The Temple of Apollo

The Hellenistic temple had two predecessors. The first sacred building dedicated to Apollo was erected around 700 BC. It was probably a hekatompedos, which means 100 feet long. The width of this first sekos measured 10 meters. 'Sekos' is Greek for ‘courtyard’; we can therefore deduce that the late geometric temple and its successors had never been roofed. The oldest temple of Apollo surrounded the sacred spring and the sacred laurel tree. This spring and tree formed the centre of the sanctuary for more than 1000 years


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The Temple of Apollo Aerial wiew

From the middle of the 6th century BC the Milesians raised a new temple and constructed a new altar for Apollo. Alas, of this temple only the foundations of the sekos wall survived. Though as a lot of late Archaic column fragments were found it was likely a Dipteros, which means the sekos was surrounded by two rows of columns. These Ionic columns were partly ornamented with reliefs like the columns of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. In the western half of the sekos the remains of a small temple were found, the so-called Naiskos, which housed the cult statue of Apollo. The sacred spring in its original location was already dry by the 6th c. BC and had diverted its position to the eastern half of the sekos. In front of this late Archaic temple was a circular building erected to surround the altar for Apollo, which, according to Pausanias, was made of blood and ashes of the sacrificed animals. This circular building with the conical altar inside was used until the end of antiquity, whilst to the east and south of the temple stood a stoa for storing some of the famous donations of Apollo


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The ramifications for the temple after the Ionians lost the naval battle off of the islands of Lade in 494 BC were that most of the buildings of Didyma were heavily damaged by the Persians. The planning for the new Hellenistic temple started after 334 BC. The Milesians resolved to build one of the greatest temples ever made. This goal was not really reached, but they built a temple with a unique plan. The temple of Apollo was clearly planned according to ritual requirements. Though at this present moment, the exact usage and function can only possibly be a matter of conjecture. The temple certainly attained the ambition of being one of the largest ancient temples ever built, its crepidoma with 7 steps measures almost 60 by 120 meters and the stylobate 51 by 109 meters. The temple building itself was surrounded by a double file of Ionic columns, each one of them 19,70 meters high. This consisted of 10 columns along the shorter sides and the 21 columns filling the longer sides, though not all of these were erected even by the end of antiquity. Above the columns followed the architraves with the frieze. The frieze is especially famous as it housed the impressively monumental heads of Medusa


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The entrance was at the east side. With a pronaos of three rows of four columns, the approaching visitor passed through a regularized grove formed by the 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 (in inscriptions the inner court is referred to as "sekos" or "adyton"). The impassable threshold of this door stands 1,5 meters above the floor of the pronaos, while the entire door reaches a height of 14 meters. The entry route lay down either of two long constricted sloping tunnels 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 25 meters high walls of the sekos. This was the location of the oracle spring, the laurel tree and the naiskos with the cult statue. The foundations of the naiskos are 8,24 meters wide and 14,23 meters long. This Ionic prostylos was built around 300 BC. It is famed because of the superior high quality of its ornamentation. The naiskos with the cult statue of Apollo is depicted on Imperial coins of Miletus. The sacred oracle spring was not situated in the naiskos, but in the eastern half of the sekos. It was found beneath the early Byzantine church. The inner walls of the sekos were articulated by pilasters. The capitals of them are ornamented with griffins and flowers. Among them a long frieze with griffins decorated the whole sekos


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Head of a bull

Between the two tunnel exits in the sekos a monumental staircase leads up to three openings into a room whose roof was supported by two columns on the central cross-axis. Among these three doors were placed two Corinthian half columns, whose spectacular capitals originally survived but during the First World War they were unfortunately destroyed. The room with the two central columns opened to the east to the great impassable portal. To the north and south of this hall two stairwells existed. In inscriptions they were called „labyrinthoi", probably because of their ceiling decoration showing a meander pattern. These labyrinthoi lead to the roof of the temple and their function is not yet clear.

The oracular procedure so well documented at Delphi is almost unknown at Didyma and must be reconstructed on the basis of the temple's construction. The priestess sat above the oracle spring and was inspired by Apollo. The prophet announced the oracle probably from the room with the high and impassable threshold. The answers were delivered, as in Delphi, in classical hexameters. But at Delphi, nothing was written; at Didyma, inquiries and answers were written and some inscriptions with them were found. In Didyma a small structure, the Chresmographion featured in this process; it was situated outside the temple because according to inscriptions it was used for storing architectural members for the temple there.


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Although the construction work continued for over 600 years the temple of Apollo was never completed. But the main body of the temple itself had been completed around 100 BC. In the following centuries Miletus continued to erect the columns of the colonnade. The columns of the eastern façade were built during the reign of emperor Hadrian. The western facade was completed too and some columns on the flanks. The roof was also never entirely finished; the temple lacked the pediments. There were also other parts of this huge temple which remained unfinished. Therefore, this building is totally unique in Greek architecture.


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