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23-05-2015, 19:36

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: The Un-Greek Temple and Wonder

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, also known as the Artemesium, was constructed in the mid 6th century BC. It was located in Ephesus (modern Turkey), and was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Antipater of Sidon included it on his definitive list of monuments, partly because of its size and grandeur, but also because of its location. Its location on the rim of the Greek world helped to provoke admiration to non-Greeks of the vastness of the Greek world.

The Artemesium was built to honor the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt, by King Croesus of Lydia. The classic Ionic temple was designed and built by Cherisiphron, an architect from Crete, along with his son Metagenes. The location of the temple in Asia Minor was at a commercial crossroads, and therefore attracted a great variety of visitors, with varying religious beliefs. It is because of this that the cult of Artemis that was worshipped here also incorporated elements of worship of other deities, such as Cybele, an earth-mother goddess of the region around Turkey. In fact, the cult statue within the temple was likely reminiscent of this Near-Eastern goddess, featuring several breasts (a symbol of fertility), and portrayed in statuary with legs closed, tapering as a pillar or a sarcophagus (quite unlike Classical Greek statues).

The design of the temple was not of the typical rectangle portico that was common to Greek tamples of the time, but a mixture of Classic Greek and Near-Eastern design and execution. It was decorated with 127 Ionic columns that stood 60 feet high. The temple was a large marble building, measuring 377 feet by 180 feet, and it featured columns drums with high-relief sculptural scenes (rather than having simple flutes carved into them). The interior of the temple featured sculptures of Amazon warriors (who had hidden from pursuant Greek gods at Ephesus) by some of the most well respected Greek sculptors, such as Polyclitus and Pheidias. There were also several paintings adorning the walls, and gilded columns of gold and silver. The cult statue housed within the temple was not huge, like the statue of Zeus at Olympia was, but rather more "life-sized", and stood upon a marble pedestal.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was set ablaze on July 21, 356 BC by Herostratus, who held nothing personally against Artemis or the temple, but saw its destruction as a path to personal fame. The temple was reconstructed after the death of Alexander the Great (who curiously had been born on July 21, 356 BC), and then it was destroyed again in 262 by the Goths. Remains of the temple were used in the construction of later buildings.

Very little remains of the Artemesium. Its location was discovered in 1869, and excavations begun then. Several artifacts were excavated, and are housed today at the British Museum in London. As for the site at Ephesus, only a lonely reconstructed column stands today, a poignant reminder of the grandiose and gleaming temple whose religious and architectural significance made it one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.