Is it simply a temple? How could it take its place among
other unique structures such as the Pyramid, the Hanging Gardens, and
the Colossus of Rhodes? For the people who actually visited it, the answer
was simple. It was not just a temple... It was the most beautiful structure
on earth... It was built in honor of the Greek goddess of hunting and
wild nature. That was the Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus.
The ancient city of Ephesus near the modern town of Selcuk, about 50 km
south of Izmir (Smyrna) in Turkey.
Although the foundation of the temple dates back to the seventh century
BC, the structure that earned a spot in the list of Wonders was built
around 550 BC. Referred to as the great marble temple, or temple D, it
was sponsored by the Lydian king Croesus and was designed by the Greek
architect Chersiphron. It was decorated with bronze statues sculpted by
the most skilled artists of their time: Pheidias, Polycleitus, Kresilas,
The temple served as both a marketplace and a religious
institution. For years, the sanctuary was visited by merchants, tourists,
artisans, and kings who paid homage to the goddess by sharing their profits
with her. Recent archeological excavations at the site revealed gifts
from pilgrims including statuettes of Artemis made of gold and ivory...
earrings, bracelets, and necklaces... artifacts from as far as Persia
On the night of 21 July 356 BC, a man named Herostratus
burned the temple to ground in an attempt to immortalize his name. He
did indeed. Strangely enough, Alexander the Great was born the same night.
The Roman historian Plutarch later wrote that the goddess was "too busy
taking care of the birth of Alexander to send help to her threatened temple".
Over the next two decades, the temple was restored and is labeled "temple
E" by archeologists. And when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor,
he helped rebuild the destroyed temple.
When St Paul visited Ephesus to preach Christianity in
the first century AD, he was confronted by the Artemis' cult who had no
plans to abandon their goddess. And when the temple was again destroyed
by the Goths in AD 262, the Ephesians vowed to rebuild. By the fourth
century AD, most Ephesians had converted to Christianity and the temple
lost its religious glamor. The final chapter came when in AD 401 the Temple
of Artemis was torn down by St John Chrysostom. Ephesus was later deserted,
and only in the late nineteenth century has the site been excavated. The
digging revealed the temple's foundation and the road to the now swampy
site. Attempts were recently made to rebuilt the temple, but only a few
columns have been re-erected.
The foundation of the temple was rectangular in form, similar to most
temples at the time. Unlike other sanctuaries, however, the building was
made of marble, with a decorated façade overlooking a spacious courtyard.
Marble steps surrounding the building platform led to the high terrace
which was approximately 80 m (260 ft) by 130 m (430 ft) in plan. The columns
were 20 m (60 ft) high with Ionic capitals and carved circular sides.
There were 127 columns in total, aligned orthogonally over the whole platform
area, except for the central cella or house of the goddess.
The temple housed many works of art, including four ancient
bronze statues of Amazons sculpted by the finest artists at the time.
When St Paul visited the city, the temple was adorned with golden pillars
and silver statuettes, and was decorated with paintings. There is no evidence
that a statue of the goddess herself was placed at the center of the sanctuary,
but there is no reason not to believe so.
The early detailed descriptions of the temple helped
archeologists reconstruct the building. Many reconstructions such as that
by H.F. von Erlach depicted the façade with a four-column porch which
never existed. More accurate reconstructions may give us an idea about
the general layout of the temple. However, its true beauty lies in the
architectural and artistic details which will forever remain unknown.