Photos by Jack A. Waldron
Cycling from Miletus to the Sanctuary of Apollo does not take the three days it once took for the ceremonial processions to complete. After a night camped by the sea, I was ready to make my second pilgrimage to Didyma.
There were no stops made at shrines along the way in order to offer homage to the god Apollo, or sing sacred songs in his name. At points, the paths of the modern road and the ancient road do meet, and someday, I hope to walk this ancient path. In the photo above, the view is of the front of the Temple of Apollo. Just in front of the steps a large circular Altar can be seen (center left of photo).
The Sacred Way arrives from the North/Northeast, or the top left corner in the illustration above. Unfortunately, the modern road crosses over the Sacred Way entrance to the sanctuary, but I have heard that there are discussions of building a bridge over the Sacred Way, and reconnecting the now divided shrine area and Baths just North/Northeast of the sanctuary and the sanctuary itself. Or, perhaps they will go even further, and reroute the road, creating a complete site, including the newly discovered Theater to the Southeast of the sanctuary.
Pictured above, as viewed from the temple podium, the remains of the large circular Altar can be seen. Though I am not aware of any large fragments from the Altar, I can imagine that it would have contained a finely sculpted relief, probably matching the quality found on the temple and its fragments. Here, those seeking oracular consultation would have provided animals to be sacrificed to the gods for a favorable outcome. Of course, these sacrifices can be seen as a part of the payment for service, as the meat would not have gone to waste.
As stated above, the sanctuary would have contained a multitude of gifts to the gods, from the smallest and cheapest terracotta votive statues, to expensive sanctuary structural additions, marble sculptures, or dedicatory pieces such as the three-footed bronze sacrificial tripod used for offerings during ritual procedures illustrated above.
Pictured above and below, votive statues on display at the Miletus Archeological Museum. These are typical of the terracotta votive statues that people would have offered to the gods in the hope that the gods would look favorably upon the wishes of those seeking answers to their prayers. These statues would sit in large collections at various stations around the sanctuary.
Pictured below, a votive stele on display at the Miletus Archeological Museum. Though the temple at Didyma is officially dedicated to Apollo, the Greek word 'didyma' means 'twins', and this may make reference to an older newly discovered temple near the sanctuary that was dedicated the Artemis. The dedication to Artemis is most likely affirmation and an adoption of the ancient Anatolian goddess Kybele, or Cybele.
I am not exactly sure what structure the entablature pictured below was part of, but it doesn't appear to be part of the temple. On a raised level surrounding the north area in front of the temple that is accessed by small staircases, there were at least two stoas. The structure pictured below may have been a dedicatory platform that displayed a large sculpture on top, or, perhaps it was part of a portico leading into the temenos.
Before the Greeks arrived at Didyma, picture among the sun-burnt grasses of the surrounding country side a lush green grove fed by a cold sweat water spring gushing from the ground. Here there was an oracular tradition dating back to prehistoric times, no doubt nurtured from the life supporting spring that provided one of the essential ingredients to all life on the planet. Pictured below, a view of the Temple of Apollo temenos and structure from above.
According to Strabo, a young handsome shepherd boy named Branchus, who was the son of Smicrus, a Delphinion who had settled in Miletus, was seduced by Apollo after the god had fallen in love with his beauty, and whom after the priests of the sanctuary took their title, the Branchidae.
As you can see in the photo above, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma is a colossal structure, built of the of the finest marble. However, the structure we see today dates from the 3C BC, and was built over and around earlier structures dating from the archaic period. It is believed that the archaic temenos was completed in 560 BC, and we know that following the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC the sanctuary was destroyed, and its treasures carried back to Ecbatana, "the place of gathering", a capital city in Persia, which sat at an important crossroad between East and West.
Pictured below, an inscribed section of the temple entablature awaits the restoration of the structure. The magnificence of the architectural work is owed to two architects, Paionios and Daphnis, who were commissioned by the Seleucid Syrian dynastic founder Seleucus Nicator at the order of Alexander the Great. The colossal statue of Apollo, which had been taken to Persia 150 years prior was returned to the temple.
Pictured below, one of the Ionian capitals on display within the sanctuary. Though broken and mangled, the exquisitely directed chisel that created this work of art can still be experienced and felt within the unmatched quality of the marble that bears its marks.
In the illustration below, specific architectural elements can be located, such as the busts of Zeus and Apollo, sculptures that were part of certain capitals.
The bust of Zeus comes from the capital labelled 'g', while the bust of Apollo comes from the capital labelled 'h'.
