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"- Philon of Byzantium
(Copyright Lee Krystek, 2010)
1100 A.D.: A troop of Crusaders stops at a muddy little
village in Asia Minor. Their leader looks around. Confused he
dismounts. This place is not what he expected. He read in the
ancient texts that this was a large seaport with many ships
docked in its bay. It isn't. The sea is almost three miles away.
The village is located in a swamp. There are no ships to be
seen. The leader accosts a nearby man.
Ephesus (Present day Turkey)
Around 323 BC
Temple to Goddess Artemis
262 AD by Goths
Length 425 ft. (129m)
of: Mostly marble
Largest in a series of temples to Artemis on this site.
"Sir, is this the city of Ephesus?"
"It was called that once. Now it is named Ayasalouk."
"Well, where is your bay? Where are the trading ships? And
where is the magnificent Greek temple that we have heard about?"
Now it is the man's turn to be confused. "Temple?
What temple, Sir? We have no temple here..."
And so 800 years after its destruction, the magnificent Temple
of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven
Wonders of the Ancient World, had been completely forgotten
by the people of the town that had once held it in such pride.
And there is no doubt that the temple was indeed magnificent.
"I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon,"
wrote Philon of Byzantium, "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."
18th century engraving of the goddess Artemis of Ephesus.
So what happened to this great temple? And what happened to
the city that hosted it? What turned Ephesus from a busy port
of trade to a few shacks in a swamp?
The Shrine to
the Goddess Artemis
The first shrine to the Goddess Artemis was probably built
around 800 B.C. on a marshy strip near the river at Ephesus.
The Ephesus goddess Artemis, sometimes called Diana, is not
quite the same figure as was worshiped in Greece. The Greek
Artemis was the goddess of the hunt. The Ephesus Artemis was
a goddess of fertility and was often pictured as draped with
eggs or multiple breasts, symbols of fertility, from her waist
to her shoulders.
That earliest temple contained a sacred stone, probably a meteorite,
that had "fallen from Jupiter." The shrine was destroyed and
rebuilt several times over the next few hundred years. By 600
B.C., the city of Ephesus had become a major port of trade and
an architect named Chersiphron was engaged to build a new, larger
temple. He designed it with high stone columns. Concerned that
carts carrying the columns might get mired in the swampy ground
around the site, Chersiphron laid the columns on their sides
and had them rolled to where they would be erected.
This temple didn't last long. According to one story in 550
B.C., King Croesus of Lydia conquered Ephesus and the other
Greek cities of Asia Minor and during the fighting, the temple
was destroyed. An archeological examination of the site, however,
suggests that a major flood hit the temple site at about the
same time and may have been the actual cause of the destruction.
In either case, the victorious Croesus proved himself a gracious
new ruler by contributing generously to the building of a replacement
This next temple dwarfed those that had come before it. The
architect is thought to be a man named Theodorus. Theodorus's
temple was 300 feet in length and 150 feet wide with an area
four times the size of the previous temple. More than one hundred
stone columns supported a massive roof. One unusual feature
of the temple was that a number of columns had bases that were
carved with figures in relief.
of the column bases with carved figures preserved at the
The new temple was the pride of Ephesus until 356 B.C. when
tragedy struck. A young Ephesian named Herostratus, who would
stop at nothing to have his name go down in history, set fire
to the wooden roof of the building. He managed to burn the structure
to the ground. The citizens of Ephesus were so appalled by this
act that after torturing Herostratus to death, they issued a
decree that anyone who even spoke of his name would be put to
One of the legends that grew up about the great fire was that
the night that the temple burned was the very same night that
Alexander the Great was born. According to the story, the goddess
Artemis was so preoccupied with Alexander's safe birth she was
unable to save her own temple from its fiery destruction.
the Great Temple
Shortly after the fire, a new temple was commissioned. The
architect was Scopas of Paros, one of the most famous sculptors
of his day. By this point Ephesus was one of the greatest cities
in Asia Minor and no expense was spared in the reconstruction.
According to Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian, the new temple
was a "wonderful monument of Grecian magnificence, and one that
merits our genuine admiration."
The temple was built in the same wet location as before. To
prepare the ground, Pliny recorded that "layers of trodden charcoal
were placed beneath, with fleeces covered with wool upon the
top of them." Pliny also noted that one of the reasons the builders
kept the temple on its original marshy location was that they
reasoned it would help protect the structure from the earthquakes
which plagued the region.
artist's conception of the temple (Copyright
Lee Krystek 1998)
The great temple is thought to be the first building completely
constructed with marble. Like its predecessor, the temple had
36 columns whose lower portions were carved with figures in
high-relief. The temple also housed many works of art including
four bronze statues of Amazon women. The Amazons, according
to myth, took refuge at Ephesus from Heracles, the Greek demigod,
and founded the city.
