The complex riddle of a road forever closed

Sacred Road in Didyma
Sacred Road in Didyma

Text by Glenn Maffia

Those of you who follow my articles, or have purchased my book, shall be acutely aware of my desire to once more open the Sacred Road at its conclusion at the Temple of Apollo in Didyma.

It is a forlorn sight to be witness to countless foreign visitors peering through the metal railings, or over the stone wall, which impedes their imaginations. Some travel from the other side of the globe to see the ancient treasures of Turkey, but their efforts to experience this particularly interesting site is sadly and mysteriously out of bounds. It rather posits the question, “Why? For what earthly reason?”

I initially asked the locals, though they were perplexed as I somewhat was. Next, I made enquiries at the local Tourism Information Office and was told that there was a land dispute. This, I thought, would explain the villagers' wary responses. Though later I discovered that there was no land dispute.

Four years ago I noticed the archaeologists erecting information boards upon strategic locations within the site, and saw this as a sign of an imminent opening of the Road. Though the archaeologists left, and the gates remained closed. Not to be deterred by puny gates or a low-ish wall, I went to inspect these information boards. They are excellent. Packed full of important research and illustrated photos of previous excavations, including the mosaics from the Roman Baths.

Naturally, I questioned some of the archaeologists when they returned the following summer, one quite high in the hierarchy of such institutions. They all without exception announced that it was their wish to see this site open to the public. With such a unanimous opinion being music to my ears, I decided to confront the personnel at the Miletus Museum.

I visited with a Turkish friend, as her English is impeccable, for I didn’t want anything to be misconstrued or lost in translation. My friend’s assistance was indeed required. The two charming assistants I questioned appeared, and were as I later discovered, somewhat junior in yet another hierarchical pyramid. One proffered that the archaeologists had not completed their excavations. To which I recounted my discussions with them that previous summer and added that I had seen no sign of a dig, merely (or rather not so merely) preservation. The other countered that there was no management system in place at this moment. I suppose I was rather terse when I replied, “What one guy in a box collecting money and issuing tickets?”

I was beginning to feel that there was some conspiracy in the air with all these conflicting 'stories', one soon becomes aware of the obfuscation inherent in the Turkish language. Though in the utterances of the dominantly German archaeologists, however junior with one exception, that the interests of disseminating information and access to the public would soon prevail.

The following summer I noticed the Director of Excavations with a gang of labourers working at the west end of the Temple of Artemis (well, there is no evidence for Artemis, but one can dream of 'the twins' being reunited). This site is located behind the present-day mosque. I thought that she would be looking for an Altar that would be evidence of this temple being west facing. As she appeared to be quite adamantly gesticulating in her instructions I assumed something of relevance had been unveiled, though when I looked I could see nothing of any interest. When I viewed that site a week later all I found was a newly laid wire mesh fence. Curious, that the predominant figure of the entire discovery enterprise was engaged in fence erecting. I thought no more about it as it was a pretty boring dig that year. But just keep that in mind.

Another digging season passed, one which correctly focused on the incursion of water into the southeast precinct of the Temple. Even my attention turned away from the Sacred Road during this matter of urgency.

Recently a friend suggested a trip to Miletus. I had not been there in a while so it sounded enticing. I thought I would also go to the Museum to berate them once more about the Road being off-limits to an interested public. The shepherds and their flocks amble upon the site with a bucolic disregard.

I so enjoy the Museum. It had a complete refurbishment a couple of years ago and now has a fresh and coherent display. It truly is a pleasure to be there. We were engrossed ambling around there for over an hour.

There is a very amiable guard who possesses a good fluency in English working there, I asked him, “Is anyone senior available to ask about why the Road remains closed?” He took my question to his superior. Upon his return he merely said, “It’s open”. My friend and I looked at each other at this bare-faced untruth. “Can I see him or her?” We were duly ushered into his office. Again another amiable person of good intent.

“The Sacred Road is open”, he insisted. “Not at the Didim conclusion. Never has been”, I retorted. He then decided that I knew what I was talking about and began the tale that the archaeologists have not yet finished their excavations. I corrected him on that particular point, and informed him that I speak to the archaeologists here and am in correspondence with many more in Europe. I asked him again, “Why is the Sacred Road closed to the public at its Didyma conclusion?” He discussed this with the amiable guard and another gentleman who had joined us, and told me whose idea it was to keep the public out. The Director of Excavations.

Now, assuming that is correct it is of deep concern to me, and I would suggest to many others. Of course, I shall seek clarification. Though from someone who is rather stubborn in imparting information that may be difficult.

Now I know why she was putting up a fence.