The ruins of ancient Didyma are located at a short distance to the modern Didim in Aydin Province of Turkey, whose name is derived from Didyma's. It contained a temple and oracle of Apollo (didymoi in Greek), known as the Didymaion. Next to Delphi, Didyma was the most renowned oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.
Didyma was the largest and most significant sanctuary on the territory of the great classical city Miletus. In the ancient time, the pilgrims walked 20 km along the Sacred Way from Miletus to the sanctuary at Didyma. Along the way were the ritual waystations, and statues of members of the Branchidae family (the line of priests of Didyma), male and female, as well as animal figures. People came here to participate in the annual spring festival, the Didymeia. The festival became Panhellenic in the beginning of the 2nd century BC.
The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma rivaled that of Delphi; pilgrims flocked to Didyma not only to worship Apollo and attend the festival, but also to find answers about their future. Famous persons known to have visited Didyma's Temple of Apollo include Alexander the Great's generals Lysimachus and Seleucus I, and the Roman emperors Augustus and Trajan.
A strict ritual surrounded the giving of oracles. Oracles could only be given on a limited number of days; the absolute minimum was every four days, but the interval was often much longer, perhaps many months. The session began with a three-day fast by the priestess, during which time she resided in the adyton (sacred precinct).
On the appointed day, the priestess would take a ritual bath and enter the naiskos (inner chapel). Meanwhile, those who wished to consult the oracle sacrificed outside and choruses sang hymns to the gods.
The priestess sat on an axle suspended over the sacred spring and, when a question was asked of her, she would dip her foot or her dress into the spring before giving her answer. The oracular responses were probably given in prose, which were then turned into verse by the priests or prophets, who were appointed by Miletus.
Didyma means twin and refers to the twins Apollo and Artemis, who were born to Zeus and Leto. The Temple of Artemis was in the nearby city of Miletus, while the much more important Temple of Apollo was in Didyma.
The Temple of Apollo at Didyma has a long history. Pausanias (160 AD) said the Didymaion was constructed before Greek colonization (10th century BC), and some date it to the 2nd millennium BC. However, the earliest fragments of the temple found thus far date to the end of the 8th century BC. This Archaic temple was in the charge of the Branchidae, a priestly caste named after Branchus. Three prose oracles and one dedication survived from this period.
Until 494 BC Didyma's sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchidae, who claimed descent from a purely eponymous Branchos, a youth beloved of Apollo. The priestess, seated above the sacred spring, gave utterances that were interpreted by the Branchidae.
Both Herodotus and Pausanias dated the origins of the oracle at Didyma before the Ionian colonization of this coast.
The original temple was destroyed and burnt and the Branchidae were expelled and exiled to Sogdiana by Darius I of Persia in 494 BC, who carried away to Ecbatana the archaic bronze statue of Apollo, traditionally made by Canachus of Sicyon in the 6th century BC, looted many of the statues and its vast treasury built up by the generous gifts of Croesus, King of Lydia; the spring dried up, it was reported, and the archaic oracle was silenced.
After Alexander the Great conquered Miletus in 334 BC, the oracle of Apollo at Didyma was re-sanctified and quickly regained its importance. Callisthenes, a court historian of Alexander the Great, reported that the spring began once more to flow after Alexander passed through (during which time the oracle proclaimed him “the son of Zeus”). Thereafter Miletus administered the cult of Apollo, annually electing a prophet. In 313 BC, the Milesians began to build a new Hellenistic temple on the site of the earlier shrine, which they intended to be the largest in the Greek world. It is this temple that visitors see today.
Construction continued during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and portions were still under construction in the Roman period. It was never entirely completed. Modern experts believe the magnificent temple would have been one of the seven wonders of the ancient world had it been completed. Even incomplete, the temple is enormous and impressive; it is the third largest in the ancient world after those of Ephesus and Samos.
In 278 BC the sanctuary suffered under the raids of Gauls, but construction work on the temple was resumed. In 70 BC pirates sacked the sanctuary and work on the temple was terminated.
The sanctuary, however, continued to function and in 100 AD Trajan commissioned a new paved road to the sanctuary from Miletus. By the 3rd century AD Christianity had become well established in the Miletus area and the sanctuary at Didyma fell gradually into disuse.
In 262 AD the Apollonian Oracle temple was converted into a fortress against invading Goths and Saracens.
