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Didyma is linked with Miletus by a Sacred Road, still partly traceable, which according to an inscription on the last milestone was built in 101 CE in the reign of Trajan. 16 Kilometres long and 5-7 metres wide it ran past the ancient pilgrim post of Panormos (now Kovala Burun) to the sanctuary. The last section, which has been excavated, was lined with Archaic seated figures and recumbent lions (remains in the British Museum) and with later tombs.
The original sanctuary was destroyed in 494 BCE by Darius' Persians after members of the local priestly family, the Branchids, had surrendered the cult image and the temple treasure to the Persians. Only a few fragments of masonry from the first temple have been found.
After Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians the temple, the Didymaion, was rebuilt on a considerably larger scale. It was begun about 300 BCE by Paoinios of Ephesus and Daphnes of Miletus after the completion of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The new temple was planned on such a grandiose scale, however, that in spite of financial support from the Roman emperors and other sources it was never finished. By 280 BCE the shell of the building was completed, but Strabo tells us that because of its size it was never roofed.
In thanksgiving for a favourable oracular pronouncement in 312 BCE Seleukos I Nikator caused the statue of Apollon, which had been stolen and carried off to Persia, to be returned to the temple.
In the Early Byzantine period the temple, still perfectly preserved, was converted into a Christian basilica, with a holy well. Later, after the building had suffered severe damage in a fire, a fortress was constructed in the ruins. The destruction of the temple was completed by another fire and a severe earthquake in 1446. During the 15th century it was used to provide makeshift accommodations for harvest workers from Samos.
The excavation of the site was begun by British archaeologists in 1858 and continued on a larger scale by French expeditions in 1872 and 1895-96. Further work has been done by German archaeologists since 1962.
Outside the northeast end of the temple is the main altar, which was similar to the one at Olympia in the Peloponnese.
Within a low parapet was a conical structure built up from ashes mixed with the blood of sacrificial animals. To the north of the altar a bases for votive statues and a well of the Hellenistic period.
Along the southeast side of the temple, 15 metres away were seven tiers of seating for spectators at the games that were held here.
The temple itself was 108½ metres long by almost 50 metres across. It stood on a seven stepped base, with five additional steps at the northeast end, the main front. It was of the type technically known as “dipteral decastyle”, surrounded by a double row of columns, with 10 at each end and 21 along the sides. Three of the columns at the ends, 19,4 metres high, are still standing. The unusual base, dating from the time of Caligula (37-41 BCE), are in similar pairs. The corner columns on the east front had figural capitals each with two bulls' heads, a bust of a god and a griffin. The frieze had an alternation of foliage ornament and Medusa heads.
From the site there are magnificent views, extending northward to Karakuyu Bay, in which lay the Milesian port of Teichioussa, eastwards to the hills of Caria and southward to the Bodrum Peninsula and the Greek island of Kos.