One of the oldest and most important Ionian cities was Miletus which had nearly a hundred colonies on the Black Sea. A center of education and art, the town originally stood right on the shore before alluvium from the River Menderes (Meander) silted up the area and left it stranded inland. To reach Didyma, the seat of an important oracle in ancient times, people would follow the Sacred Way that ran from Miletus.
The town of many colonies The town of Miletus stood on the banks of the River Menderes, one of the most important rivers of the ancient world which the historian Herodotus dubbed “the laborer”. The English word meander, meaning “to follow a winding course”, was derived from the name of the River Menderes, which followed a convoluted path on its way to the sea. Miletus was originally established by Neleus, the son of the king of Athens. As soon as the Greeks arrived here, their men slaughtered their Carian counterparts and married their wives. Legend has it that the women vowed never to sit down to eat with their new husbands or to call them by their names! The town was famed for its many scientists and intellectuals, including Anaximandros, Anaximenes, Thales and Isidoros (one of the two architects of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul). Probably the town’s most beautiful structure was its theater which is still largely intact today; it was expanded to seat 15,000 people during the Roman period. Above it stands a citadel built during the Byzantine era and re-used during Seljuk times. The Miletians were the first people to establish hegemony over the sea, establishing a string of colonies on the Black Sea coast from Sinop to Trabzon. One of the world’s oldest known synagogues is located in Sardis, to the east of Izmir, but sources reveal that Miletus also housed a synagogue to cater to the religious needs of its large Jewish population.
The oracle and Medusa
At the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Didyma there stands a Gorgon Medusa, her hair a mass of serpentine curls. According to legend one glance from this woman was enough to turn the onlooker into stone. In Greek, “didyma” means “twin”; it is possible that the town was given this name to refer to the “twin” temples of Artemis (in Selcuk) and of her twin brother Apollo, who had his own temple in Didyma. According to some archeologists, the town’s fame as a center of prophecy preceded the arrival of the Greeks. Certainly, the oracle was second in importance only to the one at Delphi on mainland Greece in Hellenic times. Measuring 109m by Slm, the huge Temple of Apollo was a truly magnificent structure; it could easily have been the eighth wonder of the ancient world had its construction been completed at the time of counting. Over the centuries, it was visited by hundreds of important figures in search of a glimpse into the future. When Alexander the Great arrived to re-consecrate the oracle, the priest in charge of the shrine was able to tell him that he would go on to defeat the Persians. Traditionally, pilgrims would purify themselves with water from the well, and, after sacrificing an animal (usually a goat) to the gods, would start asking questions like: “Will I ever get married?”, “Will I find a new job?” and “What will happen to this country?” Sounds familiar? It looks as if the questions that the questions that people ask fortune-tellers hardly change over time! After the coming of Christianity, the oracle was banned as sacrilegious, and a church Was built inside the still unfinished temple.