Didim, with its numerous bays, ancient cities, and architectural treasures from different cultures, offers a good alternative for those who want to travel to the Aegean coasts.
The Aegean shores are a summer dream: as soon as summer arrives millions of people both from Turkey and abroad head for these shores. Visitors are absorbed into a world of unparalleled beauty by the dynamism of popular coastal resorts like Bodrum, Kuşadası, Marmaris, Çeşme; the tranquility of districts like Ayvalık, Didim and Dalyan; and the unspoiled bays and long sandy beaches extending along the coast. Meanwhile the ancient cities take them back to the past and the inland villages reveal that life away from the daily world is more peaceful.
This summer, I chose Didim to lower the tempo slightly. This is one of the rich, peaceful corners of the Aegean to tour and visit. Because of the lovely weather, pleasant breeze, and the beautiful nature many Europeans -mainly British- have bought homes and settled here.
After I reached my hotel in Akbük and rested for a while, I decided to go out. I really missed riding a bicycle, so when I noticed rented bikes here I immediately seized one and began pedaling. My backpack is full to the brim, but this is not tiring. With its level roads, Didim offers the chance for everyone to travel everywhere by bike. Last year a bicycle festival was held here; this year it is held for the second time on September 27.
I spent my first day here, like all tourists, going swimming in the sea at Altınkum Beach, walking through the shallow sea to Saplı Island, traveling by bicycle between the stops, and looking over the Aegean and its coast from the slightly higher locations offering a panoramic view.
When I was lured by the mixed breakfast sign I noticed outside a café on my way back, I made a reservation there for the next morning. On returning to the hotel, I decided that I should go to bed early because I was tired and had also planned busy tours for the next day.
The next morning, I woke up quite hungry, and the table I reserved at the café I reached after a short walk gradually began to fill up amidst an almost ceremonial atmosphere. A variety of jams, butter and eggs from the village, gözleme (flat pastry cooked on an iron plate) filled with the famous Aegean herbage, and olives were brought to the table. This appealing morning breakfast will certainly give me enough energy for the rest of the day!
Today I am touring the ancient cities and Lake Bafa. There were people from many different nations and countries on the minibus I boarded to travel to the Temple of Apollo, all of whom had settled in Didim. After getting off the bus, about 10-15 minutes from the temple, I asked by some passersby for directions to the site and made their acquaintance. As we were walking and talking, the feeling of loneliness totally disappeared. Here the weather is very warm, and so are the people!
The Temple of Apollo, an oracle center built at the end of the sacred path that begins in Miletus, is the third largest sanctuary structure of the ancient Greek world after the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, and the Temple of Hera (Heraion) on the island of Samos. The structure began to be constructed in the 6th century BC and was destroyed in the battle between the Ionians and Persians. It remained incompleted during the period of Macedonian king Alexander the Great, but still appears magnificent. The fine decoration on the marble pillars of this temple, which at one time was closed to all -including kings- with the exception of “immortal individuals,” gives us an idea of the splendor of that period. At one point, I came face to face with frowning Medusa; as if she is telling me to look away. As I walk over these huge, unique marbles and look at the half columns, I can imagine the people that traveled here from long distances by foot over many days, people sacrificing animals in front of the gate, and those waiting there for oracles or good tidings hundreds of years ago. Both the local and foreign tourists looking around with curiosity appear to be absorbed in the same dream.
The temple is surrounded by tiny hotels, rug and ceramic shops, and two-story detached houses. I walked around the shops to have a look at the handwoven Turkish rugs and the small objects made of ceramic materials and marble, then continued to the ancient cities of Miletus and Priene.
Akköy’s stone houses displaying characteristics of traditional Turkish and Greek architecture appear charming and warm. Kestrels that have made nests in the empty spaces between the walls of these houses appear to have the same opinion. As this is on the route of migratory birds and especially kestrels, every year at the end of March, beginning of April, Akköy plays host to the birds of prey migrating from Africa along with many bird-watchers and photographers. I am not at all surprised to learn that this village has a library and art workshop -after all, I am in the Miletus region famous for its philosophers.
Thales, a philosopher and one of the Seven Sages of the 6th century BC, Anaximander and Anaximenes, founders of the Milesian school that changed the course of philosophy by rendering it scientifically based rather than mythological, lived on these lands. Historian Hecataeus of Miletus, urban planner and architect Hippodamus, and many more came from Miletus!
The ancient city of Miletus is the spectacular continuation of this heritage. The ancient theater that has a capacity of 15,000 and the Baths of Faustina stand intact. Although the structures built as an assembly building, temple, churches, and port monuments were not as fortunate in terms of resisting time, they are still sufficient in marking the glory and importance of Miletus.
The existence of port ruins on this site, even though we are considerably inland, is the result of the skill of the Menderes River. As a result of the river filling the bay with soil, Miletus, which was once a port city, and the ancient city of Priene were distanced from the sea.
Although the temples dedicated to Athena, Demeter, and Zeus, the theater, the administration building, and even the homes in Priene described as the first modern city constructed according to the grid plan of Hippodamus, one of the Seven Sages, are somewhat worn, their preserved structural integrity gives us an idea of how cities were envisioned and how people lived here 3,000 years ago.
I am spending the rest of the day at Lake Bafa -in other words, the former Latmian Gulf transformed into a lake by the Menderes River. With the Beşparmak (Latmos) Mountains and olive trees in the background, and reedy marshes and rocks on its receded shores and tiny islands, Bafa is absolutely breathtaking. This is the reason it is a popular place with trekkers and campers. I set out on a journey into history between the ruins of the ancient town of Heraclia in the Kapkırı village on the eastern shore of the lake. I am sitting in one of the many restaurants scattered between the houses and trees overlooking the lake, waiting for the fish I ordered to be cooked. As the sun sets, the tiny island opposite and the monastery ruins sitting on the island appear to be even more mysterious.
I woke up early again on my third day in Didim. I plan to join a boat tour at 10 o’clock. These tours visit Aydın’s magnificent bays. There is one place in particular that I want to see: Aquarium Bay. Even though this bay may be deeper, it is clear enough to deserve this name. I am sure it will be an exciting, enjoyable day.