In the ancient times, Didyma was famous as the place where a colossal Temple of Apollo stood, and the oracle revealed the future. In its heyday, Didyma was not a city, but a place of worship, connected with Miletus by the so-called Sacred Way. This road was used by the pilgrims who arrived at Didyma, seeking answers to nagging questions.
Nowadays, the town of Didim, whose most famous monument is the Temple of Apollo, is a small seaside resort, located in the province of Aydın, on the Aegean coast. The main source of livelihood of its inhabitants is tourism, but agriculture, especially the cultivation of wheat and cotton, is still an important part of the local economy.
The reason for Didim's popularity among vacationers is an attractive location — on the northern shore of Güllük Bay, opposite Bodrum Peninsula. The advantages of Didim for sunbathers are perfectly reflected in the names of town's districts: Altınkum (Golden Sand), Gümüşkum (Silver Sand), and Sarıkum (Yellow Sand).
The history of settlement in Didim region dates back to Neolithic times. The excellent location attracted settlers from Crete, and then, in the 16th century BCE, from Mycenae. The subsequent history of the settlement reflects the typical kaleidoscope of civilizations dominating in the western part of Asia Minor, i.e. the Lydians, the Persians, the Seleucids, the Attalids, the Romans, and the Byzantines.
In the ancient period, Didyma never had the distinction of being the biggest or the most important religious center. The Temple of Apollo located there was the second largest after the Artemision of Ephesus, and its oracle — the second most influential after Delphi. However, nowadays the visit to Didyma is a much more exciting experience than looking at a single column that remained from the Artemision of Ephesus.
Beginnings of the sanctuary in Didyma
According to ancient sources, Didyma area had been considered sacred even before Greek settlers arrived on the coast of Asia Minor. It is a very likely situation since the Greeks often took over local places of worship and adapted them in accordance with their beliefs. They acted similarly in the case of Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, who was worshiped in Ephesus as Artemis from the Greek pantheon.
The first temple in Didyma was built by the Greeks in the late 8th century BCE. It was a simple design, consisting of so-called temenos, i.e. a sacred area, surrounded by a colonnade that was added a century later. On the sacred courtyard, there was an altar, a well used to the prophetic activities, and a laurel tree dedicated to Apollo. The existence of this structure was confirmed by archaeological work conducted by a team of German archaeologists under the direction of Heinrich Drerup in 1962.
The construction of the mighty temple — the Archaic Didymaion (the Temple of Apollo at Didyma) — was completed around 550 BCE. This temple was to bring glory to the most significant of the Ionian cities at that time, i.e. Miletus. Today, the remains of the archaic temple are located under the later, Hellenistic construction, but it is possible to reconstruct its possible appearance. It is known that the architects of Didymaion were under the influence of the temples built a little earlier on the island of Samos and in Ephesus.
Didymaion was a dipteros; that is a building surrounded by a double colonnade in the Ionic order. It occupied an area measuring 85 to 38 meters. The outer colonnade consisted of 21 columns at the long sides, eight columns at the eastern side, and nine columns on the western side. The spacing of the columns on the eastern side enabled a broader transition between the columns, creating the impression of the gate of the temple. In total Didymaion boasted 112 columns.
The sanctuary in Didyma was managed by the family known as the Branchidae. They were the priests descended from the legendary Branchos, the son of Apollo. According to another version of the family history, their progenitor Branchos was the son of a hero named Smikros, who settled in Miletus. Before his birth, his mother had a dream in which the sun entered her mouth, went through the entire body, and came out of the belly. This was considered a good omen and the boy was named Branchos, which means a bronchus. When Branchos grew up, he became a shepherd. In the mountains, he saw Apollo, who fell in love with him. The god gave his lover a gift of divination, so Branchos founded the oracle at Didyma, which was later managed by his descendants.
Destruction of the Archaic Didymaion
The archaic temple of Apollo at Didyma was destroyed in 493 BCE by the Persians, a year after the defeat of the coalition of the Ionian cities in the naval battle of Lade. The priests of the house of Branchidae were expelled, and the bronze statue of Apollo was taken to Ecbatana — the summer residence of the kings of Persia of the Achaemenid dynasty. The treasures of the temple, including the gifts from King Croesus, were looted. At that time, the sacred spring, which was the basis for the oracle's visions, dried up.
For many years, Didymaion remained in the state of complete ruin. It was not until the time of Alexander the Great, when the temple started to be reerected. There is a legend saying that after Alexander the Great had arrived at Didyma, the sacred spring began to flow again. Around 300 BCE, Hellenistic ruler Seleucus I Nicator brought back the statue of the god Apollo to Didyma. The Milesians began to build a new temple which was eventually to be the largest in the Hellenistic world. The work was supervised by two architects: Paionios, who also built the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and Daphnis.
