Kaletepe is one of the hills in the city area of Miletus. It is located straight to the east of the ancient city center and, together with Humeitepe, forms the boundary of the Lion Harbor. On the southwestern slope of Kaletepe stands the ancient theater of Miletus, which overlooks another bay further to the southwest. This is why the hill is often called “theater hill” in German, while the Turkish name Kaletepe (“castle hill”) refers to the Late Byzantine fortress above said theater.
Photo: Miletus dig in 2022
Today, Kaletepe is popular among shepherds and cattle herders. Tourists only venture there rarely, but those who do appreciate the impressive views from the tall ruins of the theater fortress (2022).
Photo: Miletus dig in 2021
A view from the southeast of the fortress towering atop the ruins of the theater and of the hilltop of Kaletepe (“castle hill”). Mount Dilek is visible in the background (2021).
Many geometrical and archaic shards were found here, suggesting that Kaletepe was in use by the Milesian people for a long time. Some of the walls unearthed during the dig have been interpreted as the first archaic settlement on the hill (between 700 and 480/490 BCE). From the late Classical or Hellenistic period onward, if not earlier, many residential buildings must have stood here. They were arranged in apartment blocks (insulae) aligned with the street grid of the city’s northern section. Houses from the Roman Empire were discovered in some parts, featuring large mosaic floors with figurative decorations. There were also cellars and cisterns used in this context on Kaletepe; it is likely that most of them were built into natural caves in the karst. According to current understanding, settlement of the hill temporarily ceased in late antiquity (between the fourth and seventh century BCE).
Kaletepe has several very steep slopes. This made it a very attractive settlement site once again in the late Byzantine period (eleventh–thirteenth century CE). The hill and theater fortress were encircled by a fortification wall; along with the elevated location and far views, this made Kaletepe a highly defensible place to live. Digs and geophysical prospection methods have identified many houses, connected to each other by arbitrarily “grown” streets in dense neighborhoods. This settlement is called Palatia rather than Miletus. The new name must refer to the ruins of the ancient city, which had been interpreted as old palaces. After the Menteşe Beylik, a regional Turkish principality, conquered Palatia in the thirteenth century CE, it gradually became Balat. This remains the name of a nearby village, clustered around the stadium of ancient Miletus until a devastating earthquake in 1955, to this day. Settlement of the hill appears to have continued after the conquest, however: a small mosque with an east-facing prayer niche (mihrab) was built on it. A grave found a little to the south of the mosque was probably connected to it. Only a few house walls have been dated precisely thus far, so there is a possibility that they remained in use during the time of the Turkish emirate (from the thirteenth century CE). This suggests that the hill was one of many neighborhoods of medieval Balat, which are mentioned in Ottoman records.
Text: Lisa Steinmann