Didyma (/ˈdɪdɪmə/; Ancient Greek: Δίδυμα) was an ancient Greek
sanctuary on the coast of Ionia and belonged to the famous city of
Miletus. Apollo was the main deity of the sanctuary of Didyma, also
called Didymaion. It contained temples for the twins Apollo and
Artemis. Other deities were adorned within the sanctuary too. The
Didymaion was well known in antiquity because of its oracle. This
oracle of Apollo was situated within the world’s greatest temple for
The ruins of Didyma are located a short distance to the northwest of
modern Didim in Aydin Province, Turkey, whose name is derived
from the ruins. It sits on a headland that in antiquity formed the
Milesian Peninsula, but which silt from the Meander River has since
connected more thoroughly to the mainland. Didyma was the largest and most significant sanctuary on the territory of the great classical city Miletus. To approach it, visitors would follow the Sacred Way to Didyma, about 18 km long. Along this route were ritual waystations, and statues of noblemen and noblewomen, as well as animal figures. Some of these statues, dating to the 6th century BC, are now in the British Museum, taken by the British archaeologist Charles Newton in the 19th century.
In Greek didyma means “twin”, but the Greeks who sought a “twin” at Didyma ignored the Carian origin of the name. The Carians settled this area before the Ionian Greeks. Didyma was first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. But its establishment should preceded literacy and even the Hellenic colonization of Ionia around 1000 BC. In contrary the first archaeological evidences of Didyma date in the 8th century BC. Mythic genealogies of the origins of the Branchidae line of priests, designed to capture the origins of Didyma as a Hellenic tradition, date to the Hellenistic period.
Greek and Roman authors laboured to refer the name Didyma to “twin” temples or to temples of the twins Apollo and Artemis, whose own cult center at Didyma had then only recently been established. Also, as Wilamowitz suggested, there may be a connection to Cybele Dindymene, the “Cybele of Mount Dindymon”. Excavations by German archaeologists have lately uncovered the temple dedicated to Artemis, north of the temple of Apollo. The 6th century temple of Apollo enclosed a smaller temple that was its predecessor, which archaeologists have identified. Its treasury was enriched by gifts from Croesus. Apollo was worshipped in nearby Miletus under the name Delphinius (the same name was also used at Delphi). At Didyma, he was worshipped as Didymeus (Διδυμευς). His other names in the area were Philesios, and Carinus (Καρινος).
Until its destruction by the Persians in 494 BC, Didyma’s sanctuary was administered by the family of the Branchidae, who claimed descent from an eponymous Branchos, a youth beloved of Apollo. The priestess, seated above the sacred spring, gave utterances that were interpreted by the Branchidae. Both Herodotus and Pausanias dated the origins of the oracle at Didyma before the Ionian colonization of this coast.
The Branchidae were expelled by Darius’ Persians, who burned the temple in 493 BC and carried away to Ecbatana the archaic bronze statue of Apollo, traditionally attributed to Canachus of Sicyon in the 6th century; the spring dried up, it was reported, and the archaic oracle was silenced. Though the sanctuaries of Delphi and Ephesus were swiftly rebuilt, Didyma remained a ruin until the first steps of restoration were undertaken in 334 BC. Callisthenes, a court historian of Alexander, reported that the spring began once more to flow after Alexander passed through, but there had been a complete break in the oracles’ personnel and tradition. Inscriptions, including inquiries and responses, and literary testimony record Didyma’s role as an oracle, with the “grim epilogue” of Apollo’s supposed sanction of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, until the closing of the temples under Theodosius I.
After his capture of Miletus in 334 BC, Alexander the Great reconsecrated the oracle and placed its administration in the hands of the city, where the priest in charge was annually elected. About 300 BC, Seleucus I Nicator brought the bronze cult image back, and the Milesians began to build a new temple, which, if it had ever been completed, would have been the largest in the Hellenic world. Vitruvius recorded a tradition that the architects were Paeonius of Ephesus, whom Vitruvius credited with the rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis there, and Daphnis of Miletus. The peripteral temple was surrounded by a double file of Ionic columns. With a pronaos of three rows of four columns, the approaching visitor passed through a regularized grove formed of columns. The door usually leading to a cella was replaced by a blank wall with a large upper opening through which one could glimpse the upper part of the naiskos in the inner court (adyton).
