Built over the course of 120 years, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was completed around 550 BC, while Turkey was under Persian rule. Although nothing remains of the temple on the site where it used to stand, several ancient historians wrote descriptions of the temple during their travels across the ancient world.
Antipater of Sidon gives a sense of the wonder and awe this temple created, as compared to a number of other “ancient wonders”:
“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon… and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy…” (Greek Anthology IX.58)
The reason for the temple’s brilliance was that, unlike other temples, it was constructed almost entirely of marble. The facade of the temple was also decorated with marble sculpture, and in front of the temple was a paved courtyard. The temple was raised on a high platform with marble steps, and when the sun shone directly on the white marble, the entire complex would have shone brilliantly.
The works of art housed inside the temple were those of the most famous sculptors in the ancient world, and typically consisted of images of Amazon warriors, since they were believed to be Ephesus’ founders. Archaeological excavations around the temple site have revealed a wealth of gold and silver jewelry, which would have been presented at the temple as offerings; a large number of Artemis statuettes have also been identified.
In 356 BC, a man named Herostratus burned the temple down, for the sole reason of gaining personal fame – at any cost. Interestingly enough, Alexander the Great was born on the same night, which the Roman historian Plutarch would later conclude was the reason that Artemis was
“too busy taking care of the birth of Alexander to send help to her threatened temple”.
The temple itself was not restored until after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, however even from the reconstructed building, only one column survives.
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Tomorrow: The statue of Zeus