If you strike up a conversation with anybody about the seven wonders of the world, most begin by listing the Taj Mahal and the Haghia Sophia. In reality, there are three lists of ‘seven wonders of the world’ from three different periods – the ancient, medieval and modern world. My recently discovered love affair with history put me on a quest to see whatever is left of the ancient wonders and tell their story. Here’s the fascinating story of the Temple of Artemis.
The Goddess of Artemis in Ancient Greek mythology was actually the Goddess of Hunt. But their counterpart in Ephesus (Turkey) worshiped Artemis as the Goddess of fertility. And this temple, part of the ancient seven wonders of the world, is in Turkey.
There are actually five temples of Artemis all built one over the other on the same site, over the previously destroyed structure.
The first shrine to Goddess Artemis was built around 800 BC. Apparently, the earliest temple had a sacred stone (probably a meteorite) that was believed to have fallen from Jupiter!
By this time, the city of Ephesus became this flourishing port. So naturally, they decided to rebuild the temple. An architect was commissioned and his design probably laid the foundation for what it eventually became – a temple with high stone columns.
Unfortunately, this temple did not last long. A war broke out and King Croesus of Lydia ended up destroying the temple during the fight. Either this happened or there was a flood and the temple was destroyed. The successful king decided to contribute and build a replacement temple. Probably because nobody wants to tempt fate. The new temple was massive and a large improvement over the previous one.
This temple was everybody’s pride until a local vandal who was just looking for attention and wanted his name to be remembered by all – Herostratus, lit the temple on fire. The people of Ephesus tortured and killed Herostratus and issued a decree of death to anybody who spoke his name (he who must not be named!). There’s actually a pretty cool legend attached to this story. Apparently, 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.
333 BC (maybe)
The next temple that was built went down in history as one of the ancient seven wonders of the World. 121 columns, 60 feet in height, marble with beautiful carvings. Apparently, Alexander the Great came to Ephesus and offered to pay for its construction if he would be credited as the builder. The city fathers didn’t want Alexander’s name carved on the temple but didn’t want to tell him that. Instead, they said, “It is not fitting that one god should build a temple for another god.” Talk about diplomacy!
Today this site is a marshy field with one single column and many souvenir shops around.
Most people don’t even visit this site and go directly to the city of Ephesus. But if you do go, take a minute and imagine the grandeur of 121 tall marble columns with the statue of Artemis within. It’s quite a vision.
The statue of Artemis is in Munich. I just had to follow her journey and see her to complete my imagination.