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The Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis certainly deserved the reputation as one of the wonders of the world. It was the largest building in the Hellenistic world, surpassing even the Athenian Parthenon, and the first monumental structure built entirely of marble.

The appearance of the temple was reconstructed from the fragments found during archaeological work. Its spatial orientation - facing in a westerly direction - was deduced by the analogy with other temples dedicated to Artemis in Asia Minor: in Sardis and Magnesia.

Historical overview

Before the Greeks arrived at the area where later the famous Artemision was erected, there had stood a sanctuary dedicated to the mother goddess Cybele, venerated by local people. Later, Cybele was identified by the Greeks with the goddess Artemis of the Olympic pantheon. Many of the features of Cybele were also assigned to Artemis, who became the most important goddess on the Ionian coast of the Aegean Sea. Ephesus was known as an important place of worship of Artemis. In her honour, special celebrations were held every year in May, lasting the whole month.

Excavations carried out by British archaeologists had shown that before the construction of an archaic version of the Temple of Artemis, in this area there were three earlier buildings. The first of them was a simple altar, and the other two were small temples known as naiskos, with a colonnade and a pediment.

Based on the dating of gold and ivory objects found in the area it was established that the Hellenistic altar was erected in the 7th century BC. The latest layer preceding the archaic Artemision has been dated to the beginning of the 6th century BC. From that period several items of ivory, in the form of figures carrying a sacrificial bowl, have been excavated.

Archaic Artemision

The sixth century BC was the golden age of the Ionian colonies in Asia Minor. A rich city, which was then Ephesus, befitted a grand temple. Moreover, around 570 BC, the construction of the huge temple with dimensions of 52.5 to 105 meters began on the nearby island of Samos. It was to replace the existing, modest Heraion, i.e. the Temple of Hera. Because Ephesus was competing with Samos on the importance and influence, its inhabitants decided to build an even more magnificent sacral building.

For this purpose, two renowned architects, Chresifron and his son Metagenes, were brought from Crete. Additionally, the Ephesians hired the architect Theodoros, who previously worked on Samos - his experience in building on marshy grounds would prove to be of great importance. Together these artisans developed a unique structure of colossal proportions. Its stylobate or gravel base measured 55.10 to 115.14 meters, which made the temple of Artemis the largest building in the Greek world. It is believed that the architects drew inspiration from Egypt and Urartu.

Artemision was architecturally an archaic Ionic dipteros i.e. a building surrounded by a double colonnade. There were 127 columns, 19 meters high, including 36 in front of the building. The temple was built entirely of marble. Inside the temple, the statue of goddess Artemis made of cedar wood was standing. It is known many famous sculptors, including Phidias and Polykleitos, were hired to decorate the temple.

Archaic Artemision is sometimes called the Temple of Croesus because the Lydian ruler donated many architectural fragments for its construction. Since the kingdom of Croesus was conquered by the Persians in 546 BC, it is estimated that the erection of the temple was completed around 550 BC.

For two hundred years, Artemision was the source of the glory for Ephesus. It was admired and constituted an unattainable model for other temples of dipteros type. However, in the year of birth of Alexander the Great (some sources even claim that on the night of his birth), i.e. in 356 BC, the temple was burned by a madman in search of immortal fame. Unfortunately, it seems he managed to achieve this goal because his name is well known. We will not mention it here not to contribute to the immortalization of a barbaric act.

Hellenistic Artemision

During the expedition of Alexander the Great to conquest Persia, the famous leader visited Ephesus in 334 BC. He offered sacrifices in the ruins of Artemision and expressed his desire that this great edifice was rebuilt. The Ephesians found his personal involvement flattering, but they gave a diplomatic response that is not proper for a god to build the temple for another deity. However, the reconstruction project began very quickly, because a new temple was ready in 323 BC.

The reconstruction was managed by three architects: Dinocrates, Demetrios and Paionios. The new version of Artemision was a copy of the archaic version, except that it was built on a 13-step podium. The columns, in the same amount, were slightly lower, as they measured 17.65 meters in height. The statue of Artemis from the temple was made with the technique known as chryselephantine i.e. a sculpture from gold, silver, ivory, ebony and black stone. Unfortunately, the original has not been preserved to our times, and its appearance is known from later copies.

As a result of archaeological excavations conducted in the Artemision in 1965 a horse-shoe shaped altar of the temple was discovered. Because the terrain where the work was carried out was below the water level, it was necessary to use pumps before excavations. The ancient channels, discovered in the vicinity of the altar, indicate that wetland area was also causing problems for ancient builders.

Artemision from Hellenistic times was destroyed during the invasion of the Goths in 262 AD and it has never been rebuilt. The times of worship of ancient Greek gods were coming to an end.

Archaeological research

After over 60 years of searching for the ruins of Artemision, they were found in 1869 by an archaeological expedition sponsored by the British Museum and led by John Turtle Wood. The work lasted until 1874. Another series of excavations took place in between 1904 and 1906 under the direction of David George Hogarth. As a result of these works, the foundations of the temple were dug out. Moreover, the chronology of construction phases on this site was established. The remains of the temple, discovered during these excavations, were collected and are now on display in the so-called 'Hall of Ephesus' in the British Museum in London.

Between 1896 and 1906 Austrian archaeologists also worked in the area of Artemision. Their findings, including an altar and a statue of a wounded Amazon, are exhibited in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna.

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