Pliny recorded the length of this new temple at 425 feet and
the width at 225 feet. Some 127 columns, 60 feet in height,
supported the roof. In comparison the Parthenon, the remains
of which still stand on the Acropolis in Athens today, was only
230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns.
According to Pliny, construction took 120 years, though some
experts suspect it may have only taken half that time. We do
know that when Alexander the Great came to Ephesus in 333 B.C.,
the temple was still under construction. He offered to finance
the completion of the temple if the city would credit him as
the builder. The city fathers didn't want Alexander's name carved
on the temple, but didn't want to tell him that. They finally
gave the tactful response: "It is not fitting that one god should
build a temple for another god" and Alexander didn't press the
Pliny reported that earthen ramps were employed to get the
heavy stone beams perched on top of the columns. This method
seemed to work well until one of the largest beams was put into
position above the door. It went down crookedly and the architect
could find no way to get it to lie flat. He was beside himself
with worry about this until he had a dream one night in which
the Goddess herself appeared to him saying that he should not
be concerned. She herself had moved the stone into the proper
position. The next morning the architect found that the dream
was true. During the night the beam had settled into its proper
an End to Artemis Worship
theater at Ephesus where a riot nearly started in 57 A.D.
over St. Paul's evangelism in the city. (Licensed
through Wikipedia Commons courtesy Norman Herr)
The city continued to prosper over the next few hundred years
and was the destination for many pilgrims coming to view the
temple. A souvenir business in miniature Artemis idols, perhaps
similar to a statue of her in the temple, grew up around the
shrine. It was one of these business proprietors, a man named
Demetrius, that gave St. Paul a difficult time when he visited
the city in 57 A.D.
St. Paul came to the city to win converts to the then new religion
of Christianity. He was so successful that Demetrius feared
the people would turn away from Artemis and he would lose his
livelihood. He called others of his trade together with him
and gave a rousing speech ending with "Great is Artemis of the
Ephesians!" They then seized two of Paul's companions and a
near riot followed during a meeting at the city theater. Eventually,
however, the city was quieted, the men released and Paul left
It was Paul's Christianity that won out in the end, though.
By the time the great Temple of Artemis was destroyed during
a raid by the Goths in 268 A.D., both the city and the religion
of Artemis were in decline. The temple was rebuilt again, but
in 391 it was closed by the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great
after he made Christianity the state religion. The temple itself
was destroyed by a Christian mob in 401 and the stoned was recycled
into other buildings. When the Roman Emperor Constantine rebuilt
much of Ephesus a century later, he declined to restore the
temple. He too had become a Christian and had little interest
in pagan religions.
The Holocaust at the Temple at Ephesus
Despite Constantine's efforts, Ephesus declined in its importance
as a crossroads of trade. The bay where ships docked disappeared
as silt from the river filled it. In the end what was left of
the city was miles from the sea, and many of the inhabitants
left the swampy lowland to live in the surrounding hills. Those
that remained used the ruins of the temple as a source of building
materials. Many of the fine sculptures were pounded into powder
to make lime for wall plaster.
Find the Remains
In 1863 the British Museum sent John Turtle Wood, an architect,
to search for the temple. Wood met with many obstacles. The
region was infested with bandits. Workers were hard to find.
His budget was too small. Perhaps the biggest difficulty was
that he had no idea where the temple was located. He searched
for the temple for six years. Each year the British Museum threatened
to cut off his funding unless he found something significant,
and each year he convinced them to fund him for just one more
Wood kept returning to the site each year many despite hardships.
During his first season he was thrown from a horse, breaking
his collar bone. Two years later he was stabbed within an inch
of his heart during an assassination attempt upon the British
Consul in Smyrna.
Finally in 1869, at the bottom of a muddy twenty-foot deep
test pit, his crew struck the base of the great temple. Wood
then excavated the whole foundation removing 132,000 cubic yards
of the swamp to leave a hole some 300 feet wide and 500 feet
long. The remains of some of the sculptured portions of the
temple were found and shipped to the British Museum where they
can be viewed today.
site of the temple today (Licensed through
Wikipedia Commons courtesy Adam Carr)
In 1904 another British Museum expedition under the leadership
of D.G. Hograth continued the excavation. Hograth found evidence
of five temples on the site, each one constructed on top of
the remains of another.
Today the site of the temple near the modern town of Selšuk
is only a marshy field. A single column has been erected to
remind visitors that once there stood in this place one of the
wonders of the ancient world.