Didyma is generally visited by those part of a tour – either one from Kusadasi (cruise port) or those who are doing the “3 sites in one day” tour. Other than that, to get to Didyma, you either must have a car at your disposal or have lots of time to spare to take a dolmus or three. When I went, it was the last stop on the day trip that already saw Priene and Miletus. Compared to those two sites, Didyma was more commercial (the Temple of Apollo is in the middle of a town) and was a bit busier. But again, since I was there during the ‘political situation’ it was relatively quiet. The downside to Didyma is that when you’re at the temple, you can see restaurants and pensions surrounding you. The flip side is that if you are eating at the restaurant, the Temple of Apollo is your view!
Didyma was an ancient Greek sanctuary with a temple (the Didymaion) and oracle of Apollo. In Greek, the word didyma means “twin”. This probably referred to the twins Artemis and Apollo. Artemis’ temple was in Miletus and the two temples had a “Sacred Way” (a path 17km long) linking them together. After the Oracle at Delphi, Didyma was the next greatest oracle in the Greek world. The sanctuary at Didyma was run by a priestly caste, a family called the Branchidae. Their claim to fame was that they were descendants of Branchos, a youth loved by Apollo. Apparently that was a great honour… Anyway, the Branchidae would interpret the words of the oracle as she sat above the sacred spring breathing in who knows what. Their interpretation was necessary since oracles were known to be rather…vague. The Branchidae had a monopoly on this service until 493 BC – this was when the Persian King, Darius I, burned down the temple when he took over the whole region. You may not have heard of Darius but you certainly have heard of his son – Xerxes…the ‘god-king’ in the historically accurate movie, 300.
When the temple burned, the sacred spring apparently dried up. It supposedly only started to flow once again when Alexander the Great re-captured Miletus from the Persians in 334 BC and reinstated Didyma’s oracle. Alex decided to introduce democracy to religion and decreed that the head priest would be elected annually. Also around this time, the new and current temple was started. It was never completed. If it had been completed, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma would have been the largest temple in the Hellenic world.
About 303 AD, an oracle advised Emperor Diocletian to go ahead with his plans to persecute Christians. It would be the worst persecution Christians had ever seen in the Roman era. Constantine the Great, when he became Emperor, ended the persecution at an official level and he also closed down the oracle and possibly executed the priests. In the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius had a Christian basilica built in the Temple of Apollo and it remained as a church until a 15th century earthquake destroyed everything.
The temple was built on a platform, above 14 steps. The whole thing, from top to bottom, was about 90 feet high. There were 120 columns arranged in rows, and each were over 64 feet tall. Today, only three columns are left standing. It was also a roofless temple, allowing sacred trees to be grown in the inner sanctum. Inside the inner sanctum at one end, there are the ruins of a naiskos (a little temple) that would have housed the cult statue of Apollo and the sacred spring would have flowed through it. At the other end of the inner sanctum, there is a wide flight of stairs that lead up to a stage.
When you go to Didyma, you will see the temple with its three standing columns, a forest of partial columns, a fun marble slide into the inner sanctum, many friezes, a giant staircase, and a couple Medusa heads that may have originally come from Aphrodisias. It will take you 15 minutes (if sick of ruins) to 45 minutes (if love ruins) to see what there is to see at Didyma. I recommend visiting Didyma as it is pretty neat to wander the temple and imagine what it would have been like to be an oracle or one of Alexander the Great’s generals coming to visit for advice. It is definitely worth an hour of your time.