Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
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Artemis, goddess of fertility and twin sister of Apollo, had the largest temple of ancient times built for her. It was built of marble, and had 127 columns that soared 62 feet up to the tiled wooden roof. Elaborately carved bases adorned 36 of these columns, and four bronze statues of Amazons were housed inside. The structure measured 380 feet long by 180 feet wide.
The architect of this beautiful temple was named Chersiphron. Building started in 550 BC and continued for 120 years. But it wasn’t the first construction on that site, a swampy piece of land in what is now Turkey. Archaeological research has discovered that there were at least two previous temples on that spot, one being a temple to Cybele, a goddess of abundance, worshipped by ancient Carians and Lelegians. The Ionians renamed Cybele Artemis. That temple was wooden and was destroyed in a flood during the invasion of Ephesus by King Croesus of Lydia. He subsequently paid for some, if not all, of the construction of the replacement.
The marshy site was chosen, apparently, to prevent the temple being destroyed by earthquakes. Charcoal was packed onto the ground and covered with sheepskins to stabilize the foundation. Oxen pulled the drums of marble, 12 for each column, and the architraves, from the marble quarry. The pieces were fitted with wheels and axles so they could roll across the ground.
A base platform was constructed, then the column drums lifted by pulley and placed on top of each other. Although the exact plan is not known, a typical arrangement of the time was to have a double row of 21 columns along each long side, a triple row of eight along the front, a double row of nine at the rear, and the rest in the front and back porches.
Unfortunately, on 21 July, 356 BC, a man named Herostratus decided that he would like to be known forever and that the best way of achieving this would be to burn down the temple. It was said that Artemis was unable to intervene because she was busy assisting with the birth of Alexander the Great, who was born that same night. The Ephesians declared that his name should never be spoken again, but Strabo recorded it for history.
Although rebuilding soon began, the temple was still not complete when Alexander visited Ephesus in 334 BC. He wanted to pay for the work to be completed but was dissuaded by the Ephesians who tactfully said that it was inappropriate for one god to dedicate an offering to another god.
The temple was used as a place of worship and also a market, as well as a tourist destination. Hawkers sold small copies of the statue of Artemis that was housed in the central cellar of the temple. What is believed to be a copy of the original statue can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli. Artemis was known as the “great mother”, but she was also goddess of hunting, the wilderness, and wild animals.
Goths destroyed this beautiful temple in 262 AD. The ruins were crushed and burned for lime by Christians. Archaeologists excavated a few column drums, one of which is now in the British Museum. Others were erected into a lone column, which stands in a marshy field to show where the temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the world, once stood.