Didyma, on the west coast of Turkey, was an important sacred site in the ancient Greek world. Its famous oracle and Temple of Apollo attracted crowds of pilgrims and was second in importance only to Delphi. Today, the temple's magnificent ruins still attract thousands of visitors - Didyma is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. The modern name of the town is Didim.
History of Didyma
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 Apolloat Didyma, also known as the Didymaion, has a long history. Pausanias (c. 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 Branchids, a priestly caste named after Branchus, a favourite youth of Apollo. Three prose oracles and one dedication survive from this period.
The original temple was destroyed by Darius I of Persia in 494 BC, who looted many of the statues and its vast treasury built up by the generous gifts of Croesus, King of Lydia. The Branchids were exiled to Sogdiana.
After Alexander the Great conquered Miletus in 334 BC, the oracle of Apollo at Didyma was resanctified and quickly regained its importance. 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 ancient times, pilgrims walked 12 miles (20 km) along the Sacred Way from Miletus to the sanctuary at Didyma 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'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 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.
What to See at Didyma
The design of the Temple of Apollo was influenced by the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Temple of Hera at Samos, as it was designed by the renowned architects who worked on all of these temples, Paionius of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus.
Originally, 122 enormous Ionic columns surrounded the temple; today only three remain intact. Dating from the 2nd century BC, the columns are 60 feet tall (the height of a six-story building) and have a diameter of 6 feet 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 90 feet high and approached by 14 steps. The cella (roofed chamber) has two Ionic columns supporting the roof and opens 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 held the cult statue and the sacred spring. This is where the priestess of Apollo uttered her oracles (see above for procedure).
Quick Facts on Didyma
|Categories:||temples; city ruins; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||37.384905° N, 27.256331° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Didyma|
- "Didyma," in Simon Price and Emily Kearns, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford UP, 2003), pp. 164-65.
- Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service - "Didyma"
- Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford UP, 2003), p. 253.
- Michael Counsell, Every Pilgrim's Guide to the Journeys of the Apostles (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2002), p. 152.
- Reviews of Didyma - TripAdvisor traveler reviews of Didyma
- Ancient Oracles - annotated collection of links and online resources on Didyma
- Perseus Site Catalog - lots of scholarly information with plans and photos of Didyma
- BiblePlaces.com - five photos with summary of Didyma's site and biblical connections
- Photos of Didyma - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Didyma, Turkey
Below is a location map and aerial view of Didyma. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.