Seeking the Stoa - news from the Apollo Temple in Didyma

The Temple of Apollo in Didim, July 2019
The Temple of Apollo in Didim, July 2019

Text and photos by Glenn Maffia

It was quite perplexing to observe that the excavation trench reaching down into the depths of the Sacred Spring was in a condition of being reinterred when I visited the site on Sunday. Perplexing, for as to my knowledge, the archaeologists had burrowed no further than 1 to 1.5 metres beneath the surface. That may have been enough to reveal the broken and almost demolished stairwells, but if it were their aim to locate the 'sweet waters' of the spring (and I do not know if that was their intent) it is well recorded by none less than Klaus Tuchelt, former Director of Excavations here in Didyma, that the spring resides at least 2.5 metres beneath the surface of the Archaic floor upon which we walk today. See Tuchelt K., 'Fragen zum Naiskos von Didyma,' Archäologister Anzeiger, 1986. I have also learnt that this depth is noted in the diaries of Knackfuß and Hörmann.

So near but so far

The stairways recorded by Hans Hörmann are of course an important point of interest, their demolition possibly in the 1950's likewise, but to stop at that point merely leaves me aghast that the spring continues to remain hidden beneath our feet. It was so close, merely another metre more and we may have been able to taste those 'sweet waters,' at least according to the old village tales. These old stories may be useful as an indicator for something interesting, but normally they are exaggerated to a highly polished finish for entertainment value, for that is what stories are all about. A pinch of salt required there, methinks.
So presumably now it shall be left to a future generation of archaeologists to realise this spectacle of seeing where the priestess was immersed within the spirit of Apollo.

I began to wonder why they had stopped so painfully close, the first thought to enter my head was did they simply lose patience, no, that couldn't be correct these are experienced and professional people, so what other item may be upon their agenda?

A place to dig

A light went on. The German Archaeological Institute shall be reviewing the funds of the Didyma project in 2021, therefore to establish some validity for its continuance would be helped by yet another important and status-enhancing archaeological find.

Though there is much left to unearth within and around the vicinity of the Temple most must now be beneath privately owned land. Surely we must hope that the evidence already presented shall encourage the Government of the Republic of Turkey to issue compulsory purchase orders to free up more of this 'protected area' for archaeological research. Therefore, what 'public' land is there left to address which may hold some ancient secret within its subterranean bosom?

There is a very substantial area of 'public' land standing behind the present-day mosque. It was once a school and playground for the village children but was closed a number of years ago. A majority of the buildings have since been demolished, as it became dangerous due to vandalism.

Here the archaeologists unearthed a good section of another temple (Artemis?) as recently as 2013, whilst it has also been a generous location to finding broken shards of pottery, so important for dating human activity. In my opinion, this 'new' temple could do with a lot more investigation, but why run when we know access is available.

Ancient maps and pieces of architecture

Walking around to the site, I felt a nagging ache that all I would find would be another few trenches seeking more pottery. Indeed, the first one I glimpsed appears to be just that, but then I noticed another. Standing on the far north perimeter of the old school grounds where a sunshade witnessed another trench, one significantly more promising with sections of finely cut stone. Now my heart began to beat a little faster.

On a map produced by the Dilettante Society of London in 1821, it depicted an "Ancient Wall." I had long wondered why this clue was never acted on previously, possibly because the archaeologists were continuing to reveal wonders almost every time they pushed a spade into the earth.

On the site of the 'new' temple, whose articulation was Ionic, there was found a lot of Doric style fragments. Sorry to be technical there, but they are merely two different building styles, and they could never be mixed. These Doric fragments along with the nearly 200-year-old map evidence of an ancient wall stirred feelings that it could be a Stoa, a covered colonnade, which acted as a crucial social meeting area during the Greco-Roman period. This would be a prestigious find.

On closer inspection, the pottery trench now appears to be a dumping ground for Roman roof tiles, which enforces the idea of a covered colonnade once standing in this area. I am just hoping that the sturdier apparently well-cut stone blocks of the second trench could conceivably be the foundations of the ancient Stoa.

It is early days yet, but that is my direct feeling; the archaeologists are seeking the Stoa. I shall continue to visit the site on a regular basis to peer over the shoulders of the sweat encrusted diggers to keep you informed.

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Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019
Excavations of the Temple of Apollo in Didim, August 2019