Friday, 8 June 2012

The Oracle and Temple to Apollo, Didyma

25 May 2012. After we left Miletus we motored for a short while admiring the rain before arriving at Didyma. Here are the remains of a massive Temple to Apollo which, although never fully completed, would have rivalled that of Artemis, not too far away that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The original temple was run by the Branchidae family claiming descent from Branchos, a youth loved by Apollo. It was the main temple of Miletus and was reached from there via a 17km Sacred Way, which had ritual waystations and statues of the Branchidae family including their animals. They were making sure of their franchise...

The marble has been badly marked by fire - hence the blackened state of the remains. The Persians under Darius invaded in 493 BC and presumably having had unpalatable advice offered by the Oracle promptly threw a wobbly and kicked out the Branchidae family and set fire to the place saying things like "Stuff your Oracle!" and "From now on we'll go to Delphi...!"

Once a visitor had climbed the steps and puffed themselves out, they then found themselves breathing in the heady fumes of incense mixed with certain other additives that left them feeling, shall we say, a touch light-headed...

On a high they were then directed down a narrow steeply sloping passage that was not only dark but narrow, the steep marble flooring requiring them in their befuddled state to reach out to touch both walls in the dark to keep their balance.

Arriving here in an enclosed temple space, but open to the sky, they then had to climb back up the steps shown at the far end.

If they were breathing heavily before, by now they were positively gasping and therefore drawing in yet more of the intoxicating fumes. At the top of these steps they found the room of the Oracle. A High Priestess, also somewhat off her head, wailed and garbled whilst members of the ever accomodating Branchidae family ("An offering? How kind!") translated the utterances of the Oracle out of the goodness of their hearts and to the growth of their purse.

Alexander the Great captured Miletus in 334 BC and began a restoration of the temple and started the tradition of the Oracle again. It was said that the sacred spring which had dried up a couple of hundred years before the Persians burnt the place, started to flow again once Alexander had visited. He probably made sure of it by digging...

There was by now a 160 year gap in the Oracle's tradition. Luckily someone was found who knew how to wail incoherently and someone learned to interpret this. Just over 600 years later, Rome was leaning heavily on the Christians and in 302 AD Galerius urged Diocletian to step it up somewhat.

Uncertain, Diocletian asked the Oracle for guidance. At Didyma the Oracle's utterings were given in written form. At Delphi they were merely spoken. The record shows that the response was interpreted as in favour of the persecution, marking the beginning of what has become known as the Great Persecution of 303, lasting for ten years.

You may get slightly biassed guidance from a High Priestess of one religion if wondering whether to persecute another...

A few people from our party climbed the steps expecting to find themselves able to simply walk down the steps of the temple on the other side. And as the Oracle's rooms are no more they would have been able to do that had they been willing to jump the 12 feet or so to the floor of the first platform.

Instead we had to climb up the steep passage again. I've brightened the photo considerably, it was very dim in there. Miss Franny blinked at the wrong moment - it wasn't so dim that she could see just as well with her eyes shut...

A couple of gorgons' heads sculptures are displayed here but most of the sculpture including some statues from the Sacred Way have been removed to the museum. A few of the Sacred Way statues are apparently to be found in the British Museum in London.

Once back at the ticket office, the current High Priest came looking for an offering...

Large versions of the photos: All photos from the holiday will be found in this set at Flickr.

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