Tourism gate-crashing culture through the backdoor

Photo of the surrounding area of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma taken in the late 60's/early 70's. The German built wall from 1906 and the mosque remain the same, but those buildings to the right have long gone. So much for authentic 'preservation'
Photo of the surrounding area of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma taken in the late 60's/early 70's. The German built wall from 1906 and the mosque remain the same, but those buildings to the right have long gone. So much for authentic 'preservation'

Text by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.

An article appeared in the Didim press a short while back, where the title rather intrigued me in respect that it suggested that the Temple of Apollo, at the very least, would be afforded some defence against the rampant exploitation of mass tourism.

Though, after absorbing the content, I was left utterly deflated in any lingering hope that those whom purport to care and tend to the protection of this site have any altruistic motivations whatsoever.

Bite the hand that feeds you

Entitled “Apollo cultural heritage should be protected”, was an outline of which Osman Günaydın, president of the Didim Cultural Heritage Preservation Association, possesses as a vision for the area around the Temple of Apollo and the Sacred Road.

Admirable, I murmured to myself; as I sat down to study his points of issue. Though his points were somewhat grounded firmly within the tourism element of appealing to visitors (with little or no interest in our collective past, save for an opportunistic photo-snap) with the aim of generating fiscal returns, not the cultural nor historic intentions which motivate myself and many other like-minded people.

For an association which includes ‘Preservation’ within its title Mr. Günaydın appears to suggest that there is some urgent need to attend to the buildings close to a state of collapse, including garden walls, and, ludicrously, an improvement into the condition of the roads which wind around the temple.

A more recent photo of the surrounding area of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma taken from almost the same angle
A more recent photo of the surrounding area of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma taken from almost the same angle

We need less traffic to ease the pressure and pollution caused by the volume of cars, motorbikes, tractors, delivery vehicles and those infuriating ‘quad-bikes’ which infest the area during those nauseating months when the hedonists are in town.

And that is precisely what this ludicrously grandiose sounding association is attempting to implement, an infrastructure akin to another tourist motivated village called Şirince which has nothing of significant interest, save for a couple of ill-treated Byzantine churches.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Günaydın that the entire archaeological site of ancient Didyma, for that is what the surrounding village is, remains in a dire state of repair in almost every place that one walks, if one can evade the cascade of traffic to actually walk. There are reasons for that; namely the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (siding with Culture this at the time) instated a protected zone around the Temple during the 1970s, and has enlarged this protected area on two further occasions, rejecting any renovations within the old and crumbling village. An action I vigorously applaud.

Though, wily village people (the world over) have this knack of deliberately twisting or blatantly and unashamedly misinterpreting such dictums delivered from above. They think singularly as ‘Me’, and never the greater good. “This is our village. This is the house where I was born”... or any such other nonsensical diatribes which are ingrained with self-interest. Throw them enough money, and they would ‘bite your hand off’.

The devastating earthquake

Yes, the ravages of time have not been kind to the buildings and garden walls of Yoran, as the village was once called, though much, so much, of the devastation was caused by the earthquake of 1955. This substantial quake prompted the Government to intervene by rapidly building accommodation in what is now an area named Yenihisar.

Note that the three remaining Graeco-Roman columns did not waiver nor fall within this quake that destroyed so much, as the ancients were superior builders to the latter inhabitants of this evermore desolate village, probably ostensibly consisting of a smattering of bucolic farmers.

Thus, the 1955 population whom survived did have accommodation in which to reside, but, possibly understandably, gradually these people returned to rebuild their ‘original’ homes which they occupied after the Exchange of Populations with Greece between 1923-24. I can appreciate the logic of needing to be nearer the land that they then worked.

Though, this farmland is now a concrete jungle of villas and apartment holiday homes bereft of both a personality and a soul. The modern Didymians have become famously affluent on their ancestors' land gift from the Government of Türkiye. Though they, and ‘they’ are few, are in the positions which influence, that continues to create an obstacle to the understanding of archaeological developments here within this unique historic site. How much money does one wish to accrue?

This resettlement after the earthquake rather perturbed the archaeologists, as they would have imagined that after the 1955 quake they could have had a ‘blank canvas’ to work upon. Then suddenly these surviving stragglers arrived claiming back their land, and it was their land officially, as I inferred above, given to them free of charge by the Turkish Government upon their arrival from Greece, mainly from Kavala and Thessaloniki.

Finds aplenty, there must be more

We must remember that this old village was built upon a Graeco-Roman site of modest size, for it was predominantly used only during the annual Didymian Festival, though building work upon the Temple was undoubtedly continuing apace (it was never completed), so one must imagine a workforce of some considerable size to be incumbent. This appears to be confirmed by pottery shards.

Therefore, the citizens of Miletus, walking along the Sacred Road which connects the city to the Temple complex, would have required places to stay throughout the duration of festivities, shops and restaurants would be required to feed the attendees, drinking houses available aplenty, baths in which to scrub the dust of summer off of sweating torsos and a place where to be entertained; really, not that different to the holiday hordes whom flocculate here each year.

Sacred Road with (reconstructed) shops to the left
Sacred Road with (reconstructed) shops to the left

The Temple of Apollo does not stand forlornly alone, and the archaeologists have found much of what I described above over the years. A Roman Bath complex stands to the west of the Sacred Road (if we were allowed to enter this area, at this moment we are not) lying just behind a concourse of shops at the conclusion of the road. In 2012, a theatre was rediscovered towards the south of the Temple, a Hellenistic foundation, measuring at an impressive 12 x 11 metres in size, was unveiled a couple of years later and is currently believed to be a monumental gateway perched upon a hill overlooking the Temple.

Remains of the Roman Baths in Didyma
Remains of the Roman Baths in Didyma

And lastly, but definitely not least, a second temple residing just behind the present day mosque was excitedly unearthed between 2013 and 2014. There is no solid evidence as to the deity to whom this temple was dedicated, but it is alluring to believe that it was to Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister. Didyma in ancient Greek translates as “twin”.

Foundation of the Temple of Artemis (?) in Didyma
Foundation of the Temple of Artemis (?) in Didyma

Evidence warns of a lack of conviction

Therefore, with all due respect to Mr. Günaydın, if you wish to preserve the integrity of this site you should be concerned with what we have not unearthed as yet, that still remains awaiting rediscovery. That is the cultural heritage of this site, not some crumbling peasant housing.

At the last count I recorded 18 cafés, bars or coffee-houses encircling the Temple, that is not preservation, that is exploitation of a precious ancient site. Tourism gate-crashing culture through the backdoor.

I am merely surmising that there is an affront upon the unique history of this eminently important historical site by dirtying its grandeur with an abject preference to commercial tourism. And how many times must I report upon so many woeful examples to illustrate this pertinent point?