Text by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia. All photos by Voices Newspaper, reprinted with their permission.
It may not be particularly prudent to mention the glaringly obvious, but Türkiye’s economic woes continue to mount to the point of being seismic. This certainly is not my sphere of understanding, and I shall leave discussion to those better to do so. Though the ramifications do intrude upon my little corner of interest, namely the protection of our shared human past.
As in all economic meltdowns, certain areas are identified as being surplus to immediate requirement. Corners are abrasively cut to less than desirable levels. I feel, in my field, that this is indicative of the gradual shift away from academic enquiry and a move towards financial opportunists.
Concern for the future in the now
Therefore, imagine my disdain when I read in a recent column within a local English language newspaper, ‘Voices’, of two clearly educated young adults, Uğur Bayrak, a town planner, and Başak Kamacı Budak, an art historian, espousing about essentially “restoring” the old Greek village surrounding the Temple of Apollo in Didyma. Thus entombing the lavish possibility of revealing yet more antiquities of this ancient site. It is only a matter of time before these proposed ‘follies’ materialise. For the economic malaise is chronic. Their arguments were eloquent, though ultimately shallow.
Their proposal is undoubtedly an echo of what I have heard from too many of the foreign visitors and even foreign residents frequenting this fabulously relevant, rich historic and ultimately hugely important site. That many locals would wish the area to reflect echoes of something akin to a quaint and compliant village veering towards ‘pretty’, which feeds their requirement of them being recipients of a kowtowing condescension. It appears that some locals also possess this rather ‘twee’ attitude, albeit it of a rather different hue.
Their motivation emanates from a dual objective, which either would pronounce the sad demise of the historicity of this long fabled site. And both are selfish and vacuous; familial ties and, more pertinently given the current economic climate, an urgent avarice. Both lacking depth in the context of our inquisitive enquiries into the development of the subtle intricacies in the development of our species. The delicate nuances, the shaping of modes of thought, engineering and design innovations, understanding the mapping of the stars, the concept of organising a coherent society, I could continue ad infinitum, as this progression infiltrates into so many aspects of ancient life.
Once again, such proposals, from a fiscal minded contingent, are pushing the same mantra of increasing commercial activity via mass tourism. Uğur Bayrak also explicitly mentioned the municipality’s staging of the (out of context) festivals which I have ridiculed with a passion since their misplaced inception. A Vegan Festival (just a few metres from where the Apollon Temple’s Altar once sacrificed a hecatomb, one hundred, oxen and/or sheep), a Jewellery Festival, containing absolute tat, and a weirdly entitled the ‘World Loves Didim’, where the foreign residents (immigrants, it is the same thing) of different nations parade in their national costumes and have stalls to sell their local cuisine.
This type of ‘fun in the sun’ tourism lacks the gravity of culture associated with ancient artefacts, in this case Graeco-Roman which reside patiently awaiting excavation, merely a metre or so beneath our feet.
Joining the cash-cow exploitation
It appears preposterous to resurrect yet another old, rather boring intellectually, Greek village when there is a greater allure so close to the touch. Yes, it is a well-known dictum that “archaeology destroys”, and indeed it does, but that is why this discipline is such a slow process, for every level is meticulously recorded. Don’t we already have enough resurrected old Greek villages, dating from the same period upon our doorstep; Doğanbey, resting within the mountains close to Priene, and the suffocating commercial ‘tourist trap’ of Şirince, usually a part of an Ephesus whirlwind tour?
Do we truly require another, in preference to a cultural icon, which was considered for inclusion upon the “7 Wonders of the World” lists (there were many different lists)? Başak Kamacı should realise that as an Art Historian and that one of her family's restaurants, the excellent Kavala, overlooks the Sacred Road and the Roman Baths here within Didim. Cultural tourism please, not a vacuously bleak landscape of endless kitsch for the untutored. So much of this site has been barely scratched and yet this naïve proposal urges fools to avert their eyes from the true and long-lasting wealth such grandeur could command over short-term financial gratification.
For those of you who have followed my columns shall know how much more the German archaeologists have unveiled, even in recent years. Do you wish to bury it in favour of an insipid ‘toy-town’ holiday attraction?
Too many personal agendas are being sought herein. And I doubt their sincerity and veracity.