However, the project proved to surpass its contractors, and the building has never been finished. The work on its construction lasted in the third and second centuries BCE, and a part of the building was completed only in Roman times. From this period comes the frieze placed over architrave of the outside row of columns, decorated with the reliefs of the heads of Medusa. External columns on the south-western and eastern sides have never been finished.
The sanctuary's importance was also recognised by the Romans, and the position of the temple's high priest was a sought-after position of power and influence. Theoretically, this office was held by the aristocratic citizens of Miletus who were elected for a one-year-only tenure. However, many Roman emperors were "elected" to this post, including Trajan, Hadrian, and Julian. Obviously, they were not engaged in any activities related to actual work in the temple, leaving these mundane tasks to other priests. On the other hand, their interest meant a significant financial contribution to the sanctuary's maintenance. Emperor Trajan, for example, rebuilt the Sacred Road, and Emperor Julian repaired it in 359 CE in his failed efforts to revive the traditional Graeco-Roman religious rituals.
The Roman emperors also used to consult the oracle on numerous occasions. Possibly the most curious case of such consultations happened in 303 CE when Emperor Diocletian asked the oracle about the course of action he should take concerning the growing number of Christians. He was aware of the complains that the followers of this new religion angered the ancient gods. While the oracle's reply has not been preserved to our times, it supposedly motivated the emperor to start one of the most severe persecution of Christians in the history of the Roman Empire.
The persecutions of Christians were long remembered and the Temple of Apollo's role in the events was not forgotten. In the period when Christianity was first tolerated and then became an official state religion, most of the pagan temples were abandoned and forgotten. However, the Didymaion was selected for the reuse as a church. This was not unique as similar transformations can be seen in numerous locations, for instance, in Aphrodisias. The case of Didyma is special: the Christians built their churches in highly visible locations. This was impossible at Didyma with the special design of the adyton, lowered to the level of the ground. To make a point, a small three-aisled Christian basilica was erected in the naos of the temple even though it was hidden from sight. This peculiar determination can be explained either by the will of revenge against the oracle, or by the special character of Apollo, or even by the presence of the sacred spring. The last option is highly probable as a baptistery was erected next to the spring. This basilica was completely dismantled by the German archaeologists at the beginning of the 20th century because their intention was the restoration of the Hellenistic structure.
In late antiquity, Didyma was a bishopric and was honored by Emperor Justinian I with the title Justinianopolis, before it experienced a rapid decline in the early Middle Ages. From the 10th to the 12th century, Didyma was again the seat of a bishop. Two earthquakes destroyed Didyma, in the 7th and in the 15th century. The latter led to the abandonment of the settlement. Only at the end of the 18th century did Greeks settle the place again and used the dilapidated ancient buildings as a quarry.
From the arrival of the Turks era to modern times
After the defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 CE, the Turkish tribes arrived at the Aegean coast of Asia Minor for the first time. The Byzantines were able to regain this stretch of coast in 1098, but lost it again in 1280, in favor of local kingdom managed by the Turkish Menteşe clan. In 1413, Didyma finally became a part of the Ottoman Empire. In these times, it was known as Yoranda.
When Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli, an Italian humanist and antiquarian, visited the town in 1446, the temple was still standing in great part, although the cella had been converted into a fortress by the Byzantines. However, the next European visitor, an Englishman, Dr. Pickering, reported in 1673 that the temple had collapsed.
In the early years of the Turkish Republic, the village was renamed as Hisar (Castle). After the earthquake that destroyed the town in 1955, the rebuilt settlement was called Yenihisar (New Castle). The current name of the city — Didim — derives from the ancient sanctuary of Didyma. It was introduced in 1997 to distinguish this city from other Turkish New Castles.
In the 80s of the 20th century, the town began to gain the popularity as a summer holiday destination. It benefited greatly from attractive beaches, the proximity to many historical sights, and warm microclimate that allows sunbathing and water sports even in the winter months. The first holidaymakers, to arrive in throngs to Didim, were the residents of Ankara. They purchased holiday houses here, which are currently used by their second generation. Foreign tourism in Didim developed in the 90s of the 20th century, attracting especially the visitors from the UK.
In 2009, a new marina was opened in Didim. It is known as D-Marin Didim, and can accommodate up to 580 boats, which makes it the largest marina in Turkey. It offers its visitors a clubhouse, a shopping center, several restaurants, and a hotel. The residents of Didim hope that the marina will attract even more tourists to their city.
The Society of Dilettanti sent two expeditions to explore the ruins, the first in 1764 under Richard Chandler, the second in 1812 under William Gell. The first excavations in Didyma were carried out in 1858, in the area of the Sacred Way, under the direction of the British archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton.
