Return to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma

Didyma Ground Plan

In this picture, one sees the front of the Temple of Apollo, its orientation made more clear by the ground plan below. The columns marked in white indicate the three that still are standing, one to the left and two to the right of the extended naos (cella) walls (antae), which create the pronaos or porch at the front. Here, the cella itself has an even more restricted area withinthe adyton, which was accessed by two long descending ramps.

In writing about the architecture of the Hellenistic age (the three centuries from the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the Roman conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt in 31 BC), Pollitt speaks of the theatricality of the temple's planning and design, especially in the creation of its unexpected and mysterious interior. What would have been so surprising to the worshipper were the vaulted tunnels that led to the sunken adyton and the small temple within the open courtyard surrounded by sacred laurel bushes. And, looking back, a broad flight of stairs leading back up to the room at the pronaos, itself supported by two huge Corinthian columns with another set of stairs mysteriously leading to the roof.


"The memory of the pleasure, which this spot afforded me, will not be soon or easily erased. The columns yet entire are so exquisitely fine, the marble mass so vast and noble, that it is impossible perhaps to conceive greater beauty and majesty of ruin. At evening, a large flock of goats, returning to the fold, their bells tinkling, spread over the heap, climbing to browse on the shrubs and trees growing between the huge stones."

Richard Chandler, Travels in Asia Minor (Chap. XLIII)

In 1764, the Society of Dilettanti in London commissioned the antiquarian Richard Chandler to travel to Ionia on the western coast of Anatolia (Turkey), "a country in many respects curious, and perhaps, after Attica, the most deserving the attention of a classical traveller;" indeed, as much is owed "to Ionia, and the adjoining coast, as to any country of antiquity" (Ionian Antiquities, Preface). His mandate was to procure "the exactest plans and measures possible of the buildings you shall find, making accurate drawings of the bas-reliefs and ornaments, and taking such views as you shall judge proper; copying all the inscriptions you shall meet with, and remarking every circumstance, which can contribute towards giving the best idea of the ancient and present state of those places" (Travels in Asia Minor, Preface).

Chandler was accompanied by Nicholas Revett, the architect and draftsman who had collaborated on James Stuart's The Antiquities of Athens (1762), which also had been published by the Society, and William Pars, a promising young painter (he was only twenty-two) who was responsible for the precise but perceptive drawings (which were influenced by Stuart's earlier illustrations) . A full year was spent in Ionia before sailing on to Athens, where the men traveled through Greece for another year. Ionian Antiquities was published in 1769, providing the first archaeological report of Didyma. The watercolor and gouache painting above (Plate II) had been completed about 1765 and shows the scene later described by Chandler in his Travels in Asia Minor, a narrative based on his journals and published in 1775. Together, the two accounts provide both a technical description of the ruins as well as their social setting, with almost as much attention paid to custom and costume as to the antique. In front of the towering columns (with Revett, barely visible, measuring a block of marble wedged between them), Turks pray and tend their goats (and so fulfilling the Society's directive to convey "the best idea of the ancient and present state of those places." Together with Stuart and Revett's earlier volume, Ionian Antiquities helped establish the preeminence of Greece over Rome and the Greek Revival in British architecture.

One justification for the survey was that "However mutilated and decayed these buildings now are, yet surely every fragment is valuable, which preserves, in some degree, the ideas of symmetry and proportion which prevailed at that happy period of time" (Preface). The sentiment is all the more poignant when one reads that the classicist Robert Wood, who introduced Chandler to the Society and headed the committee that oversaw the expedition, had visited the temple himself where he "found there two Turkish carvers of grave-stones, employed in conveying away the portable marbles; and is of the opinion that the very extraordinary and confused manner, in which the massy stones of this edifice are piled over the remains of the walls, must be the effect of a violent earthquake; the walls not being overthrown, but in a manner crushed down, and the remnants concealed under the mass, which equally extends on each side" (Chap. III).

Certainly, the area was vulnerable. As Strabo notes, "I might almost say that the whole of the territory in the neighbourhood of the Maeander is subject to earthquakes" (Geography, XII.8.7). And so it was. Pliny relates that "The greatest earthquake in human memory occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being overthrown in one night" (Natural History, II.200). Strabo speaks of Magnesia as well as other famous cities recently being  "laid low by earthquakes" (XII.8.17). Tacitus, too, comments on the devastation. "In the same year, twelve important cities of Asia collapsed in an earthquake, the time being night, so that the havoc was the less foreseen and the more devastating. Even the usual resource in these catastrophes, a rush to open ground, was unavailing, as the fugitives were swallowed up in yawning chasms. Accounts are given of huge mountains sinking, of former plains seen heaved aloft, of fires flashing out amid the ruin" (Annals, II.47). Eusebius gives the date as AD 17 (Jerome, in his Latin translation of Eusebius' Chronicon, is a year later). But these accounts all refer to another Greek colony: Magnesia ad Sipylum, which is about sixty miles due north of Magnesia on the Meander, both cities having been founded by Greek from Magnesia in Thessaly.

Aside from the robbing of stone, the temple itself suffered from a devastating earthquake in 1493 which toppled all but three of its columns.


The temple sits on a platform (crepidoma) of seven steps, instead of the usual three (the two lower steps being the stereobate and the top one, on which the columns stand, the stylobate). But in larger temples, of which Didyma is one of the largest, they would have been too high to be practical and so a flight of smaller steps was provided. Vitruvius advises that "The steps in front should be constructed so that they are always an odd number. In this way, if one begins to mount the temple steps with the right foot, it is again the right foot that will step into the temple proper" (On Architecture, III.4.4). The Romans, too, believed that one should enter a space with the right foot as a sign of respect, either for a sacred space or even a private home, as when the guests in Juvenal's Satyricon are admonished "Right foot first!" as they are about to enter the dining room (XXX.5).


References: Art in the Hellenic Age (1986) by J. J. Pollitt; Travels in Asia Minor: or An Account of a Tour Made at the Expense of the Society of Dilettanti (1775) by Richard Chandler (a third edition, combining Travels in Asia Minor and Travels in Greece [1776], was published in two volumes in 1817); Ionian Antiquities, Vol. I (1769) by R. Chandler, N. Revett, and W. Pars (a tardy second volume on Grecian antiquities was not published until 1797); Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England (2008) by Bruce Redford; History of the Society of Dilettanti (1898) by Lionel Cust and Sidney Colvin; English Romantic Hellenism 17001824 (1982) by Timothy Webb; Earthquakes in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East (2009) by Nicholas Ambraseys.

See also Stuart and Revett.

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