Remedies sought for a drowning friend - revisiting the Temple of Apollo in Didyma

The dry well considered for temporary storage of flood water, Apollo Temple in Didyma
The dry well considered for temporary storage of flood water, Apollo Temple in Didyma

Text and photos by Glenn Maffia

Last week I received a most welcome correspondence from the hydrologist responsible for redirecting the water falling into the southeast section of the Temple of Apollo sanctuary in ancient Didyma, Turkey.
This pleased me immensely as there has been a deafening silence from this quarter for a number of months. Though after I sent a number of photographs as evidence for the waters now mingling within the archaeological remains of the Christian Basilica which once stood within the adyton (inner courtyard), Professor Helmut Brückner responded with admirable haste.

Reasons for the predicament

The professor reiterated that the water emanates from a fault in the karst rock which forms the Milesian Peninsula. He states that the causes of this fracturing could be either the large earthquake we experienced during July 2017, and/or the constant use of the road which curves around the Temple site. I was particularly pleased by his cold logical judgement of the second possible cause. It is an obvious disregard of this exquisite site that, primarily, the local inhabitants blithely sneer at. Needless to say, I am appalled at such lazy, uncaring minds and especially UKOME, the governmental department responsible for road/traffic management. There are other routes to circumvent the archaeological site, though obviously, five minutes (at most) is far too long a time to add to some people's unimportant journey. Or indeed, the selfish shop and bar owners who campaigned vigorously when the road was temporarily closed, on the behest of the archaeologists, a number of years back.

At this point, I would like to reiterate my theory of the fracturing of the karst allowing the groundwater to seep into Apollo's precinct. I noticed during the summer of 2016 that the area now inundated was then 'spongy' underfoot. The archaeologists were denied permission to excavate that year and, therefore, could not witness this unusual phenomenon in the height of a blistering summer. There is nothing more beneficial than actually being here on the ground to witness events at first hand, for all but a few weeks I can perform such a thrilling task. Though I missed the less severe earthquake of December 2015 (4.2 magnitude if I recall correctly) as I was attending a meeting at the British Museum with the chief curator of Greek and Roman Antiquities. It was only after experiencing the sodden ground that summer that I researched recent earthquakes. I believe that this small earthquake initially fissured the karst rock and the large July 2017 quake merely accentuated the flow of water.

Solutions sought

Nonetheless, we are in quite close opinion as to the cause or causes of the waters permanent influx into the Temple precinct. I favour the natural fissure theory as the flow noticeably increases after heavy rainfall whilst the lazy uneducated drivers idea collapses when during the summer months the vehicles increase and the water decreases. Though this could simply be that the groundwater has exhausted itself. I shall not quibble over that point.

Though what is the remedy? Well, Professor Brückner plans to channel the water via a subsurface route away from the sodden area into a "dry well". The only dry well I can think of in that area is located in the adyton (inner sanctum). Though this shall be only a temporary solution, as the well shall eventually overflow the stone brim to inundate the inside of the Temple. Hardly satisfactory. No doubt he is hoping that this valuable time would lead to a more permanent solution which has yet to be devised.

I have already pointed out to the Professor that there does exist an extant drainage system within the Hellenistic design of the building. He probably knows this already. Where this drainage system releases the water is unknown to me, but it must, of course, be a low lying area. I rather wondered if this drainage system could once again be employed? The archaeologists would know this drainage's course, for they sent down probes to map it a number of years ago. Alternatively, they could merely channel this unwelcome water into the existing waste water systems which must be in place for the present inhabitants of the surrounding village; these are normally cesspits.

I am certain that this eminent gentleman shall solve this current predicament, probably in the most creative of ways. No more shall we have to tiptoe around the edges of this magnificent ancient structure, nor use the priceless fragments of antiquity as stepping stones to bridge a morass.

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Drain of the Hellenistic water management system, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Drain of the Hellenistic water management system, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Flood water within the archaeology of the Christian Basilica, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Flood water within the archaeology of the Christian Basilica, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Water in Christian Basilica, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Water in Christian Basilica, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Sodden Archaic wall, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Sodden Archaic wall, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Water flowing along the southeastern section of the temple, Apollo Temple in Didyma
Water flowing along the southeastern section of the temple, Apollo Temple in Didyma