappointed when they visit its ruins; but no one who buys this guide to those ruins will be disappointed by this smashing little book. Edited by the former director of excavations himself, with contributions by an impressive array of academics, it is clear, concise, and includes useful photos, drawings and plans on nearly every page. It also has two fold-out maps of the site with suggested walks: one meandering through the most visible ruins of the post-Classical city centre and a longer 12km stroll around the outskirts of the city (recommended for spring and autumn only). The English translation is better than any comparable site guide and its compact size makes it affordable, easy to consult and it won’t max out your luggage allowance! All-in-all, it’s an ideal companion for first-time visitors, students and tourists.

View of the ruins of a Greek theatre in Miletus

The real strength of this book is its ambition to cover the entire history of the settlement from prehistory to the present day, including its natural environment (the geomorphology of the Gulf of Latmos as well as its flora and fauna). Niewöhner has chosen urbanism as the core theme of the book, and rightly so as this is what the city is most famous for and what the visitor is confronted by as soon as they arrive (the site itself is entirely lacking any sculpture, reconstructed architecture, fortifications, mosaics, or similar features that distinguish other sites). The tour of the city centre is divided into short sections of equivalent length, each one describing a single building and written by relevant experts in an accessible style. No one particular part or period of the site is singled out for excessively detailed treatment and a glossary at the back of the book is a most welcome addition.

The Sacred Way and Ionic stoa of Miletus

The book is not without its limitations. The sheer complexity of the site and its long history is incredibly confusing and, despite putting repeated emphasis on its urban design, the plans of the site do not really give an effective overview of the city’s orthogonal grid, nor how it changed over time.  

Published by Ege, available from Zero Books:—balat.-urbanism-and-monuments-from-the

If you are interested in visiting Miletus, here are some very useful tourism links:
Turkey Travel Planner

Turkish Travel Blog

Turkey Tour Organizer


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