Didyma's fate was probably sealed in 303 AD, when an oracle advised the Emperor Diocletian to initiate his persecution of the Christian church. Constantine the Great, who was raised in the court of Diocletian and later converted to Christianity, closed the oracle and executed the priests.
In the 5th century AD, Emperor Theodosius I built a Christian basilica in the adyton (sacred precinct) of the temple at Didyma, which testifies to the site's religious importance. Indeed, a number of oracles have been found on inscriptions and in literary sources that postdate Constantine's closure.
The church and much of the temple stood until the 15th century, when a great earthquake reduced the temple to rubble. Excavations made between 1905 and 1930 revealed all of the incomplete Hellenistic temple and some carved pieces of the earlier temple and statues.
Temple of Apollo (Dydimaion).
The construction of the monumental temple began in the middle of the 6th century BC. It constituted along with the Temple of Artemis (Artemision) at Ephesus and the Temple of Hera at Samos (Heraion) at Samos, the biggest and most important Ionic temple of the archaic period and was designed by the renowned architects who worked on all of these temples, Paionius of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus. The sculptural decoration of the architectural fragments of the temple is of particular interest. The lower drums of the columns in the pronaos were decorated with relief figures presenting dancers, while mythological creatures and the apotropaic figure of Gorgo decorated the architrave of the temple.
The temple was dipteral and included a deep porch (pronaos) and an open-air cella. At the back of the cella there was a naiskos (small temple), where the cult statue of Apollo made by the sculptor Kanachos of Sikyon was displayed. At the east in front of the temple there was a circular altar, a fountain and two stoas. All the buildings are dated to the 6th century BC and served the needs of the sanctuary.
Originally, 122 enormous Ionic columns surrounded the temple; today only three remain intact. Dating from the 2nd century BC, the columns are 20 m tall (the height of a six-story building) and have a diameter of 2 m at the base. Even the stumps of columns that fell are impressive in size and display beautiful carvings at their base.
The temple as a whole was 27,5 m high and approached by 14 steps. The cella (roofed chamber) had two Ionic columns supporting the roof and opened on the north and south sides to small chambers containing staircases, which may have led to a terrace on the cella roof.
In the western end of the cella are three doors that lead to a great staircase to the adyton, to which only the priests and oracles had access. This sacred precinct was never roofed. Within the adyton is a small naiskos (chapel) that housed the cult statue and the sacred spring. This is where the priestess of Apollo uttered her oracles. The priestess would usually give only a few ambiguous words, most of which could have been interpreted in various ways.
Having fasted for three days in preparation and inspired by the chthonian powers of the sacred underground spring, the prophetess received the oracle of the god, but it is uncertain exactly how that message was conveyed. It may be that the antechamber was used as a chresmographeion and the oracle was pronounced from there by the prophet of the temple, or it may be that the cult statue was intended to be seen and petitioners were permitted to go down the passageways to the adyton. The oracle chamber also may have been another building altogether, where the prophecies, many of which survive, were rendered into verse and delivered in writing.
In the variety and complexity of its interior spaces, Didyma is unique. It is exceptional for another reason: in 1979, fine, barely visible lines were discovered incised on the high interior walls of the adyton. They are the actual blueprint of the temple, rendered in full-scale and precisely scratched into the surface of the marble to serve as a guide over the several lifetimes it would take to complete construction. They survive at the Didymaion because the temple never was finished and the walls of the cella court did not receive their final polishing. One set of inscribed lines at Didyma actually provides a scheme for laying out the entasis (the slight convex bulge of the middle column to make it appear straight) and so provides an example of how the missing scale drawing might have looked
Located on the right in the garden of the Temple of Apollo, the stone-carved head of Medusa is the very significant and picturesque symbol of Didyma. This giant Medusa head at Didyma was formerly part of a frieze on the architrave, possibly sculpted by Aphrodisias in the 2nd century AD.
According to the Greek mythology, Medusa is one of the three gorgons, the female monsters. The two other sisters are Stheno, and Euryale, all three, the daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. Only the snake –haired Medusa is mortal and has the power to turn onlookers to stone who are looking directly upon her. Therefore, the carvings of Medusa were commonly used in order to protect the important buildings and places from the evil eyes not only in Didyma, but also in Ephesus, - the Medusa head carved on the arches of the second floor in the Celsius Library and the questionable Medusa at the front façade of the Temple of Hadrian
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
♦ The Archaeological Museum of Izmir exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Roman and Roman artefacts recovered from area
excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…? Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more