This day was a series of firsts for me since I have not visited any of these three locations on previous tours of Turkey. Since this is a “missionary journeys of Paul” tour I wanted to include Miletus, the location of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20), although we will not be visiting Ephesus (Acts 19) until tomorrow morning. Since we are driving all the way over to Miletus, it made good sense to start the day in Didyma, then visit Miletus and Priene after lunch.
Unfortunately, it rained heavily on the drive from Izmir to Didyma on the Aegean Sea. Although it was barely sprinkling when we arrived, we had to deal with mud and slippery marble while exploring the Temple of Apollo and Artemis (the twins implied by the name Didyma). The Temple was founded sometime after Alexander the Great took the territory from the Persians, the temple was designed by the same architect as the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. A ten-mile sacred road connects Miletus and Didyma.
Even though the temple was not completed it functioned as an oracle. This gave me an opportunity to talk about how oracles functioned in the Greek world and I related this to Paul’s encounter with the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18). Alexander the Great, Seleucus I and Seleucus II all received oracles from the temple at Didymas. The temple was finally closed by under Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395).
One of the nice side-benefits to this day is the drive through the countryside of the south western end of Turkey. The area between each of these sites is largely agricultural (cotton, but also fruit trees and olives).
At Miletus we walked from the parking area to the theater. Once again, it rained while we were driving, but as soon as we got out of the minibus the rain stopped and for most of our visit it was sunny. The main thing to see in the is a seat with a Greek inscription mentioning the God-fearers. The God-fearers were Gentiles who chose to worship the God of the Jews and even keep most of the Law, although the men stopped short of full conversion because of the stigma of circumcision. Both Cornelius (Acts 10) and Lydia (Acts 16).
After lunch (a lamb kabob), we drove back to Priene. This is a beautiful site but is a long steep hike from the parking area to the Hellenistic city. The first half of the hike is on a broad, smooth path, but eventually the path becomes a stairway of Roman stones, very uneven and rough. But the hard walk is worth it since this is one of the more beautiful archaeological sites I have visited. There are pine trees shading most of the area and there is a constant view of the a forbidding Mount Mycale behind the city and the fertile plain below.
There are several highlights, including a small theater. Even though it is small, there are five thrones for elite members of the audience right at the floor level. Each has animal feet carved into the base and inscriptions below the seat (I took photographs to work on later). From the theater we moved into a later Byzantine church and made our way to the temple of Athena. Like the temple at Didyma, this impressive structure was initially sponsored by Alexander the Great but never completed. It is comparable to Didyma or Sardis, but only five of the massive pillars have been re-assembled. The whole area of the temple is a maze of pillar drums, although I cannot imagine how anyone could do a major restoration project on the top of this hillside. Nevertheless, the Temple is very impressive. Prine also has a small synagogue with two or three small graffiti menorahs. Other than these marks, there is little in the building to hint at the use as a synagogue.
We are staying at a very nice hotel right on the Aegean Sea (an advantage of off-season travel) and will visit Ephesus in the morning.