A safer and ambient alternative

Apollo Temple in Didyma
Apollo Temple in Didyma

Text by Glenn Maffia

What a feeling of freedom invades the senses now that we have the option of self-determination as to our movements and actions once again. Naturally, there are guidelines to be adhered to if we are to be further free of this virulent Coronavirus, therefore, with freedoms come responsibilities. ‘Caution’ and ‘social distancing’ must be the bywords along this path to safety.

It is with this particular point in mind, and the knowledge that the easing of the lockdown shall allow ever more visitors into Didim on Turkey’s Aegean coast, that I should like to tempt people away from the beachfront.

I realise this may be an arduous task now the temperatures begin to rise, the pursuit of a suntan becomes an obsession and a cooling drink whilst viewing the stunning vista of a sparkling blue seascape are certainly alluring. Though there is an alternative, which I find so much more addictive; the Temple of Apollo at ancient Didyma.

This ancient Greco-Roman archaeological site oozes a peaceful ambiance of calm. There are numerous cafes and bars which surround the site where one can still have that cooling drink and terraces where the suntan shall not be diminished. Whilst the view one is presented with here is the extraordinarily elegant Temple itself, with its majestic columns piercing the azure sky.

A brief background

Among Apollo’s attributes was he being the god of prophecy, this was held in esteemed importance within ancient civilizations. One would consult the ‘oracle’, the place where one could enquire as to the future, before coming to any decision upon an intended action. Such oracles became immensely wealthy as fortunes were bestowed upon them, by way of favour or, slightly more sinister, a bribe to manipulate the ‘god’s’ reply to synchronise with one’s intent. Humans never change!

The story of King Croesus of Lydia, the “richest man alive”, is a fine example. He jealously envied the wealth and riches of the Kingdom of Persia and sought ‘divine permission’ from the oracle to invade the object of his desire. Both Lydia and Persia were the mighty powerhouses of the region. Croesus asked Apollo the question of the outcome of an invasion of Persia? Apollo replied, “The invasion will see the utter defeat of a mighty Empire”. Croesus, buoyed, invaded, and Apollo was proved correct, a mighty Empire was destroyed, Croesus’ very own Lydia!!! Such be the hubris of humankind and the sardonic wit of the gods.

That particular oracle pronouncement was made in Delphi which the ancient Greeks considered to be the ‘navel’ (centre) of the world. Though only second in importance to the Delphic temple was the one we see today in Didim, ancient Didyma.

The temples

The extant Temple we observe now is the third, and, of course, last, of the Didyma oracles. The first dated from the Late Geometric period constructed during the 8th century BCE (Before Common Epoch), this earliest temple probably suffered from the fatality of an earthquake. The building of the second temple took place between 560-550 BCE, which we refer to as the Archaic period, and was considerably enlarged from its predecessor. This was at a time of prestigious and flourishing growth of Ionian wealth and influence. Too much so, unfortunately, as they impinged upon Persian power. The cities of Ionia burned and, after a naval battle off the island of Lade (close to Miletus) in 494 BCE, the Persians marched into Didyma ransacking and plundering the wealth of the temple before burning the Archaic Temple to the ground.

It was only after Alexander the Great completely annihilated the existence of Persia that the Temple rose Phoenix-like from the ashes, beginning c.330 BCE, to be the magnificent monument we see today. Though due to natural and economic changes of fortune this temple was never entirely completed. If it were to have been so that we would be witness to, surely, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’. The only survivor from that list now is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Just dream of how prestigious Didim would be today if only the temple were completed?

Even though your preference may be the seashore, try to take a few hours out to visit this stunning site and walk with the ghosts of ancient Didyma upon the quiet roads and backstreets that wind around the Temple. Entrance to the temple is mere 18 lira, whilst if it is too hot one can always while a few hours away in a shaded café/bar overlooking the mellifluous harmonies of the temple’s glorious architecture.