Text and photos by Glenn Maffia
Ancient Didyma rests upon the Aegean Coast of southwest Turkey merely 100km from the epicentre of the latest earthquake to cast its shadow of foreboding over this seismically volatile part of the world.
As an avid historian of the famous Temple of Apollo in Didyma, it will come as no surprise to know that I was early to the temple the day after the lethal 6.6 magnitude earthquake (Friday 30 October 2020) to inspect any damage that may have occurred to this unique structure of antiquity.
Obviously, my first reference was to confirm that the iconic columns continued to be in situ, and not condemned to be littering the surrounding ground as so many of their former adjoining partners now do so. No fear there, they continue to stand proud.
Convulsions of the past
The Temple of Apollo has withstood so many shuddering quakes throughout its history and it is testament to the engineering skill of the ancient Greeks and Romans that we are still privileged to be graced by this magnificent echo into our human past.
An Italian traveller, Ciriaco di Filippo aka Cyriacus di Ancona (1391-1452), reported that he witnessed the Temple in its near entirety during his visit in 1446, though by the end of that century another Italian traveller noted that it had now been reduced to rubble. By that I presume that he meant that most of the columns had fallen, though the stylobate, the platform on which the temple stands, was, and remains, remarkably intact. I can only postulate that the stylobate was merely buried from his view by the rubble of the columns and the fallen upper section of the adyton (inner sanctum) walls.
Even the 6.8 magnitude quake which shook the region (epicentre near to Soke) on 6 July 1955, which destroyed the old village surrounding the Temple, could not dislodge the three standing columns, whilst the stylobate appears quite impervious to any form of destruction.
This latest quake was of similar strength, though upon my walk around the periphery of the temple some of the dilapidated shells of buildings destroyed in the 1955 earthquake, to my astonishment, were still standing; in an almost arrogant disdain of all that nature could throw at them.
Though it is within close proximity to these stubborn shells of houses that I did find an inanimate victim to the latest shaking of the earth; a section of the perimeter wall erected by the Theodor Wiegand expedition during the early 1900’s. It is not a massive destruction, but I certainly wouldn’t want to have been walking past it when it toppled onto the public walkway adjacent to the wall.
This section, I felt, had always been a danger as the angle of inclination was markedly oblique. I recalled that the archaeologists had brought with them one digging season, perhaps eight years ago, an architect from Germany. I followed them with some interest. It is with complete clarity that I remember the archaeologists (and I know them all) stopping at this precise point and one of them indicating to the architect the precarious angle of the wall. A discussion entailed which I could not fathom, due to my lack of the German language, but I did catch one of the archaeologists having a beer nearby a little later. Naturally, I enquired about the nature of their conversation on this section of the perimeter wall.
It was relayed to me that this section was also of some concern to one of the archaeologists, but that this eminent German architect had blithely waved away this worry with a disdainful, “No problem, everything is fine”. I can only surmise, but possibly they do not receive too many 6.8 magnitude earthquakes in Germany.
A further perusal
A couple of days on from my initial perusal I undertook a further inspection of the interior of the site and I noticed, with some amusement, that an authority, probably Didim Council, had erected barriers situated approximately 2 metres from the standing columns. I could only wryly smile to myself on how people would be protected by this exclusion zone if one, or all, of the 12 metre high columns were to come crashing to the ground. Though, I am not to reason why.
I also observed that the water which has been flowing into the southeast section of the temple’s precinct from 2015/6, and increasing after the 6.4 magnitude earthquake of July 2017, appeared to be flowing with a greater vibrancy after this most recent convulsion, bending and splintering of the karst rock which constitutes the Milesian peninsula.
I shall duly relay my observations to the German Archaeological Institute, though for a number of months now they seem reticent to return my correspondence. It is almost as though they have erected their own exclusion zone.
Therefore, thankfully not any significant damage to the magnificent emblem which defines our town as a unique place upon this ever shifting, ever shaking planet.