The Milesian landscape
Miletus owed its great significance in antiquity to its unique location. It had been established on a peninsula protruding into the Latmian Gulf, also known as the Gulf of Miletus. This peninsula was only formed in the Archaic period (around 700–490/80 BCE), when the spaces between various islands silted up. These areas are still known as “hills” to this day: Humeitepe in the northeast, Kaletepe (often called the “theatre hill”) in the later city centre, and Kalabaktepe in the southwest of the city’s territory. This made Miletus very defensible. At the same time, it offered good connections to the Agaean Sea and, via the Büyük Menderes River, to Anatolia. These geographical advantages allowed Miletus to develop into a significant commercial port.
Today, little is left of the former peninsula on which Miletus stood. The Latmian Gulf and, with it, the harbors of Miletus began silting up in the third and fourth century BCE, and from the Middle Ages onwards, the city no longer had direct access to the sea. Lake Bafa to the east of the ancient site of Miletus is a remnant of the gulf that used to surround the city. It disappeared due to erosion processes and the accumulation of sediments swept in by the Büyük Menderes. Today, the Büyük Menderes runs through the former Latmian Gulf and around the ancient site of Miletus before flowing into the nearby Aegean Sea. In winter, this estuary is prone to flooding due to heavy rains, and parts of the ancient city Miletus are often underwater.
The Menderes Delta has been a nature reserve since 1994, as it offers ideal breeding conditions for around 70 species of birds. It is home to around 250 bird species, including rare ones such as the Dalmatian pelican. Many of these birds feed on the fish of the delta, which enjoy perfect spawning conditions in its waters. Herons, ducks, frogs, and turtles can also be found in ponds around the site of the old city. During the floods, algae and other aquatic plants grow in the submerged ancient center. There are many monk’s pepper bushes (Vitex agnus-castus), also called chaste trees, and they can grow up to a height of four meters. According to a myth, the goddess Hera was born under a monk's pepper bush on the Island of Samos near Miletus. To the east of the Menderes Delta lies the largest cotton-growing area in the Aegean region.
Text: Mark Ohlrogge