Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Aydin Province, Turkey

The ruins of the monumental Temple of Apollo at Didyma are of an ancient Greek sanctuary of pilgrimage and worship in South-western Turkey. Didyma, in the Aydin province, is around 16 kilometres south of the ancient port city of Miletus and were linked by a sacred way. The remains of the Hellenistic temple that can be seen today are from the 4th century BC, however the history of the temple and Didim as a settlement dates back to the Neolithic times. It is believed that the site of the temple was considered sacred prior to the arrival of Greek settlers, built as it is on a natural spring. The first temple at Didyma was built in the late 8th century BC, it was renowned because of the oracle, who offered a form of divination, providing wise counsel and making prophetic predications about the future. From the 8th century until its destruction in 494 BC the sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchides, this family claimed direct descent from Branchus, who was the son of Smyrcus and a lover of the god Apollo. Branchus became a prophet after receiving these abilities from Apollo. While Smyrcus was giving birth to Branchus she had a vision of the sun entering her mouth, passing through her stomach and exiting her womb, hence the name Branchus as the sun had passed through her Bronchia (throat). The Branchidae would sit around a sacred spring over which a priestess was seated and give prophecies that were interpreted by the Branchides.

The destruction of this original sanctuary came under the orders of the Persian King Darius in 494 BC, and the bronze cult statue of Apollo was taken to Ecbatana in modern day Iran. It was said that the sacred spring stopped and the oracle was silenced. The ancient cities of Miletus and Ephesus were also sacked and looted but were both rebuilt in the aftermath however Didyma was the exception. It wasnt until 334 BC when Alexander the Great conquered Miletus that work began on rebuilding the temple, in 331 BC it was said that the waters of the spring began to flow as Alexander passed through Egypt. The Milesians decided to build one of the largest temples dedicated to Apollo in the Hellenic world. The temple of Apollo was surrounded by a double line of massive Ionic columns, from the Pronaos (the outer portico) two tunnels lead to the inner court (both still intact today) The inner court was the location of the oracle spring and the sacred laurel tree which stood beside it. There also stood a small temple known as naiskos, which contained a small cell that housed the image of Apollo that had been brought to Persia but returned by the Macedonian Greek General Seleucus I Nicator around 300 BC. During this period Alexander and the Greek kings Seleucus I and Seleucus II received oracles, and the sanctuary was under the influence of the Seleucids (from a Greek state in West Asia) who offered enormous donations to Apollo. In 277 BC the temple was looted by Galatians. After the Galatians the temple continued to receive large donations from the Kings of Bithynia in the 2nd century BC and the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt in the 1st century BC.

An annual festival was held at Didyma from at least as early as the 3rd century BC, these were known as the Didymeia. In the 2nd century BC they were made Panhellenic (open to all Greeks) but moved to a four year cycle. In the first half of the 1st century BC the festival was banned as Miletus had supported Mithridates in his war against the Romans. The sanctuary was looted by pirates in 67 BC, but in 63 BC the Didymeia were permitted again after the great Roman general Pompey had reorganised the eastern Roman Empire. Pompey was at one point the ally of Julius Caesar, later becoming his enemy. The Roman Emperor Caligula also tried to complete the huge temple but did not succeed. Emperor Trajan renewed the Sacred Way and his successor Hadrian, who visited Didyma in 129 AD, acted as Prophet, the highest office in the temple. The Emperor Commodus also further transformed the Didymeia festival and then dedicated it to the cult of the emperor, becaming known as the Commodeia. Under Theodosius I in the 4th century AD the temple was closed and thus ended the oracle. However it was used again at a later date as the seat of a bishop. Subsequently Justinian I renamed it Iustinianopolis and later during Byzantine times was renamed Hieronda. An earthquake destroyed the temple of Apollo in 1493 and the surrounded village was abandoned.

I must say the Temple of Apollo is a truly jaw dropping place to visit, knowing its history and being able to enter the inner court, a walk that at one time could only have been made by the highest priests is genuinely humbling.

GPS: 37.38513, 27.25654

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.