As being one of the most important monuments of Ephesus, The Temple of Artemis unfortunately could not survive in our time apart from a couple of ruins that it has left behind. However, it is possible to find out how gorgeous once it was by looking those ruins that remained from the temple.
Devoted to Artemis, the goddess of wild nature, the moon and the hunt, this temple was on the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus Archaeological Site is located in Western coast of Turkey. If you happen to visit Turkey, you should definitely take a look at this place.
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Artemis, The Goddess of the Moon
Being the daughter of Leto and Zeus, Artemis was twin sister of Apollo. She was renamed as “Diana” by Romans. Artemis is born one day before Apollo and she helps her mother while she gives birth to her latter child. After witnessing the pain her mother endures during the delivery, Artemis decides not to marry in her life and for this reason she is identified with virginity and is recognized the guardian of unmarried young girls.
There is a dualist relationship between Artemis and Apollo, therefore these two are considered as twins in Ancient Greek sources. While Apollo is identified with the sun, Artemis is portrayed as an anthropomorphic form of the moon. Therefore, Artemis was also known as the goddess of the moon.
Artemis was worshipped especially in rural and mountainous areas. There were a lot of temples dedicated to Artemis in different areas of Ancient Greek geography. After the cult of Artemis reached to Anatolia, it was reunited with the cult of the “Mother Goddess” that had already been there for centuries and they started to identify Artemis with many breasts like Cybele.
Greek historian Stefanos Skarmintzos points out the similarity between the cults of Artemis and Cybele. In his article The Cult of Artemis in Ephesus and the Possible Explanation of the Bee Symbol, Skarmintzos claims that the cult of Artemis in Anatolia is an assimilated version of the Hititte Goddess Cult with Greek character.
History of the Temple of Artemis
The history of the Temple of Artemis dates back to 6 centuries BC. According to Plynus, a Byzantine historian, the Temple of Artemis was 115-meters-long and 55-meters-wide. Constructed out of marble down to the ground, this temple stood with 127 columns built in Ionic style.
What we know about the masterpieces inside the temple is based upon Plynus’ stories. According to him, inner side of the temple was filled with statues and paintings made by famous artists of that era such as Polyclitus, Pheidias and Cresilas. Also, the columns that supported the temple were decorated with gold and silver.
The construction of the first Temple of Artemis is attributed to the Ionians living in this region. After the first temple was destroyed by flood, the second, and much more magnificent temple, was built by Croesus, King of Lydia. However, it needed rebuilding after it was burnt down by Herostratus in 356.
The temple was uncovered by J.T Wood, an English engineer who worked in the construction of Izmir-Aydin railway, in 1869. Beginning from the excavations that J.T Wood conducted, the results reveal that there are 4 different construction periods of the temple.
Since the excavations were carried out on behalf of British Museum, some of the artifacts extracted from this place have still been exhibited in British Museum. Also, Ephesus Museum in Vienna displays some of the pieces that was originally extracted in this place.
The Burning of the Temple of Artemis
The burning of the temple of Artemis was the first act of terrorism that we know, so Herostratus is considered as the first terrorist in history. According to popular wisdom, Herostratus was a fame-seeking young man and set the temple of Artemis on fire to be remembered forever.
However, according to different sources, Herostratus was a slave and he set the temple on fire because of his hatred of the people of Ephesus.
The burning of Ephesus has inspired many works of art throughout history. There are references to the burning down of Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, in many plays and novels.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus Facts
One of the most interesting facts about the Temple of Artemis is that those who lived in that period described the temple as the greatest architectural work ever. We can see how sacred the temple was regarded in ancient times from the emotional bond Ephesians established with the temple. However, it is known that not only the locals but also all kings (including Alexander the Great) who wanted to conquer Ephesus valued the Temple of Artemis greatly.
There were various temples in Anatolia and Greece dedicated to Artemis. On the other hand, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus differed from the others in terms of architecture and characteristic features. Artemis is depicted as having many breasts fittingly to the cult of the Mother Goddess and you can see this statue in this day and time.
Antipater of Sidon (famous ancient Greek poet), compiling the Seven Wonders of the World, compares the Temple of Artemis to Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Egyptian Pyramids and other important magnificent wonders of the world and he concludes that no other wonder is as magnificent as the Temple of Artemis adding that he had seen them all.
The magnificence of the Temple of Artemis left such an important mark on people’s memory that its reputation has survived to the present day. Although the temple was destroyed, it was always remembered how it looked. In this way, this famous structure of Anatolia found its place in Renaissance art.
In conclusion, the Temple of Artemis is one of the most important works of art in Ancient Age, nevertheless, there are only ruins remained from it in our time. Still, even remaining ruins are enough to understand the magnificence that this temple had once upon a time.
There are many articles on the Istanbul Clues site about Ephesus, in which Temple of Artemis is located. If you wish, you can also check out the things to do in Ephesus article, where you can review other historical monuments in and around Ephesus.
Although Ephesus is known for its rich Roman heritage, it still carries traces of Ancient Greece. The Ancient City of Ephesus has the best preserved Roman heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and is among the must-see historical places in Turkey.
Those who want to visit Ephesus are mostly cruise ship passengers coming from Kusadasi Cruise Port. However, with its cultural heritage, Ephesus also attracts visitors from other touristic cities in Turkey such as Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya.
If you are going to visit this region, I suggest you hire a private tour guide in Ephesus. With its history dating back to 1000 BC, Ephesus was one of the most important cultural and commercial centers of the ancient age. You will need an experienced guide to fully understand the history of this well-preserved Greco-Roman heritage.
Written by Serhat Engul