Stirrings in the Didim undergrowth

Exchange of Populations, early 1920s
Exchange of Populations, early 1920s

Text by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.

As I have previously explained, the discipline of archaeology entails a destructive element. It is inevitable that by removing artefacts from the ground, level by level, from their long interred resting place the most cautious professional shall endeavour to plot and log every minutia of detail. It is a laborious task, but one, nonetheless, that is imperative. Unlike the treasure hunters whom have no qualms about blustering in with a JCB excavator, leaving in their wake utter carnage.

Though now I feel we are, ironically, facing another and an altogether different dilemma in revealing the hidden secrets of ancient Didyma. I shall not name names or individual establishments, for that may create a friction which is unnecessary. Civil conversation is more amiable and amicable.

It all starts with the family

As is obvious, if one walks around with their eyes open, it is apparent that many families in the Mediterranean basin are inordinately close. The extended family unit is a social and mercantile network of connections to aid, help and support family members through life.

It is probably due to the climate, which enables the proliferation of public meeting places and open spaces around the houses dedicated to outdoor dining. Whereas, in Northern Europe the people are naturally more insular due to the inclement weather which, too often, is not conducive to such exuberant displays. Of course, we remain close, but not inordinately so.

Whatever the reason, the prevailing mood in southern regions is to encompass a vast extended family. I believed that this closeness was in regress, but no, scratch the surface and it shall re-emerge. Merely notice the public events, such as weddings or funerals, a whole plethora of people gather. One may require a behaviourist to articulate this point with more clarity than I.

The crux of my point is that a number of young, intelligent professional people here in Didim are articulating that the dilapidated old Greek village abodes standing above the archaeological site surrounding the Temple are also ‘listed buildings’ upon the Preservation Order issued in 1976. I can testify to that point.

Simply, they argue, these ‘shanty’ structures should be refurbished in favour of the possible Graeco-Roman artefacts which may reside below, thus entombing possibly antique historical evidence in the process. I could not countenance such thoughts.

Admittedly, there are redeeming features in a few of the dilapidated houses, such as building techniques, the modest size of the living spaces, design etc. These clearly illustrate the inhabitants' dire plight, and act as an inconsequential historical record as to how rural people lived and their economic conditions. These rural people being, of course, ancestors of the aforementioned ‘young intelligent professional people’.

Though certainly not family directly, there appears to be a rather touching tacit agreement whereby both the Muslims and Christians vowed (heading each to opposite sides of the Aegean) to care for the respective villages they were effectively exchanging in the hope that they would soon return.

Such be the heartbreak and turmoil caused by of the ‘Exchange of Populations’ judgement in the early 1920s, and onwards, declared at the Treaty of Lausanne to prevent further ethnic cleansing after the Turkish War of Independence. Both sets of people, frankly, did not wish to move home, and both wanted to return as quickly as possible to “their” village.

Greek citizens do arrive in Didim each summer to visit or search for an ‘ancestral’ home where their forefathers once resided. Likewise, I know Didim residents who can point out the crumbled shell of a building and pronounce, “My grandfather or grandmother (or great-grandparents) was born there”. Therefore, the family ties argument remains an emotionally strong one, even though it is probably coloured by ‘rose-tinted spectacles’.

Heads or tails?

I do question the flip side of this coin, though. For it reveals another, rather practical, trait of Mediterranean consciousness: the accruing of wealth. Understandable, as the economies of Southern Europe are so often in turmoil. (Though as I write, I get the impression that the entire world is on that same footing).

After all the histrionics about family lineage, it appears that these young professional people now desire to either restore, very difficult without the level of original craftsmanship, or, more sinister, upgrade this desolate landscape around the Temple into a popular tourist destination. Don’t we already have this in every corner of this ever-expanding concrete metropolis? The trouble is that they seem oblivious to what resides below ground, whereas it is well documented how much the German archaeologists have excavated and then reinterred. Whilst with so much area to still investigate, isn’t that a little akin to ‘selling your grandmother’?

Haven’t we already began to move in that direction anyway? Am I the only person to have noticed the proliferation of ‘new builds’ arising around the Temple during the temporary cessation of the ‘Habitation Certificate’ some years back?

Strange that many of these habitats re-emerged as cafés, bars, tea/coffee shops or souvenir trinket outlets. There was also a distinct lack of archaeology being performed at this time, which never filled me with confidence.

Upon one of my many strolls around the back roads of the village, I was surprised to witness, at this particular cessation time, a flurry of building activity. There are strict regulations about what one can and cannot do with an original structure. I witnessed entirely new, palatial, houses arising from the earth. Phoenix-like.

Previously, I had been informed that one could not even hammer a nail into a wall, now I was seeing luxury villas appearing! At least they had the good grace to clad them in stone. Some of them in actual Graeco-Roman cut stone, taken from the copious amounts of ancient artefacts just lying about. The legality of some of these buildings is, to say the least, tenuous.

I have argued my singular point with honesty and, I hope, clarity. The entire village rests upon a verified, unique and vastly important ancient site, which must take precedence over all else. Or do we believe possible fanciful allusions, without documentation, compiled by less certain memories?


Image gallery: 

The village now populated firmly by Turkish speakers. Aşık Restaurant is still there
The village now populated firmly by Turkish speakers. Aşık Restaurant is still there
The gentlemen of the village
The gentlemen of the village
Workers employed by the DAI excavation team. The house to the left has long gone. The road in the background is higher now to accommodate utilities such as water and electricity, without touching the Sacred Road
Workers employed by the DAI excavation team. The house to the left has long gone. The road in the background is higher now to accommodate utilities such as water and electricity, without touching the Sacred Road