Text and photos by Glenn Maffia
It has all been rather quiet on the Didyma archaeological front this year. The Covid virus has prevented the team from the German Archaeological Institute from arriving this year.
There was some initial hope that their usual August date for arrival would be possible, but then I received word that September was pencilled in, though in their continued absence it is evident that this month, too, was not considered tenable. It is a pity as I particularly wanted to speak to the Director of Excavations on a number of topics.
The Sacred Road environment
One of the numerous points that I wished to discuss was the continued closure of the Sacred Road and the many other fascinating elements of this area to the public. Admittedly, we only encounter the foundations today (though there is a good portion of the Baths in evidence); but with a modicum of imagination one can rebuild a structure within one’s minds eye.
Of course, there still remain other ancient structures, recently unearthed, which encircle the Temple we see standing so majestically today though these have been re-interred within the ground to protect and preserve them. Didyma, for sure, was certainly much more than a magnificent temple standing forlornly alone.
Possibly another intriguing site
There have been two other areas I have been researching during this period of inactivity. The crucial pieces of evidence are from a map produced by the Society of the Dilettanti of London during 1821, though the crux of this work was probably undertaken by Richard Chandler (antiquarian), Nicholas Revett (architect) and William Pars (a painter) during their Dilettanti field trip between 1764-1766. I am reticent about reproducing this map as ‘treasure hunters’ continue to operate within the Temple area.
To the south of the Temple there is a flat area of land, which presently stands devoid of any modern building constructions, this is definitely within the ‘protected area’ surrounding the Temple. How long this situation shall prevail is unknown to me, though I noticed that this area corresponds to where two structures are identified upon the map.
Now, this is merely conjecture on my part, I have not discussed my supposition with anyone else, let alone the absent archaeologists. I hope that you shall indulge me for a short time. One, labelled as a Christian Chapel, I have located, including a flagstone upon which are engraved two Christian crosses, and the second is depicted as being a fountain.
One must remember that chapels were built over a pre-existing pagan site, a symbolic statement that endorses one religion’s replacement of an earlier belief. Therefore it is entirely plausible that some sanctified pagan structure once stood upon this particular area.
These two inscribed crosses perturbed me somewhat as one is fairly roughly hewn, just two lines articulating a simple cross, whilst the other is altogether more ornate, almost three dimensional in its depiction. Perhaps they were, initially at least, not part of the later chapel but possibly some earlier religious graffiti carved into a pagan sanctified structure. This pagan structure probably supplied the building materials for the later chapel, why cut new stone when one already has a reusable source. Opinion seems to be that this chapel was dedicated to Mercurius (224-250), a saint and martyr born in Eskentos in Cappadocia.
The shift from one ancient religion to a newer one was a painfully slow and tumultuous upheaval. Many times during the reign of Constantine I (306-337) the pagans of Didyma sent letters of complaint to the Emperor detailing the Christian encroachment upon pagan holy sites.
A fountain of historical knowledge
The fountain, or rather the fragments of its foundations, I have witnessed emerging from the entanglements of the roots of a solitary olive tree rising from the west-side of the field when a test trench was excavated there a number of years ago.
So what do I deduce from these sparse indications? A fountain at the far western end of a rectangular field, a Christian Chapel claiming ‘victory’ over the previous incumbent belief and both situated within a large area of flat land?
Remembering that ancient Didyma would have been fully concentrated with the citizens of Miletus during the time of the annual festivals and that those people would need to be fed, I am inclining to conjecture that this flat area of land could conceivably have been an Agora, a market, where vendors could sell their produce to the multitudes. A fountain is often found at one end of an agora, to quench the thirst of those gathered, and a religious structure is similarly a usual feature which bestows a gravitas of sanctity; inviolable and pure.
It was also in this vicinity that Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936) recognised what he described as Roman structures of houses and streets likely being a part of a “temple village” during his excavations between 1905 to 1911.
That rather begs the question of, “Why are today’s archaeologists not digging in this location?”, impeccably recorded by such an eminent exponent of their profession. Perhaps it is privately owned land? Which prompts the obvious question of why doesn’t the Ministry of Culture procure it with a compulsory purchase order?
My fear is that we shall see yet more concrete apartment monstrosities growing forth like unchecked weeds upon a historically relevant site contemporary with Apollo’s Temple.