Both the Zeus and Apollo busts are on display at the Istanbul Archeological Museum, and are pictured below. They are much larger than one would imagine!
Although the fragment pictured below comes from a capital of the Temple of Apollo, and can be seen at the Istanbul Archeological Museum, if you visit the site at Didyma you can see intact capitals with the burcranium sculptures on display (pictured further below).
Alexander the Great spared little expense in his monetary support to build a magnificent temple dedicated to Apollo at Didymaion, which can be seen in its superb reliefs and sculptures, and further, he also took great measures to restore the oracular tradition that the sanctuary had been famous for prior to the Persian occupation.
Pictured above and below, a capital showing the burcranium and sphinx reliefs/sculptures, which is on display within the sanctuary at Didyma. These elaborately sculpted capitals were positioned atop the outer corners of the temple's peristasis, and beyond the reliefs/sculptures of Zeus and Apollo, they also included representations of Leto and Artemis.
To allow the beauty of the temple to speak for itself seems the wisest thing for me to do at this point. I will say that, I rarely visit the same site more than once, unless, I failed to complete my mission during the first visit, for one, or, a site being closed to tourists due to more often than not, erroneous powers gained, for a second, or the third reason, that the magic of a site just calls one back again. The sanctuary at Didyma falls under the last category.
The other columns that made up the total 108 in the double peristasis were of the Ionic order. The dipteros style temple also had 12 more columns within the pronaos.
In the photo below, we are looking directly into the Pronaos.
The relief pictured below would appear to show Amphitrite (an Oceanid), who in Greek mythology was the wife of Poseidon, being drawn behind a Triton. So, the question that comes to mind is, 'Where is Poseidon?'.
It is not lost on us that Poseidon was a brother of Zeus, whose iconography is on prominent display atop the corner columns of the temple. Further, that Poseidon may be geographically connected to the temple through an Altar of Poseidon that is located not to distant at the Cape of Monodendri.
Ancient Greek ornament relief patterns employed on the Temple of Apollo at Didyma are mostly easily recognized, and within this sanctuary, above most others, are of an unmatched quality. Pictured above, the top ornament relief is called an anthemion pattern, which here appears to consists of repeating palmettes. The anthemion pattern often alternates between the palmette and the lotus. The pattern at the bottom of this column base is referred as a complex Greek meander, which is also easily recognizable. Pictured below, an unfinished laurel leaf pattern on a column bases from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis.
The relief work of the column bases on the Temple of Apollo at Didyma are very similar in style and quality when compared with the column bases of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis (pictured above and below). The similarities are numerous, for one, neither Hellenistic era temple was ever completed, as can be seen in the unfinished column base from the Temple of Artemis, pictured below.
A second similarity both temples share is that, they were begun under the order of Alexander the Great, and partially funded by the conquering Macedonian Greek. Third, direction and construction of both temples fell under the instructions of Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Syrian dynasty. It is also possible that the architectural work of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis is also owed to the architects, Paionios and Daphnis. The photo above along with the one below are both of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis.
Medusa plays a prominent role at the Sanctuary of Apollo, as the frieze of the temple displays colossal size images of the venomous snake-haired goddess, which in ancient times must have sent a most frightful message in every direction over the known world (pictured above and below).
Medusa (a mortal), along with her two sisters Stheno and Euryale (both immortal), were turned into female monsters by Athena, as she found Medusa guilty of her own rape, perpetrated by Poseidon.
Referred to as gorgons, these winged-females with venomous snakes replacing their locks of hair, were feared, and Medusa was viewed as a protectress, or guardian, to the ancient Greeks. Pictured below, a long section of the Medusa frieze on display within the sanctuary.
As the myth goes, Medusa was decapitated by Perseus, who in turn gave the still powerful head and gaze to Athena, who attached the head to her shield for protection.
Fortunately, it would appear that Medusa fulfilled her role in protecting the Temple of Apollo during the recent 7.0-7.4 earthquake on October 30th, 2020, as the columns pictured below were not toppled.
Unfortunately, earthquakes over the millennia have taken their toll on the structure, and as you can see below, the columns have been laid out like thick slices of salami.
Pictured below is a view of the cella wall, and what is striking to me is how thick it is. This massive building sits on a stylobate measuring 109x51 meters, which rises seven steps, or 3.5 meters above a crepidoma measuring 120x60 meters. Truly, this is a monumental structure.
Also, please notice the fine detail of the ornamental relief pictured here, and which is continuous around the foot of cella. The cella itself once reached a height of 18 meters, and was not roofed.
