Text and photos by Glenn Maffia
When visiting Didyma’s Temple of Apollo and its equally fascinating surroundings it is quite easy to get lost in the grandeur of the massive structure as a whole, while missing the delicate embellishments which give this place its unique architectural sound.
For make no mistake about it, these harmonies of proportion are music for the eyes. From before Phidias and Vitruvius through to Brunelleschi then Michelangelo to way beyond, these harmonies have always been in synchronisation with the human spirit within us all.
Humanity in stone
Within the Temple enclosure one can observe many statue plinths that are adorned with glittering flourishes of a decidedly human hand. Quite a common one is the additions of heart symbols that lend a warm emotion to the cold text. There are others with symmetrical designs which must have some meaning more than a merely decorative nature, though I have never located any literature on these curious designs.
Therefore, instead of solely looking up at the mightily impressive walls and columns of this seductive structure take a little time to, literally, look directly under your feet. You shall suddenly realise that you have been missing so much. Some things deliberately placed there as part of the overall decorative design, other things, such as the myriad of games in the Pronaos or the etched names inscribed on the steps of the southern side of Temple facing the stadium, a random human touch that breathes life into these ancient stones. One can connect on an almost personal level with our long departed kindred spirits.
Imbedded within the walls
All that, as I said, may be seen within the Temple enclosure, though there are many other captivating examples to be found when wandering along Hisar village’s back streets. It may look a little threatening though I can assure you that you are safe.
Try taking a look at the walls of some of the old houses and you may spot ancient pieces of architecture imbedded within those walls. Do not bother with the newly restored houses for they invariably use today’s modern materials unfortunately, which deprives the old village of its colour and nuances. To an artistically insensitive eye these new monstrosities may look prettily twee, though that is akin to comparing nightclub gyrating to ballet. ‘Popular Culture’ shall always remain poorly peripheral to true art.
In addition to the flat pieces of indented marble, an obvious sign that this was once part of a paved area (the indentations to prevent slipping in wet weather) and circular stones, a slice of what once was a column, one may see a garden inundated with ancient architecture for its embellishment.
This is not the quality architecture, nor sheer scale, of any remnant of the Temple, but rather the echoes of the many other buildings which once surrounded this magnificent shrine to Apollo.
One can see plenty of examples of Byzantine style architecture (one can find Roman also) from columns, or column fragments, and even wall plaques and decoration. These are in such abundance because the pagan Temple of Apollo was just too vast for the early Christians of the Byzantium hinterland to pull down and destroy. Therefore they built a number of Christian Chapels to encircle the pagan site, and actually erected a Basilica inside the Adyton (inner sanctum).
These remains of old chapels fell over the course of time and probably neglect but have found a reinvigorated life as garden ornaments and a ready-made source of stone to use in the construction of housing; why quarry new stone when there is plenty just lying around? Practicality has always been a solid utensil in the armoury of survival for people throughout the world. I wouldn’t ascribe that as being laziness, merely a lack of required awe and education.
No reason to negate
I doubt if much of this ancient debris outside of the Temple’s perimeter has ever been fully logged by the archaeologists, for there simply is so much of it, though that doesn’t have to negate our appreciation of it. The reason that any attempt to record these items is probably seen as futile is the small size of these pieces which enable them to be transported easily. Regretfully, few if any people would ever contemplate indicating where they once originated. This represents a significant problem in tracing our history accurately.