Temple of Apollo in Didyme, Turkey

In addition to the travel stories, Peter personally leads some of our trips to Turkey every year.

This archaeological travel article about Didyma in Turkey was first published in:
Meet the philosophers of Ancient Greece: Everything you always wanted to know about Greek philosophy without knowing who to ask.
Ed. Patricia F. O’Grady, Ashgate Publishing 2005.

The memory of the joy that this place has given me will not be easy to erase. The pillars … are so deliciously thin, the marble mass is so large and noble that it is impossible to preserve greater beauty and greater majesty in ruins.
Richard Chandler goes to Asia Minor in 1764

The frame

Monument of enormous dimensions and dimensions, the Temple of Didyma competes for the most impressive part of the Turkish west coast. It is not a sweet and graceful sanctuary that quietly reflects the glory of the past, but cries loudly for its power and prestige. Under the high pillars or dark vaults of the deepest sanctuary, you can feel the power and influence of the ancient gods.

An old voice

At its peak as a famous oracle in Delphi, the prophetess of Apollo in Didyma was visited by pilgrims from the Greek world. The oldest oracular answers are 2,600 years old. An inscription answers the question of whether it is right to engage in piracy – God’s answer “It is right to do as your fathers do.” The site itself is even older and is called Anatolian. Even before the Greeks settled here, the place was sacred with its laurels and sacred spring.

The holy way

I visited Didyma for the first time as I was walking in Turkey on the trail of Alexander the Great. From Ancient Miletus we went to the mountains in search of the sacred path that connected the city with the paved temples of Emperor Trajan cad100. This is not for sensitive souls, but if you have time, fitness and water, ask a villager from Akkoy if he will take you to Didyma on the old way (eski patika). The statues and monuments that once marked the route have disappeared (some are preserved in the British Museum), but you can still choose the path of the procession and the resting places of the pilgrims.

If you can not cope with an endurance event, most of the sacred route is easier to master, as recently discovered by German archaeologists north of the temple. In addition to the old bathrooms and shops, you will find a magnificent boulevard made up of huge white panels gleaming in the Mediterranean light. Here you can follow in the footsteps of the elders, pilgrims seeking the advice of Apollo or tourists who go to the great festival of Didymeia, which takes place every four years.

Tourists – old and modern

The modern street is lined with souvenir shops and souvenir shops, but do not be discouraged. Little has changed. Two thousand years ago, travelers would have accepted the challenge of local leaders, the exegetes “explainers” who took them for payment, and the jeweler with their Apollo pots or miniature temples – money for the rich – terra cotta for the masses.

“The mighty ruins are as they are, like icebergs in ruins” as they originally fell. “Sir Charles Newton, 1863


A few centuries ago, the temple was almost invisible. It was covered with a heap of rubble after an earthquake. Now the temple is completely uncovered. Large Ionian capitals with swirling volutes are scattered. Huge jellyfish heads, decorated with an architrave on the pillars, sit on the floor.

The festival of Didymeia

Go west where there is a collapsed column whose segments look like giant dominoes. Imagine that the other 119 pillars surrounding the temple return to Heaven – a huge sacred grove that has been turned into stone. When you come back from the south side, imagine the festival, the songs of the poets in the air and the tracks next to you, full of spectators watching the athletes in the stadium. No matter how the oracle works, it remains unclear:

The oracle in action

The … singer of the prophecies is filled with divine splendor, either by holding a trunk … initially surrendered by a god or sitting on an axon (tripod), predicting or choking his feet … or breathing water, she receives the god. Iamblichus of Mysteriis 3.11

Persian destruction

Their prophecies were written, there was even a place for their transcription, the “Chresmography”, but it is not clear where and where the petitions eagerly awaited answers. We know that Apollo’s spokesman was sometimes silent. 2500 years ago, Didyma was plundered and plundered, either by the Persian king Darius, who followed the uprising of the region in 494, or by Xerxes after the invasion of Greece in 479.

The gills

The priests who administered the temple, called the Branchidae (shepherd, seduced by Apollo and endowed with the power of prophecy), voluntarily returned the treasures, including the bronze statue of Apollo. His sacrilege was notorious in antiquity. They were resettled by the Persian king in Central Asia and their descendants were 329 BC. Discovered by Alexander the Great in northern Afghanistan. Because he had betrayed their ancestors, he killed all the men and sold the rest in slavery.

In the holy of holies

Then cross the porch and choose the carved pillars in the most breathtaking designs, a property that is almost unique in the Greek world. Through one of the dark passages you enter the heart of the temple, his cella. Strabo reports that it was impossible to cover him. Instead, it was left open, a courtyard of laurel trees, the sacred tree of Apollo, with a sanctuary that housed the image and sacred source of the god.

Alexander the Great

After 150 years of silence, the source found its magic and the oracle spoke when Alexander the Great released the region of Persian rule. The prophetess told Alexander “born of Zeus” and prophesied his triumph over Persia. Seleucus, one of his successors, brought back the stolen Apollo statue from Persia and began rebuilding the temple that you see today.

Unfinished work

For nearly 700 years, it remained a construction site where 8 architects and 20 construction companies worked simultaneously. But this great miracle has never ended. Next to chiselled masonry, there are protruding tubers labeled with Greek letters referring to the workers who worked on a block but never dressed it smoothly. Still unfinished, it was considered in ancient times as one of the largest of all Greek temples. This is undoubtedly one of the most important.

The old gods forbidden

The Didymas end in 385 AD. With the Edict of Theodosius:

“No mortal man will have the insolence to arouse futile hopes by examining guts, or (even worse) trying to learn the future by questioning the oracles.”

The oracle of Apollo was silenced forever and a Christian church was erected in the cella of the temple.

Visit Didyma

Why do not you visit Didyma yourself? One of our experienced guides will personally guide you through the ancient temple on one of our guided tours exploring this region in southwestern Turkey.

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