Text and photos by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.
It was an immense pleasure to welcome a friend of many years back to Didyma last weekend. His absence had been necessitated by the Covid pandemic and then other work commitments, but after four long years his arrival was most welcomed and the conversation flowed as if there had been no interruption.
It has been a bond of mutual understanding that his anonymity is preserved. I am aware that this must all sound rather clandestine, even sinister, but you would be surprised at the murky shadows which lurk in the corners of this discipline.
The close connections he shares with members of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) often supply interesting snippets of the Institute's current mode of thought. Whereas merely whispers were emerging for the best part of the last calendar year, now a meeting between the DAI and its Turkish counterpart earlier this month has revealed that the DAI shall relinquish further responsibilities upon this particular site due to increasing costs, and no doubt diminishing returns.
The simple truth that they, the DAI, have failed to uncover any new finds since the almost square Hellenistic foundations, upon a hill to the southeast of the Temple, in 2015. Still, much excellent work in preservation has been attained upon the Temple, especially using the traditional Roman techniques in arresting the alarming cracks appearing at the summit of the three standing columns, but exciting finds have been thin upon the ground.
I remain convinced that there are many more finds to be unveiled, but the change of law prohibiting excavations upon private land, unless one purchases that land, and the decreasing areas of promising public land have conspired to render the site largely neglected.
I have no reason to doubt the competency of the Turkish archaeologists but, as I have written prior, they appear to be under a philosophy to rebuild these ancient sites to promote commercial tourism. A revenue of crucial importance within the country. I shall not reiterate my trepidations and reservations herein, except my conviction that we cannot, as yet, perform this task adequately, and approximations are insipid.
A date of mid-June has been earmarked for the commencement of the DAI’s final work in Didyma after a period spanning some 117 years. It shall be sad to see them leave, even though in recent years I have had many differences of opinion with the Director of Excavations. I feel that it would be most fitting if some memorial recognition of their sterling and enlightening work, over so long a period of time, should pay homage to their endeavours.
We certainly would not have such accumulated knowledge of the Temple of Apollo that has been amassed in great detail and with fine scrutiny, which informs us all of the sheer wonder of this quite unique temple.
If there is a failure, then it is that this last DAI team has not left the site with a final and comprehensive guidebook with which to lead us back through the millennia. If, indeed, we can ever truly have a conclusive book. Just as the ‘follies’ of reconstruction can never be definitive, nor can a book, as more sophisticated modes of enquiry always emerge. Though, who knows, we may have one final gift arriving our way as the DAI waves a fond farewell to ancient Didyma.
An intellectual oasis
Another prospect which presents itself, in my mind’s eye anyway, is the realisation of a Didyma Museum. This is a proposition I have heard aired by local Turkish friends in both the history and tourist disciplines.
It struck me as being mutually beneficial to both and a focal point for interested visitors to the town, whereas currently that ground lays sparse. Upon visiting the ‘Excavation House’, where the archaeologists reside for the duration of their stay during the digging season, the gardens there are littered with column fragments, pristine column bases, some capitals and all manner of architectural sundries.
Added to this impressive collection, reclining under the summer sun, are the contents of the ‘Small Finds House’. The Greek village hospital or doctor's house (opposite the Mosque) which is now in a dilapidated state of repair after torrential rains caused the inevitable collapse of the roof and one exterior wall. The Germans kept fragments of architectural items stored here. Items stored quite jealously by the last Director of Excavations, she frowned upon senior members of her team giving selected public viewing time to these small items of curiosity.
I believe that this now forlorn structure is owned by Didim Municipality. Possibly, after a detailed excavation to determine what resides below the building, it may be feasible to realise a museum of a modest size. Personally, I have an inkling that the foundations of a ‘gate’ from the albeit still closed, Sacred Road into the Temple complex could be located within this vicinity. Conjecture, but worth a look before this structure is once again realised, in whatever guise.
It is not only my visualisation of embellishing Didyma into an alluring prospect of enlightening the area into a place of learning. I also seek to pay due homage to the testimony of the DAI's thorough toil upon the scorched land, for longer than the Republic of Türkiye has existed. That is history in itself.