Called Didim in Turkish, this was the site of a stupendous temple to Apollo, occupied by an oracle as important as the one at Delphi. The ruins you see today belong to a temple started in the late 4th century. This replaced the original temple, which was destroyed in 494 BC by the Persians, and a later construction which was completed under Alexander the Great.
The Temple of Apollo was never finished, though its oracle and priests were hard at work until, after 1400 years of soothsaying, Christianity became the state religion of the Byzantines and brought an end to pagan practices.
Ancient Didyma was never a real town. Only the priests who specialised in oracular temple management lived here. Originally from Delphi, they had a pretty cushy life, sitting on the considerable temple treasure.
When you approach Didyma today, you come into the town of Yen i hisar, which has grown phenomenally in the last few years to engulf both Altınkum, the beach to the south, and Didim, formerly the Ottoman-Greek town of Yeronda. It's a popular place with tour groups, and carpet shops gush forth touts at the approach of each new bus.
Temple of Apollon, Apollon Temple
Didyma Claros Apollon Temple
The temple porch held 120 riuge columns with richly carved bases vaguely reminiscent of Luxor in Egypt. Behind the porch is a great doonvay where oracular poems were written and presented to petitioners. Beyond the doonvay is the cella (court), where the oracle sat and prophesied after drinking from the sacred spring. We can only speculate on what that water contained to make the prophesies possible. The cella is reached today by covered ramps on both sides of the porch.
Didyma Hotels, Didyma House (Places to Stay & Eat)
There are two good pensions beside the temple. The 10 room Oracle Pension (256-811 0270) is perched above the temple precinct to the south, with close-up views of the marble pile.
Just around the corner from the temple, on the Altınkum road, Medusa House (256-813 4491) is a pretty restored stone village house with lovely gardens. Inviting rooms cost US$40 a double, breakfast included. Al-though it's only steps from the temple, it has no temple view and noise from the road could be annoying.
The vast restaurants across the road from the temple entrance are geared up for the tourist trade, with prices to match.
Altınkum Beach, Altinkum Loves
About 4km south of Didyma through the town of Yenihisar is Altınkum (Golden Sand) Beach, a resort visited mostly by Turkish families who patronise a typical assortment of restaurants, pensions and hotels rated from no stars to three stars. Most accommodation - and especially the cheapest - is booked solid in summer, and the sand is so strewn with cigarette butts that you hesitate to walk on it. At a pinch, go west from the access road and look at the pensions a block inland from the beach. A berter plan is to forget Altınkum unless you come during the low season.
If you start early in the morning from Kuşadası or Selçuk, you can get to Priene, Miletus and Didyma by dolmuş and return to your base at night. If you have a car, you can see ali three sites, have a swim and be back by mid-afternoon.
Priene and Miletus (Turkey)
Priene Athena, Grek Priene
Ephesus may be the creme-de-la-creme of the Aegean archaeological sites but south of Kuşadası are the ruins of three other very ancient and important settlements well worth a day trip. Priene occupies a dramatic position overlooking the plain of the River Menderes (formerly Meander); Miletus preserves a great theatre; and Didyma's Temple of Apollo is among the world's
most impressive religious structures. If you find the coach parties at Ephesus bothersome, you will enjoy exploring these less popular sites all the more. Beyond Didyma is Altınkum Beach, good for an after-ruins swim off season but usually festooned with cigarette butts.
Priene was important around 300 BC when the League of Ionian Cities held congresses and festivals here. Othenvise, it was smaller and less important than nearby Miletus, which means that its Hellenistic buildings were not buried by Roman buildings.
Priene was a planned town, with its streets laid out in a grid, a system which originated in Miletus. Of the buildings which remain, the bouleuterion (city council meeting place) is in very good condition. The five standing columns of the Temple of Athena, designed by Pythius of Halicarnassus and looked upon as the epitome of an Ionian temple, form Priene's most familiar land-mark; the view from here is superb. Take a look at the theatre with its finely carved front seats for VIPs, the ruins of a Byzantine church, the gymnasium and stadium.
Although the ruins are good there's a strong chance you'll remember Priene's magnificent setting the most, with steep Mt Mykale rising behind it, and the broad flood plain of the River Menderes spread out at its feet.
Priene is open from 8 am to 7.30 pm daily in summer (from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm in winter).
The well-signed Priene Pension (256-547 1725) offers pleasant pine-ceilinged rooms set around a rose and orange tree garden. A twin room with breakfast costs US$25, or you can camp for US$10.
Near the site entrance is a shady rest spot with water cascading from an old aqueduct next to the Şelale Restaurant, where you can get a cool drink or hot tea, make a telephone call or have a meal. A teahouse opposite competes fiercely with the Şelale for the drinks traffic. There are several smaller, cheaper restaurants as well.
Miletus Turkey (Thales Of Miletus)
Miletus is 22km south of Priene. Its Creat Theatre rises to greet you as you approach the flood plain's southern boundary and turn left (east), riding through swampy cotton fields to reach the site. It's the most significant reminder of a once-grand city, which was an important commercial and governmental centre from about 700 BC to 700 AD. After that time the harbour filled vvith silt, and Miletus' commerce dwindled. The 15,000-seat theatre was originally a Hellenistic building, but the Romans reconstructed it extensively during the 1st century. It's stili in good condition and exciting to explore.
Climb to the top of the theatre where the ramparts of a later Byzantine castle provide a viewing platform for several groups of ruins scattered around. Look left and you'll see what remains of the harbour, called Lion Bay for the stone statues of lions which guarded it. Look right and you'll see the stadium; the northern, vvestern and southern agoras; the vast Baths of Faustina, constructed on the order of Emperor Marcus Aurelius' wife; and a bouleuterion between the northern and southern agoras. Some of the site is underwater for much of the year and although that makes it hard to walk around, it also makes it even more picturesque. Note that the northern gateway to the southern agora is now one of the prized exhibits in Berlin's Pergamum Museum.
To the south of the main ruins is the İlyas Bey Camii (1404), dating from a period after the Seljuks but before the Ottomans when this region was ruled by the Turkish emirs of Menteşe. The doonvay and mihrab are well worth noticing, and you'll probably have this neglected corner of Miletus to yourself.
The site is open from 8 am to 7.30 pm in summer (to 5.30 pm in winter) The Milet Müzesi (Miletus Museum), about 1 km south of the theatre, is open from 8.30 am to 12.30 pm, and 1.30 to 5.30 pm and costs US$3, but it's hardly worth it. Across the road from the Great Theatre are a couple of small snack bars where you can get sandwiches and drinks.
A Seljuk caravanserai, 100 m south of the ticket booth, has been restored and converted to shops, although it's been unoccupied for so long one wonders whether any shop-keepers will ever move in now.