The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art-focused travel blogs to post on a common theme. This month we are discussing great architecture! You can find links below for the rest of the group’s posts this month. Today I’m bringing you one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and the greatest Greek temple ever built: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus!
Oh wait – that doesn’t look very impressive….
Sadly, like many of the other Wonders of the Ancient World (for example, here in Bodrum, Turkey), the Temple of Artemis, also known as the Artemision, was destroyed long ago. Only archaeological ruins, pieces of architectural elements, and contemporary accounts remain to help us reconstruct this amazing sight. But I think you’ll see that the size, beauty and history of this ancient structure befits its title as Wonder of the Ancient World – at least much more so than the pelican nest there today does.
Let’s put the size of the Temple into context. Think of the impressive Parthenon in Athens. The Parthenon is approximately 70 x 30 meters. At 115 x 55 meters, the Temple of Artemis was about 50% longer and wider. It’s Ionic column were also 25% taller than those in the Parthenon. The Temple at Ephesus would have been massive in the ancient Greek world!
Roman writers note that there were two rows of outer columns before entering the inter sanctuary; whereas the Parthenon only had one level of column. The columns were spaced along the front face so as to create a slightly wider center aisle into the goddess’s sanctuary.
While a temple to Artemis had existed on the site since the 8th century BC, construction on the major temple beginning in 546 BC. This makes the Artemision about 100 years older than Temple to Athena in Athens. After it was destroyed in 356 BC, a third, even larger temple was erected which survived until pillaged by Goths in the 3nd century AD.
Much like the Parthenon, the central sanctuary, or cella, contained a statue for worship. The cult of Artemis celebrated in Ephesus was a particularly old tradition with Anatolian roots that focused on fertility. The statue (which probably deserves its own ArtSmart post) had a column-like lower half and was elaborately decorated with several rows of “pods” along the goddess’s chest. Art historians have speculated these are either breasts or bulls testicles; in either case, they reference the goddess’s power over reproduction and new life.
Roman contemporaries describe a temple with extensive decorations. The pediment friezes have been lost but both archaic and classical Greek carvings have been found suggesting a long period of construction, reconstruction or at least the incorporation of former decorative elements into the newest iteration of the Temple. The massive Ionic columns were carved along the bottom as you can see in the recreation above. One impressive column barrel depicting Hermes, a winged personification of death, and possibly Eurydice (shown below) and many of the carvings recovered during excavations in the late 19th century were taken to the British Museum.
The Temple of Artemis had a legendary end. In 356 BC, a young man named Herostratus set fire to the temple in an attempt to gain fame. Because of its wooden roof, the temple was almost completely destroyed. The people of Ephesus sentences him to death and vowed to punish anyone who repeated his name. Of course, the story of the Great Temple’s destruction and its arsonist were recorded by contemporary historians which in essence giving Herostratus his wish because we know him today.
My favorite part is the Roman twist on this story. The Temple of Artemis is said to have burned down the same night Alexander the Great was born. Plutarch (45 -120 AD) wrote that Artemis, the Goddess of Childbirth, was too preoccupied with Alexander’s delivery to save her burning temple. I like to imagine contemporary listeners shrugging and thinking a temple for a Greek conqueror was probably a fair trade.
Today the Temple of Artemis is a quiet stop just outside the city of Selcuk in Turkey on your way to the ruins of ancient Ephesus. The outline of the massive temple is mostly visible and completely encompasses a little pond. One column has been erected to give the site some perspective. It may take a little imagination and you may have to sit on the remaining stone blocks to picture it, but here once stood one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
For the rest of the August ArtSmart Roundtable, see:
- Erin of A Sense of Place – The Best Hidden Museum in Paris Is All Architecture
- Lesley of CultureTripper – Brussels’ Fabulous Atomium
- Jeff of EuroTravelogue – Norway’s Historic Stave Churches
- Jenna of This is My Happiness – Art Nouveau Architecture in Prague
- Murissa of The Wanderful Traveler – The Evolution of the Hotel (Top 5)
And don’t forget to “like” our group on Facebook for art & travel news!