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The Building of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus by Hendrik van Cleve III

The Grand and Sacred Temple of Artemis, A Wonder of the Ancient World

The Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Three to four times as large as the Parthenon in Athens, it was once described as the largest temple and building of antiquity and served as a place of worship to the Greek Goddess Artemis. Home to both Greeks and Romans, the grand temple was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the course of its long history. The Antipater of Sidon, who compiled and visited all the seven wonders, said the temple was more marvelous than any of the other six wonders:

I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.

The Temple of Artemis is dedicated to the goddess Artemis, pictured above.

The Temple of Artemis is dedicated to the goddess Artemis, pictured above. Artist: Geza Maroti. ( Wikimedia Commons)

The Temple of Artemis (also known as the Temple of Diana by the Romans) was a Greek temple located in the ancient city of Ephesus. As well as a great port city, Ephesus, was once a religious center in the ancient world. Now called Selcuk, it was located about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of modern-day Izmir, Turkey. The temple once served as a cultic place of worship for the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of fertility, the earth, the moon, and the animals.  Most of the descriptions of the original Temple of Artemis comes from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD). He described the temple as a "wonderful monument of Grecian magnificence, and one that merits our genuine admiration." Pliny documented its exact proportions, how long the temples took to build and the material used during construction. The foundation of the temple was rectangular in form and measured 150 feet in width (45.7 meters) and 300 feet in length (91.4 meters). It was built on a podium with 13 steps leading up to the high terrace. There were 127 columns total, each 20m high (65.6 feet), with Ionic capitals and carved circular sides. Unlike other sanctuaries, the building was made entirely of marble. 

The ancient temple was built around 550 – 650 BC and on a site already sacred to the Anatolian Mother Goddess, Cybele. It was designed by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes and financed by Croesus of Lydia. The Lydians (followed by the Persians) had conquered Ephesus in the mid-500s. However, the sacred site at Ephesus was believed to be far older than that.

According to the Greek historian Strabo, the Temple of Artemis was rebuilt seven times over ten centuries although the exact number is uncertain. Excavations have revealed evidence that it has been rebuilt at least three times. Each time the temple was rebuilt it was on the same site and larger than the previous. Pausanias (110 - 180 AD), a Greek traveler,  geographer, and historian, claimed the shrine was ancient and older than the oracular shrine of Apollo at Didyma. He also said that the pre-Ionic inhabitants of the city were Leleges and Lydians. Historians believe the first sanctuary was built in the Bronze Age. When Callimachus wrote his Hymn to Artemis , he conjectured that the Amazons had built it. A disastrous flood, in the 7th century BC, destroyed the oldest of the several temples.  

This model of the Temple of Artemis, at Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey, attempts to recreate the probable appearance of the first temple.

This model of the Temple of Artemis, at Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey, attempts to recreate the probable appearance of the first temple. ( Wikimedia Commons )

On July 21, 356 BC, the night Alexander the Great was born, legend says that an arsonist named Herostratus set fire to the temple and burned it down. Years later, Alexander the Great visited the town and offered to help pay the cost of rebuilding it if they would put his name on it, but the Ephesians refused. After Alexander the Great died, the temple was rebuilt in 323 BC true to original form except for a raised platform, which was a feature of classical architecture. 

By 263 AD, the temple had been plundered by Nero and destroyed by the East Germanic Tribe, the Goths. After this, it was never rebuilt again. 

All temples were declared closed by the Roman emperor Theodosius I in 391 and in 401, the temple was finally destroyed by a mob led by St. John Chrysostom. Christians tore down what remained of it and over the next two centuries, the majority of Ephesus citizens eventually converted to Christianity.

One of the statues of Artemis recovered from the Temple of Artemis, at the Ephesus Archaeology Museum.

One of the statues of Artemis recovered from the Temple of Artemis, at the Ephesus Archaeology Museum. 2006, Julian Fong. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The 4th century BC temple was named as a Wonder of the World, partly due to its size, but also because of its beauty and lavish decorations inside and outside. For years, the temple was a site visited by merchants, tourists, artisans, and kings who paid homage to the goddess Artemis by sharing their profits with her. It was the home of priests and priestesses, musicians, dancers, and acrobats. The temple was also a marketplace housed many artworks. Sculptures by renowned Greek sculptors such as Polyclitus, Pheidias, Cresilas, and Phradmon adorned the temple, as well as paintings and gilded columns of gold and silver. Many of these sculptures were of the Amazons. 

Little remains of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Little remains of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus ( Wikimedia Commons )

Much of the Temple of Artemis remained undiscovered until 1869 when a team of British Museum archaeologists, led by John Turtle Wood, found the remains and foundations after a seven year long search. In 1987-88, excavations revealed the flood, which destroyed the first temple.  Today the site is little more than a ruin. Where the temple once stood there is a swamp with a lone column 11m high capped with a stork’s nest and some rubble on the ground. This column was made by the remnants found at the site and put together to appear as one of the originals. The genuine statue of Artemis which was removed during a fire is on exhibit at the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk, Turkey and other remains of the temple are at the British Museum in London England.

Of course, the grand temple of Artemis at Ephesus is just one of many dedicated to the Greek goddess. A Temple of Artemis Amarysia at Amarynthos was discovered in 2017 the island of Evia, Greece.  Recently excavators have reported of significant finds include a model of a bronze archery quiver belonging to a statue of Artemis, remains of earlier constructions dating back to the 10th-7th centuries BC as well as a new statue base bearing the names of Artemis, Apollo, and Leto, reported Greek City Times.

 

Top Image: The Building of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus by Hendrik van Cleve III ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Bryan Hilliard

References

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