The grounds of the Temple of Apollo were studied for the first time by French archaeologists, Olivier Rayet and Albert Thomas, in 1872. Their goal was to find the statue of Apollo, and the excavations took two years. The statue was not found. However, the dimensions of the temple were determined, and its plan — reconstructed.
In the years 1895-1896, the French team worked in Didymaion again, this time under the supervision of Bernard Haussoullier. The focus was on the northern part of the temple, but this project was quickly abandoned for economic reasons.
More time was spent in Didyma by German archaeologists who worked there on behalf of Berlin Museums from 1905 to 1937. Thanks to them, almost the entire temple was excavated. The work was resumed under the supervision of the German Archaeological Institute in 1962 and it lasts until today, with particular attention devoted to the Sacred Way.
The most surprising discovery was made by German researchers in 1979. On the inner wall of the courtyard, some barely visible lines were discovered. Upon closer examination, these lines turned out to be the plans for the temple. They survived thanks to the fact that Didymaion was never finished, and the walls were not polished. From these sketches, the researchers have learned a lot about the planning and construction of the temple.
The building that can be visited today is the temple erected in Hellenistic times as an unroofed building. Its plan, similar to the archaic Didymaion, was the dipteros of the Ionic order. This temple measured 51 to 109 meters and these impressive dimensions made it the third largest structure in the Hellenic world, exceeded in size only by the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and the Temple of Hera on the island of Samos.
The temple stood on a high foundation called crepidoma, which consisted of seven steps and was 3.5 meters high. There was also a flight of fourteen steps on the eastern side. On the sides of the building, there were two tunnels with ramps that led to the cella, i.e. the inner courtyard reserved for oracles, priestesses, priests, and acolytes, and not for the general public.
The whole structure was surrounded by double rows of columns — with 21 columns in the longer rows and ten columns in the shorter rows. The columns standing at the front of the temple were unevenly spaced and this design was a departure from the traditional Ionic style. The total number of the columns surrounding the temple was 108 but this is not all.
The monumental staircase in the temple's façade led to a deep pronaos (the vestibule) with three rows of four columns. All of the columns listed so far were of the Ionic order. Two half-columns stood at the entrance to the room called chresmographeion — the office of the oracle — where the words delivered by the oracle were written down. The chamber measured 14 to 9 meters, was 20 meters high, and had a marble roof. The pillar on the southern side of the doorway, still preserved in a perfect condition, weighs 70 tons and its dimensions make it the largest monolith of antiquity, according to Ekrem Akurgal. Inside this small hall between the pronaos and the cella, there were two Corinthian columns. Because the threshold stone of the oracle office was 1.5 meter higher than the floor of the pronaos, the scholars assume that there was no entry between these two chambers. The priests wrote down the oracles in the office and read them to the interested parties gathered in the pronaos.
Thus, the total number of the columns that once decorated the temple reached an astonishing value of 124. Also, their dimensions were impressive, as they reached almost 20 meters in height and 2 meters in diameter. The walls of the temple, in its nearly finished state, rose to a towering height of nearly 28 meters. Not only the number of the columns is astonishing but also the cost of their production. The archaeologists found an inscription informing that one craftsman needed 20 thousand days to finish just one column. On this basis of the assumption that a mason was paid two drachmas per day, it was possible to calculate that the cost of a column was equal to 172 kilograms of silver. Now just recalculate it for 124 of Didyma's columns!
At the sides of the chresmographeion, there were staircases with ceilings decorated with meander pattern, referred to as labyrinths. They led up to the roof of the temple and were probably used for religious ceremonies.
The exterior of the Didymaion was similar to other ancient Greek temples, but its interior was quite unique due to the special requirements of the oracle. Traditionally, the inner section of a Greek temple — its cella or naos — was erected on the top of the temple podium. However, in Didyma, the sanctuary of Apollo developed around a sacred spring so the floor of the inner sanctuary, often referred to as the adyton, had to be at the level of the ground. Therefore, the architecture of the Apollo Temple is a study in the architects' ingenuity. After climbing the high platform, the person who was to enter the inner part of the sanctuary descended back to the ground level following one of two narrow tunnels over 21 meters long. This solution combined the traditional exterior design of the temple with the necessity of preserving the sacred spring of Apollo hidden inside. The adyton was also connected to the chresmographeion, via a stairway 15 meters wide, consisting of 24 steps.
Another trick was connected with the building's roof — while from the outside the temple seemed to be completely roofed over, actually its adyton was open, allowing the growth of the holy grove of trees. It is an interesting training for the imagination of the modern-era visitors standing in the open space of the adyton: just try to visualise it with the greenery of trees and the whispers of the sacred spring.
