Text by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia
I have often pondered upon the thought that the establishment of a visitor centre and museum, displaying artefacts recovered from the Temple of Apollo, and the adjacent area, would be a significant complement to the magnificent landmark(s) of ancient Didyma. As of now, the antiquities from the Didyma environment have been dispersed far and wide, though some remain at the nearby Miletus Museum.
A hurdle to negotiate
It is my belief that a public visitor centre/museum would lend a semblance of appreciation and understanding to the entire site. While upon a recent visit, I noticed that we continue to be bereft of even a meagre guidebook of any description. I can only conclude that visitors are walking around ‘blind’ to the subtle nuances of the temple, thus missing the finer points of its extraordinary design. Whereas the knowledge that the incumbent temple is the third such temple dedicated to Apollo to be erected upon the site is probably unbeknown to many. If one were to garner and absorb this information, so much more magic would be imbued, thus encouraging more visitors to the site.
We could comfortably settle for a Visitor's Centre with photos, or architectural copies, from the deposits in Miletus. The visual aids in recounting this history of the site could simply be served by a video presentation relating the dramatic past. That technology is in plentiful supply today, it could be achieved at minimal costs. Certain vital and fundamental points of history are, at this time, no longer being recounted to curious visitors.
It is paramount that we inspire imaginations
The immediate and surrounding land has been, quite correctly, defined as a Protected Area, whilst the land abutting this zone is inexorably filling with yet more bland and unimaginative concrete apartment blocks. We do have however a particularly underused car park to the west of the Temple. This area was excavated in 1969 and 1972 but revealed little of interest.
To my eye, this would be a suitable location for the Visitor Centre, and what little archaeology that was found beneath the neglected car park could be left exposed to capture imaginations. Certainly, there continues to be a probable likelihood that yet more artefacts are to be found beneath our feet, possibly some astounding finds. The archaeology is far from complete.
The location of placement for any prospective museum would naturally depend on if there are any current landowners in situ. Though even if that be the case, a compulsory purchase order could be issued to benefit of raising the profile of the town. In comparison to the museums/visitor centres springing up around the Tepe (Hill) archaeological sites, we have been dragging our feet here in Didyma.
Out there in the far east of Türkiye they have all the infrastructure in place around the two most prominent sites. The sites themselves are the museums, whilst excellent copies of the artefacts are housed within modern visitor centres with video presentations and a refreshment area.
Modern Didim has done little or nothing to facilitate any interest upon the archaeological site. Predictably, the local Belediye (Council) have focused upon rather jejune pursuits, such as meaningless festivals around the Temple, where one cannot even see the magnificent structure as it is completely hidden by all the market stalls hanging upon the enclosure walls.
Great for euphoric revellers, obviously, though less stimulating if one is seeking high culture. I can recognise the local perception, but our guests are not all devoid of interest and curiosity. Many possess cognitive faculties, worthy of respect and appreciation, and have wallets that are not flustered over the price of a ‘tourist inflated’ beer.
Decisions for the Ministry
Didim, being fortunate enough to inherit an astounding ancient Temple of great importance, does precious little in attending to the cultural gravity of this structure save for further cluttering the site with cafés, bars and souvenir establishments. Even local tour agencies shy away from taking visitors to the Temple, for there is not enough money in such an ‘on-the-doorstep’ tour for them. They prefer the long-haul overnight stay tours to Pamukkale, Cappadocia etc.
I realise that the Belediye (town council) cannot physically touch or make decisions upon the Protected Zone. That is the domain of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Though even here within the Provincial Aydın branch of the Ministry efforts continue unabated to focus upon reconstructions, which to me scar the landscape of imagination. They may have learnt all the technical aspects of the subject, but they appear to be devoid of a ‘feeling’ for a site.
Though, if I am to believe the figures regarding tourism numbers, then 600,000 visitors arrive in Didim during the height of summer. Whilst of that number, 130,000 visited the Temple of Apollo. That is hovering around 20%. One fifth have shown interest, which is a significant number, but they are offered so very little in return?
Certainly, no background information from any academic source is offered or on display, save for a few excellent information boards erected by the German archaeologists. Some of which have never been seen as they line along the closed Sacred Road. Why is this integral section of the ancient Didyma prohibited to the visiting public???
Therefore, a museum coupled with a visitor’s centre, well researched and executed, would be an invaluable addition, indeed, contribution to this town, elevating Didim from the murk of the derogatory ‘Tinky Town’ sobriquet, as some ‘Brits Abroad’ call the place.