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 for advice. It is definitely worth an hour of your time.
Didyma is generally visited by those part of a tour – either one from Kusadasi (a cruise port) or those who are doing the “three 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 (local buses). When I went, it was the last stop on the day trip that already saw Priene and Miletus. The downside to Didyma is that when you’re at the temple, you can see restaurants and pensions surrounding you. Not exactly conducive to mental time travelling. The flip side, however, is that if you are eating at a nearby restaurant or staying at a pension, the Temple of Apollo is your view!
Didyma was an ancient Greek sanctuary with a temple that housed oracles. 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 had the next greatest oracle in the Greek world. The sanctuary at Didyma was run by a priestly caste who 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.
In 493 BC, 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. Also around this time, the new and current temple was started to be built. It was never completed. If it had been, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma would have been the largest temple in the Hellenic world.
The Temple of Apollo 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 leads up to a stage.