This is not the end of the architectural surprises of the temple. The cella was surrounded by very high walls built of marble blocks and reinforced from the inside by the pilasters. They stood on high pedestals (socles) and bore relief friezes. Inside, there was a smaller roofed Ionic temple (naiskos), protecting the bronze statue of Apollo, brought back from Ecbatana. The courtyard was decorated with Medusa heads, griffins and bulls' heads.
Let us try to imagine how a visit to the Temple of Apollo could be experienced by the ancient petitioners. First, they climbed the monumental staircase on the north-eastern side of the building, and after passing the double row of columns surrounding the building, entered the pronaos with its grove formed of three rows of four columns. Here the first surprise awaited the visitors as the door that usually led to the inner sanctuary was replaced with a blank wall. Only through a large opening in its upper part, it was possible to glimpse the top part of the small naiskos (the building housing the statue of Apollo), standing in the inner courtyard — the adyton. Turning back again, the visitors saw a monumental staircase that led to a room with a roof supported by two columns on the central cross-axis. The visitors did not venture any further but the priests who delivered the prophecy descended into the inner courtyard via two narrow corridors built within the thick walls of the temple.
The ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma are open to visitors daily, in summer (April - October) from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, and in winter (November - March) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. The ticket costs 15 TL. Unfortunately, the Sacred Road area next to the temple is most frequently closed to visitors.
The area around the temple has been renovated in recent years, and now it is not possible to reach the entrance to the ruins by car. It is necessary to leave the vehicle in the parking lot, about 200 meters away from the ticket office.
The modern town of Didim has a very well developed infrastructure, prepared both for holiday makers and independent travelers. There is a choice of hotels with swimming pools, as well as family guesthouses. The town has many restaurants and bars; there's even a couple of discos and an aqua park. It is located in Mavişehir district, on the north-western side of the town.
However, due to the small size of the town, do not expect such an extravagant nightlife as in Marmaris or Bodrum. Didim is still a relatively quiet resort town, oriented to host families with children and the lovers of evening walks along the beach.
Near the Temple of Apollo:
- Medusa House Hotel – Apollon Tapinagi Yani Yoran Kume Evleri No:246. It operates in a renovated stone house, built 150 years ago.
- Hotel Ksantos – Hisar Mah Ozgurluk Cad. 2229 Sok No:4. This hotel is situated just 200 meters from the Temple of Apollo and has a swimming pool.
In Altınkum beach district:
- Altinersan Hotel – Altinkum Mah. 5. Sok. No:8 Altinkum. The hotel with a swimming pool an open-buffet breakfast.
- Atlantik Apart Hotel – Camlik Mah Uc Mevsim Cad No:15 Didim. The hotel with a swimming pool, 500 meters away from the sea, offering apartments with a kitchen.
Near the marina:
- D-Marin Didim Marina Yacht Club – Camlik Mevkii 3, Koy Didim. This is a new hotel with a spa, a swimming pool, and spacious rooms.
Near the Temple of Apollo, head to Harabe Cafe, Bar & Resturant. This small and pleasant venue offers tasty snacks and drinks, has friendly service, and boasts a terrace upstairs with the splendid view of the temple.
Among the multitude of bars and restaurants in the centre of Didim, we personally recommend Jack Sparrow Karayip Korsanlar Restaurant on Adnan Menderes Bulvarı. It distinguishes itself not only because of the great food but also extremely pleasant and family friendly atmosphere.
The main grocery bazaar in Didim is held every Saturday, and every Wednesday sellers flock to Altınkum district. The town is home to a large shopping center — Didyma Shopping Mall and many stores operate both in the center and on the coast. Moreover, in Didim there are numerous branches of supermarket chains and discount stores, including Bim, Migros, Carrefour, and Şok.
By public transport: frequent minibuses go to Didim from Söke. The journey takes approximately 1 hour, and the ticket costs 8 TL.
By car: from the main roads of the region i.e. İzmir-Aydın highway take an exit at Germencik and go in the direction of Söke. There are two access roads from Söke to Didim. The longer and slower one goes through Güllübahçe (with the ruins of Priene) and Atburgazı, through the lovely area of Büyük Menderes River delta and the ruins of Miletus. The distance from Söke is 57 kilometers. Shorter (41 km) and faster route from Söke to Didim leads through Sarıkemer, and in Akköy it connects with the route through Güllübahçe.
If you choose Söke as a starting point, it is possible to make a loop using the above routes and visit Priene, Miletus, and Didyma during one tour.
With an organised tour: you can take advantage of organized trips, known as PMD or Priene-Miletus-Didyma, during which you will be able to visit all three places in just one day. These tours are sold by travel agencies in Kuşadası.