Apollo’s Sacred Spring Bursts Forth

Text and photos by Glenn Maffia

An exciting new development on the flooding of the southeast corner of the Temple’s precinct in Didim unfolded during late August and early September. I had spent many hours wandering around the site taking numerous photographs and obtaining measurements of the depth of the water. These were then relayed to my European contacts, which in turn were passed by them to specialists in the disciplines of geoarchaeology and hydrogeology. It wasn’t long before I received an answer which set me aflame with imagination and sheer delight.

This rupturing earth

A cursory inspection of the photographs immediately revealed, to their trained eyes, a classic karst hydrogeological phenomenon which can, and often does, appear after an earthquake. Karst is formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum; it is, therefore, prone to splintering under pressure and erodible by water. The entire peninsula between Miletus and Didyma consists of this karst rock.

Modern-day Didim, therefore, is in an area which is liable to be jolted by a fracturing of the tectonic plates at any time. Most are minor, which I believe caused a small amount of water to be released from its subterranean imprisonment into the southeast section of the precinct two years ago. The fissure was opened at that time, whilst the 6.4 magnitude quake during July 2017 further expanded this weak point, thus enabling more water to gush forth into this same area.

Urgent measures required

It was confirmed that the foundations of the Temple itself are massive enough to withstand the incursion of this amount of water. I was assured that is there is no threat to the Temple subsiding into this quagmire.

However, there are a good number of architectural fragments which have been placed on this side of the Temple which require relocation to a dry area; these mainly include the remains of a Christian church that was erected after the demise of the ancient religion. This should not prove too arduous a task, and I am sure that a plan has been implemented to enact just such an undertaking.

More worryingly is the condition of the archaic terrace wall which arches in a semi-circle in front of the main façade of the Temple. A section of this wall is directly in front of the path of the water; its foundations are not substantial enough to confront the undermining qualities of water erosion and, indeed, pressure.

Obviously, the problem requires urgent attention, not least because, being from the Archaic Period, the wall predates the Temple by at least three centuries. It was in situ when the Persian soldiers plundered, smashed and then burnt the old temple to the ground in 494BCE. If only stone could speak.

We are witnessing a rare event

Even though this situation is serious and disturbing for those of us who adore the Temple as one of the finest structures ever created by humankind, it has brought to light the fascinating complexities of geology which have shaped the Temple’s destiny.

It certainly gives the clearest of pictures of how the Oracle Spring of Apollo could simply appear, or disappear, as a result of an earthquake when the karst is shifted and fissured by nature’s forces. The ancient population would not have known of this naturally occurring phenomenon and probably would have taken it as a heavenly or earthly sign on the mood of the gods.

It is oft quoted that the Sacred Spring dried up after the Temple was ransacked and destroyed in 494 BCE, and that it only began to flow once more after Alexander the Great swept the Persians from this land. I think it is safe to say now that human intervention was definitely not the cause; rather it was a geological event.

What a fortuitous time to be alive in ancient Didyma today to have seen the Sacred Spring gush into life once again. Shall we hear Apollo’s voice echoing from the ancient stones, issuing forth his prophesies, in the deepest darkness of night?

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Ancient architecture in the quagmire
Ancient architecture in the quagmire
New waterway feeding the quagmire
New waterway feeding the quagmire
Ancient architecture in the quagmire
Ancient architecture in the quagmire