What remains of the standing structure today is impressive, however, when you compare the illustration pictured above with the current state of the structure pictured below, we can begin to comprehend just how impressive the full standing temple must have been two-thousand years ago.
Inscriptions, such as the one pictured on the seat of the step below, can be seen throughout the temple. Also, notice the inscription on the face of the upper step (pictured below).
When pictured with people standing on its stylobate, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma puts the monumental size of its majestic marble blocks on full display (pictured below).
The photo of the pronaos wall pictured below, can be seen just behind the two people in the photo above (one person is wearing a pink shirt).
The top relief seen in the photo above is of over-lapping Bay Laurel leaves, which is a symbol of triumph and victory, and, which is worn in the form of a wreath on the head of Apollo. I, on the other hand, use Bay Laurel in my Italian pasta sauce, and my chicken soup.
Each year I have worked here in Turkey as a teacher, I generally have about 250 students, of whom, at least 4 or 5 are named Dafne, or in English, Daphne. Daphne in ancient Greek mythology, was a priestess of Gaia, or, Mother Earth. The myth goes, that Apollo fell in love with Daphne, and he tried to seduce her, but she was not inclined to be his lover, so she asked for Gaia's help.
There are different versions as to what happened next, but Daphne was either hidden in Crete, with a Bay Laurel tree having been placed where she had last stood, or, Daphne herself was transformed into a Bay Laurel tree. From then on, Apollo formed wreathes of Bay Laurel and placed them on his head in order to console himself. In the Turkish language, Dafne means, Bay Laurel. Pictured above, this is the back left corner of the pronaos, and here an entrance leads down to the inner chamber of the cella. The is another tunnel in the opposite corner of the pronaos.
At the bottom of the non-stepped slope is the entrance to the sacred enclosure, where a smaller archaic temple had once stood, and where the water flowing from the holy spring nourished the roots of a sacred Bay Laurel tree, from which the oracle would consume the leaves to bring about prophetic visions. Pictured below, Temple of Apollo ornamentation on display at the Istanbul Archeological Museum.
Once outside the passageway and turned back toward the front of the temple, the grand staircase pictured below leads up to the central door of the structure. This staircase served the purpose of seating as well, so that attendees could observe ceremonies that took place within the court.
Situated centrally at the top of the staircase, a step with a fine relief of a hunting scene, palmettes, and lion paw legs makes the entrance more hospitable (pictured below).
Now at the top of the staircase, we can view the extent of the courtyard. The course of construction prior to the building of the massive Hellenistic structure can be seen still now thanks to excavation and preservation work.
Follow the reading and points of interest in the description and illustration below in order to get a better understanding of the space.
Pilaster capitals that once sat atop the 27 square columns that surround the courtyard are on display below their presumptive spires. Again it must be commented on, that the relief work on the structural members leave the observer in awe (pictured below).
The pilaster capitals pictured below are decorated with Griffins, palmettes, lotus flowers, and a laurel leaf pattern.
They also are in the Ionic style, with their highly decorated scrolls wrapping up the furled sides.
Pictured below, a row of pilaster capitals can be seen sitting below the columns they once topped.
There are also numerous dedicatory inscriptions within the courtyard, as these would thank the god Apollo for a beneficial prophecy and/or result (pictured below).
Now, with a clear view of the sacred courtyard as seen from the back to the front, we can see the square columns that ring the enclosure, the grand staircase that climbs to the front of the temple, and the two side entrances at either side of the staircase that also lead to the stylobate.
Pictured below, in the lower left of the back wall of the enclosure, there is this curiously shaped subterranean tunnel with a purpose, though I have yet to discover what that purpose is.
It may have been for drainage, or, may have been a conduit for water to the newly discovered Theater complex just beyond the sanctuary in this direction.
Following the conversion of Rome to Christianity, the sanctuary was converted to serve a new god, and further, with separation of the Western and Eastern churches, the Byzantines built a church within the courtyard.
Now exiting the the courtyard via one the right side entrance way (only, the right entrance way exits onto the stylobate within the cella, pictured above), we are now ready to once more view the Temple of Apollo from the road that circumnavigates the sanctuary (pictured below).
The photo below was taken during my first visit to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma in 2005. I stayed at the only pansiyon overlooking the ruins, where the window opened out directly over the structure. However, as Medusa would command our unfortunate circumstances, we ended up spraying our bed and ourselves with mosquito repellent in hopes that it would keep the fleas in the bed at bay. The lovely dogs must have used the bed for a nice nap prior to our arrival.
*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)
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