Summer in south-western Turkey has proved to be the hottest sustained period I have lived through since I spent August of ‘83 working in the merciless humidity of downtown Philadelphia. Every day has been in the mid forties (that ranges from about 105 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for you folks in the States), with a few days pushing the thermometer toward 50, and I haven’t seen an actual cloud let alone a raindrop for over two months now. The last time it rained here was a short afternoon shower on June 14th. It's only rained 5 times since I arrived, 3 of those days in April.
Although I had returned to the Temple of Apollo since coming to Turkey over five months ago, this was my first opportunity to wander around inside the vast sacred sanctuary. It was well worth the visit to gain a glimpse of the incredible construction from within its thick stone walls. One of the marble blocks, situated between the doorway that leads to the courtyard, weighs over 70 tons and is considered to be the largest single component of a human designed structure anywhere in the world. With over a hundred original column bases from the 124 that surrounded the walls still in evidence, and altars with engraved ‘griffins’ (a mythological creature sacred to Apollo), carvings of other legendary beings and statues in abundance, there are plenty of places and things to weave in and out of as if in a magical dream transported to an ancient past.
Some of the bases of the massive columns are carved in high relief elaborately depicting mythological scenes from popular tales, others in intricate meander patterns that are familiar in later Athenian sculptures. The tops of the huge pillars are generally in traditional Ionic or Corinthian design and appear to use the pin and hole approach to post and lintel connection.
My student and friend Yasar is a mining engineer from the north of the country, and was able to explain to me (in our English-Turkish mix) the reason for the corruption of the marble that makes up so much of the structure. As with most stone, pollutants can be cleaned and scraped from marble (in recent years many cities, including London, have taken serious measures to reclaim the original beauty of the masonry on older buildings blighted by smog over the past couple centuries), however, over time the sun burns into the rock and chemically alters the composition to darken the stone permanently.
One is confronted with the academic suggestion that these statues, paintings and notations had more than aesthetic purpose and were in fact venerated by the ancients as containing an aura that we moderns reject. However, ritualised objects were part of the ‘cult of beauty’ so obtrusive in contemporary art theory that prefers the context of politics as reproduction as opposed to originality becomes the norm.
Apollo, Bringer of Light ..
Debated at length by philosophers and mathematicians from Aristotle to Descartes, the world of form and character is the material representation of idea and atomic structure combined in accepted and agreed upon shape and variety of components. ‘The world exists because we will it to be’, ‘I think therefore I am’ etc ad nauseam. Apollo is the semi-anthropomorphic term the ancients gave to this association of proposal and inspiration – a god, yes; a set of thoughts intended to convey the mystery behind the evident existence of things, yes.
Coincidentally, Apollo was also the patron god of poetry and the leader of the Muses; Hermes even created the lyre for Apollo to play, and hymns sung to Apollo were called paeans, which are also sung to protect against misfortune or ill health. The laurel wreath, sentimentally important to Apollo as one of his lovers, Daphne, had been transformed into the laurel tree, is seen on various figures throughout the site.
.. the shape of things that are ..
Probably first erected around 800 BC, the temple housed the important oracle of the Branchidae and was consecrated to Apollo circa 560 BC, and became a place of pilgrimage for those seeking advice on future matters of importance. King Croesus attended and provided many valuable offerings, as did the Egyptian Nekho II.
Although the Persians destroyed it in 494 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedonia had it rebuilt after 334 BC following his triumphs in the region. However, probably during the reign of Theodosius it began to lose its status as an influential site. Subsequent to the Christianisation of Turkey, it was again ransacked and pillaged by those well-meaning brutal invaders.
The entrance steps stay true to the Greek method of planning communal buildings. Odd numbers of steps always lead into magisterial blocks or sacred temples, in this case seven all the way around the outside and thirteen at the Eastern entrance. This is because was one supposed to always enter a building right foot first – so, if one placed the right foot onto the first step then the right foot would also be the first to land on the top step or platform of the shrine.
The head of Medusa, the frightening creature of mythological antiquity, is a significant relic that now occupies pride of place near the entrance. Along with the bull’s head and several other artefacts of major importance, it would have been carved by the craftsmen of Aphrodisias.
Karnakhos, a famous sculptor of the ancient world, created the statue that stood prominently in the central worship hall and would have been venerated by emperors, soldiers, soothsayers and brides-to-be as an incarnation of Apollo himself.
There are those who reject this reliance on a sense of community cohesion that dictated a homogenous belief as unswerving allegiance to these ‘idols’ of classicism, instead accepting as the post-structuralists would that the inherited view of the individual as subject is itself a myth created to bolster the image of an autonomous being operating independent of society’s decrees. However, without free will and independent, autonomous intelligence, genius of the type necessary to create this arrangement of stone and comprehend the incredible forces at work in the Temple of Apollo could not arise to achieve vocational destination and contemplate the future held in such high esteem by its prophets.
Certainly not everyone was a superstitious believer however, and many who understood the allegorical teachings of the mystics came simply to be awed by the power, grandeur and skill represented by this fabulous building on the turquoise coast. The crusaders left their mark in the stone edifice as they marched through the region in the footsteps of Anthony and Cleopatra who allegedly loved visiting the area together.
Meanwhile, Apollo drives upward, filling my eyes with light, winking in salutation of one more vivid morning, time passes with each pulse of my beating heart, the wheels of the golden chariot spin in anticipation .. the adventure of life will carry on, and the long road home beckons as an endless pageant of dreams yet to be fulfilled ..
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