Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, all that remains are a large column and some ruins, the majority of the stones and columns having been removed to build local structures including the Isa Bey mosque nearby. The temple is situated just off the main road out of Selcuk to Ephesus. You can walk there from Selcuk town centre.

Artemis of Ephesus was the Godess of Fertility. Statues which have been excavated show her as a Godess with multiple breasts. She was so important that visitors to the city would head straight to her temple to pay homage. The temple was a religious centre for people of all faiths. Known also as the Temple of Diana it was destroyed several times.

When we talk about the Temple of Artemis we are talking about a number of temples having been built, destroyed, flooded, and rebuilt on the same site. The original contstruction would have been around 800 BC. Built on marshy ground to help protect it from earthquakes, the first construction lasted 200 years before being destroyed in 600 BC by the Cimmerians, an ancient tribe linked to the Celts and Thracians who are known to have lived around the Black Sea regions of Turkey and in Anatolia.

History did not favour Artemis despite its grandeur. In 356 BC it was burned down and destroyed by Heroratus and rebuilt again by the Ephesians who turned down an offer by Alexander the Great to finance it, saying that it would be inappropriate for one God to built a temple to another God. The Great Temple, also called the Artemesium, was built by Croesus, the King of Lydia in about 55O BC.

The Temple of Artemis would have covered an area of 6000 square metres. Some 25 metres in height, 105 metres in length and 55 metres wide it would have been absolutely breathtaking to have seen. It was the first such sanctuary to have been made from marble. It would have seen 127 stone columns support the huge temple structure. Many of these were decorated with reliefs and the intricate facades would feature four bronze statues of the Amazons.

This last temple is mentioned by the 2nd century BC Greek Poet, Antipater of Sidon’s list of the world’s Seven Wonders with the following observation having been recorded:

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand”.

Unfortunately, after a period of stability, the temple was sacked and destroyed once again. This time by the Goths in 263 AD. It was never rebuilt after this. For centuries it lay in marsh land, forlorn and abandoned, pillaged for its stones and marble columns, until being rediscovered in 1869 by an expedition led by John Turtle Wood, which was sponsored by the British Museum. A railway engineer by trade, he took the remains back to the United Kingdom, and the British Museum is now home to many of the columns and ruins that would once have stood at Selcuk. They can be seen in room 82 at the British Museum in London.

Many artifacts, statues, coins, tools and pottery have been found at the ancient site. Some of these can be seen at the local Ephesus Museum.

Indeed, The Temple of Artemis has been visited by kings, famous travellers and merchants and also by people escaping persecution from other lands. Today, when tourists visit the site, they are often unimpressed by what they see. There is no entrance fee and very little to see except a large column with a stork’s nest perched on top and some ruins. Just how the various temples might have looked we can only speculate.


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