In ancient Greece the Goddess of fertility Artemis (also known as Diana) was, quite simply, a big deal. The citizens of Ephesus – a city in Anatolia – worshiped her deeply and at around c.800BC the very first Temple of Artemis was built. Over the next three centuries the Temple of Artemis was destroyed up to seven times and rebuilt again. The first Temple to be hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was one of the later ones, built in 550BC and paid for by King Croesus of Lydia who had invaded and conquered Ephesus.
Fourth century BC architect, Philon, said: “I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade”. The Temple consisted of over 100 columns which were needed to support the immense roof and a rectangular foundation that measured 150 feet in width and 300 feet in length. It was used primarily as a place to worship the Goddess Artemis, but also as a marketplace.
While at one point Ephesus was a busy shipping port and trade center, it began to struggle financially and its citizens moved away from its swampy marshland to the more fertile and pleasant mountains. When explorers came to Ephesus in 1100 expecting to find a bustling, busy city, they were surprised to find a deserted land where the Temple of Artemis once stood.
Despite King Croesus having so cruelly invaded Ephesus, destroyed the existing temple and taken over the city, he was the man who consequently funded the construction of the next magnificent building, one which was four times larger than its predecessors. The man who Croesus employed to design and construct the temple is thought to have been called Theodorus, although little documentation of this exists today.
On principle Herostratus should be left out of this story, but unfortunately his name is central. Herostratus was a young rebel, desperate to have his name remembered for hundreds and thousands of years to come. He burnt the Temple of Artemis that Croesus had commissioned to the ground, in an attempt to become famous. Luckily, it was rebuilt by the architect Scopas of Paros soon after and, according to Pliny the Elder, the new temple was “one that merits our genuine admiration”.
Where it is Today:
Much of the Temples of Artemis remained undiscovered until 1869 when a team of British Museum archaeologists, led by British engineer, architect and archaeologist John Turtle Wood, finally found the remains and the many foundations that were constructed there. They had been searching for many years, each time almost begging for further funding from the British Museum for the project. When it was finally found it took a further five years to excavate, during which time many remains and artifacts were taken back to the museum for display.
In its original place today stands one single column which marks the site where the temple lay. This column is not intact, however. It was made by the remnants found on site and put together to appear as one of the original columns.
As with many of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World such as the Mausoleum of Maussollos in Harlicanassus, Turkey and the Colossus of Rhodes in Greece, we must thank the famous first century AD historian Pliny the Elder for what we know of the Temple of Artemis. Pliny not only documented its exact proportions, how long the temples took to build and the materials that were used but also the feelings evoked in those who looked upon each one.
Those who are interested in seeing the remains of the last Temple of Artemis can either travel to the city of Ephesus in Greece to see the singular column, or visit the ‘Ephesus Room’ which was opened in the British Museum, London when John Turtle Wood and his team had the remains shipped back to England.