The town of Didim is one of the prettiest in Turkey’s southwestern province of Aydin. As you enter the seaside town an imposing monument can be seen rising towards the clouds like a mountain peak. This is the Temple of Apollo, a god with Anatolian roots associated with light, music, and prophecy. He was the twin brother of Artemis, a fact commemorated by the name Didyma -which means twin. According to legend, the Temple of Apollo was founded by Branchos, a handsome youth from Miletus. Apollo taught him the secrets of the prophecy and appointed him to guard the sacred grove of laurel trees. Here, Branchos built a sanctuary, and for long years first, he and then his descendants served as its priests and guardians, known as Branchids, which is why Didyma has also been called Branchidai. Archaeological findings have shown that the cult of Apollo goes back to 2000 BC and the temple appears to have been built in the 7th century BC. By the 6th century, it had become one of the most important oracular centers in the world. It was at this time that the city became known as Branchidai.
In the 6th century, gifts were sent by the Lydian King Croesus and the Egyptian pharaoh Neko for the temple here. Around the same time, a sacred road 24 km in length and 6 m wide was built from Miletus to the Temple of Apollo and lined with statues of the Branchid priests and lions.
Every year in April and May, festivities, in celebration of Apollo, were held during which a ceremonial procession set out from Miletus and traveled the sacred road. The journey took four days, halting each night, and during the day those in the procession sung hymns as they walked. When the procession arrived at the temple a great ceremony was held. The steps on the south side of the temple served as seats for the onlookers to watch athletic competitions held in the name of Apollo in the open area in front of the temple. The bronze statue of Apollo, which was a gift to the temple from the city of Miletus, is depicted on the coins of that city.
When Miletus was burnt and razed by the Persians following the sea battle of Lade in 494 BC, the temple was plundered and devastated. Alexander the Great brought Persian rule over Miletus to an end in 334 BC and reconstruction of the temple was commenced on a larger scale of 118 by 60 meters. Although construction continued on and off for the next six hundred years, some parts of the new temple were never completed. The Branchids had been banished by the Persians, and now the Miletians appointed officers annually to manage the sanctuary and took over its reconstruction. Marble was brought from quarries in the mountains around Lake Bafa, which at that time was a bay on the Aegean coast. There is a single block of marble in front of the Pronaos that weighs 60 tons. The huge inner walls of the sanctuary enclosed a courtyard of 200 square meters. This is the only example of this type of temple design to have survived. From the 3rd century BC onwards the temple was damaged in a series of wars and earthquakes. In the 5th or 6th century AD it was converted into a church, and Didyma became a bishopric. The city was abandoned entirely after the great earthquake of 1493. Not until the end of the 18th century did immigrants from the Aegean island resettle the town, which was called first Yenihisar and then once more Didim, after the ancient name.
The first excavations at Didyma were carried out in 1856 by British archaeologist Charles T. Newton, who uncovered the sacred road and carried back many of the statues of Branchid priests and lions to Britain. In 1924 a team from the Berlin Royal Museums under Theodor Wiegand recommenced excavations, which German archaeologists are continuing today. This magnificent temple and sanctuary where once people came to learn the secrets of the future is a fascinating survivor from a fascinating past.