Text and photos by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.
My trustworthy observers were once again active last week within the vicinity of the Temple of Apollo. They reported that though the Sacred Road continues to be securely locked and bolted along its closest juncture to the temple a surprising touch of good fortune revealed itself when driving from Mavişehir into the centre of Didyma village (also known locally as Hisar or Yoran).
Officially open or oversight?
Driving from that direction, just prior to reaching the unmistakable arch of the Roman Baths, the barbed wire fence which once barred access to the Sacred Road has been removed. There is, at present, an obliging entrance to the ancient road across a flat area of meadow, which, I believe, to have been the site of a Roman gymnasium some 2,000 years past. No obstacle bars one’s way.
Whether this is by design in a concerted, and long-overdue, liberation of the Sacred Road which returns this area into the public domain or a temporary but fortuitous accident I have no idea.
I have not read anything in the local press nor been informed by any official dictates, though fully intend to utilize the opportunity afforded to me to, once again, tread the stones laid by the Roman legions on the command of Emperor Trajan during 101 CE.
What one will immediately notice is that the construction of the road does not conform to the standard Roman plan of being straight as an arrow, but follows the original Greek design which abruptly curves to the left in a dog-leg shape. This was to facilitate the transition of the road to sweep in a graceful curve towards the vicinity of the façade of the Temple. Trajan obviously had the sensitivity to honour the original tradition of this site, and its aesthetic splendour.
The ancient road runs beneath the current thoroughfare, though when the archaeologists excavated they found that the ancient road had been conclusively ‘robbed out’. I continue to maintain that evidence of the ancient road could, conceivably, still be found beneath the building which was once the old Greek village hospital, now merely partially standing as a forlorn tumbled down ruin. Though apathy in this town is a starvation diet one becomes accustomed to.
The best road in town?
The construction of the concluding Didyma section of the road was conceived in the traditional Roman mode. A ditch was dug and levelled; this was then partially filled with sand, followed by a layer of small stones which grew ever larger as the height of the road grew, until finally the finished layer of ‘dressed’ stone was laid. They featured, as the one here in Didim does also, a slight camber for drainage of rainwater which funnelled into gutters either side of the paved road, which then in turn were fed into drainage ditches.
Only the conclusion of the Sacred Road was paved in this way, approximately the final 250 metres. Much of the rest, originating at the Delphinion in Miletus and running over the hills and meadows, was merely a flattened earthen path. Though at the intermittent stopping places where religious rites were performed along the route there is evidence of some metalled road where stone structures stood at these sites.
Given the fevered rush of building new roads in the rapidly growing modern town, which look wonderful during the summer when the tourist visitors are here, but are woefully inadequate when the winter rains transform them into rivers and lakes, I believe there is some justification for forwarding the Sacred Road as the ‘best in Didim’.
Curiously, a good proportion of the road has always been accessible to the public, indeed, each May the Didim Rambling Club trek over the hills and through the valleys, I believe from Akköy to Mavişehir. From Akköy to the Milesian beginning of the Sacred Road is predominantly private land, usually farmland, and from my observations quite featureless.
The conclusion at Didyma was open to the public from when I first visited, and then lived here, but in, I think, 2010/11 the German archaeologists built the wall that stands to this day preventing any admission (unless you feel able to scale this wall). One of the archaeologists informed me that this wall construction was at the behest of the local/regional authorities, though whenever I have enquired one group always blames the other. One gets used to that here.
Though, a word of warning, for though this area of land appears to be just a vacant meadow it assuredly does belong to someone. The owner may well take umbrage if hoards of visitors keep traipsing across his/her field, so I would counsel some forbearance and toleration.
I visited the meadow yesterday, unfortunately it appears that the land is certainly not a grassy meadow; it is a field of growing lentils according to my rural friend, maybe I shouldn’t have followed my city-boy instincts of thinking that everything green must be grass?
I wouldn’t wish to be caught hiking upon the farmer’s plants. Though there is an olive grove in the next field, I cannot see any damage being caused by inquisitive history enthusiasts there. But...
Alternatively, Umut Tuncer, the head of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for Aydın District, could simply order the gates to be unlocked.
But, to quote Voltaire, “Common sense is not so common”.