The entry route lay down either of two long constricted sloping passageways built within the thickness of the walls and giving access to the inner court, still open to the sky but isolated from the world by the high walls of the cella. This was the location of an ancient spring, the naiskos—which was itself a small temple, containing in its own small cella the bronze cult image of the god—and a grove of laurels, sacred to Apollo. The inner walls of the cella were articulated by pilasters standing on a base the height of a man (1.94 m). Turning back again, the visitor saw a monumental staircase that led up to three openings to a room whose roof was supported by two columns on the central cross-axis. The oracular procedure so well documented at Delphi is unknown at Didyma and must be reconstructed on the basis of the temple’s construction, but it appears that several features of Delphi were now adopted: a priestess and answers delivered in classical hexameters.
At Delphi, nothing was written; at Didyma, inquiries and answers were written; a small structure, the Chresmographion featured in this process; it was meticulously disassembled in the Christian period. The annual festival held there under the auspices of Miletus was the Didymeia; it was made a Panhellenic festival in the beginning of the 2nd century BC. Pausanias visited Didyma in the later 2nd century AD. Pliny reported the worship of Apollo Didymiae, Apollo of Didymus, in Central Asia, transported to Sogdiana by a general of Seleucus and Antiochus whose inscribed altars there were still to be seen by Pliny’s correspondents. Corroborating inscriptions on amphoras were found by I. R. Pichikyan at Dilbergin.
Clement of Alexandria quotes Leandrios saying that Cleochus, grandfather of the eponymous founder Miletus, was buried within the temple enclosure of Didyma. When Ciriaco de’ Pizzicolli visited the spot in 1446, it seems that the temple was still standing in great part, although the cella had been converted into a fortress by the Byzantines, but when the next European visitor, the Englishman Dr Pickering, arrived in 1673, it had collapsed. The Society of Dilettanti sent two expeditions to explore the ruins, the first in 1764 under Richard Chandler, the second in 1812 under William Gell. The French “Rothschild Expedition” of 1873 sent a certain amount of architectural sculpture to the Louvre, but no excavation was attempted until Emmanuel Pontremoli and B. Haussoullier were sent out by the French Schools of Rome and Athens in 1895. They cleared the western façade and the prodomos, and discovered inscriptions giving information about other parts which they left still buried.
German excavations made between 1905 and 1930 revealed all of the incomplete new temple and some carved fragments that belonged to the earlier temple and to associated statues. In 1979 came the biggest discovery by the German Archaeological Institute. On the left wall of the adyton, small very thin scratched lines were discovered. A closer examination brought the first ancient blueprint of a temple back to life. Starting just after the entrance on an area of 200 square metres (2,200 sq ft) were the blueprints and a roughly calculated estimate. The discovery and interpretation made by Lothar Haselberger led to some important information about the planning and the building phase of the Apollo Temple, notably that, in addition to meticulous use of geometry in scribing the profiles of mouldings, the architect permitted himself some intuitive adjustments, guided, but not bound, by the strict obligations imposed on him by the traditional geometry of the design; he transcended these self-imposed rules whenever his aesthetics demanded.
Today it is known that three different contractors worked until the end. All three had the responsibility to get the material on site, place the stones, and do the first refinement. After that, a small part was left on every placed block, a small cachet with a special sign of the contractor which indicated that this particular block was not yet paid for. Further on, the inscriptions led to the information that one column would have taken 20,000 workdays to complete by one mason. There were more masons working per column, but just for the sake of calculation: the daily income of a stonemason was 2 drachmas, which is the cost of approx. 8.6 grams of silver. With that information one can calculate the bare craftsmanship cost of one column, which was 20,000 workdays × 8.6 grams of silver, equalling the equivalent cost of 172 kilograms (379 lb) of silver