Labranda, which was the sanctuary for Zeus Labrandos, is 14 km. north-west of Milas. The earliest ruins are from the 6th century B.C. In 6th and 5th centuries, the sanctuary was a small, artificially levelled plain used as the terrace of the temple. In 497 a battle took place in the sanctuary and the Carian army, together with its Miletian allies, was defeated by the Persians.
The 4th century B.C. is when the temple gained prominence.
During the reign of Mausolus (377-352) and Idrieus (351-344) as satraps, its appearance was enhanced. In 355, during an annual sacrificial feast, Mausolus was saved from an assassination attempt at the last minute. To celebrate his narrow escape, a number of artificial terraces, a small Doric Building, a monumental stairway and two large halls of feast (Androns), a building with a porch (Oikoi), a stoa and a colonnated Temple of Zeus were erected. Upon the death of Idrieus in 344, all the constructional work ceased.
Following a great fire in the 4th century B.C., the sanctuary was no longer used as a centre of cult.
From Mylasa, an 8 m. wide Sacred Way leads to the sanctuary in Labranda. The pavements of this road are still discernible. There are two entrance gates to the courtyard. The one named the Doric building is an irregular rectangle and is immediately to the east of the southern propylon. It faces north; has four columns with a front yard and a marble façade, and is Doric in style. During the Roman period, this building was added to the bath complex.
The propylon displays refined masonry and is surrounded by a wall opening to long rooms by four wide passageways. The rooms are either for storage of goods or for treasury. It is part of a large complex. This building joins another one which is higher in the east, with four square rooms and a porch used for sacred feasts. A stairway, 12 m. wide, reaches the terrace in the centre. Here the Andron of Mausolus (Andron B) stands. This is the first building constructed by the descendants of Hecatomnos. With the square cella and the wide, rectangular niche, it resembles a temple. In this niche, the statues of Mausolos, his wife and sister Artemisia and perhaps Zeus may have been standing.
The Temple of Zeus on the uppermost terrace faces east. Its first phase is dated to the 4th century B.C. In the second phase, a row of columns, 6 in front and 8 on the sides, as well as a second building behind the cella (Opisthodomos) were added to align with the dimensions of the cella. The colonnaded temple was sanctified by Idrieus. Its details and general appearance resemble the Temple of Athena in Priene, which indicates that both were built by architect Pytheos. The Andron of Idrieus (Andron A) is in the south-west of this temple. It is the best preserved building in the settlement. The south wall is 7.9 m. high from the ground. Its plan is similar to that of the Andron of Mausolus. Within the cella, traces are visible of low, plastered stone seats which were used during the sacred feasts. In the niche on the back wall, statues of Idrieus, his sister and wife Ada and Zeus stood.
Oikoi is made up of two rectangular rooms of varying sizes behind the porch with four Doric columns, between the antes. The roof of this building is a combination of Doric and Ionian styles. It may have been used both as an archive building of the sanctuary and as offices for the priests and for sacred feasts.
There is a steep climb to the north of sanctuary. On the southern slope there is a tomb, 15 m. in length above the temple. The grave chamber and the entrance are vaulted. The granite roof is in Doric style. Two hundred meters to the west of the sanctuary, there is a stadium with a supporting wall on the back. At each end, the departure and the arrival signposts in stone are still discernible. During the five-day festivals at the sanctuary, races must have been organized at this spot.
The excavations at Labranda were started in 1948 by A.W. Persson from the Uppsala University in Sweden and are still under way, presided by P. Hellström.