Can you guess which is the largest temple built in ancient times?
The Temple of Artemis, sometimes referred to as the Temple of Diana, was the largest temple of ancient times. The temple was built to honor the goddess of fertility and twin sister of Apollo; Artemis. The temple was built in Ephesus (located in present-day Turkey). And, it’s considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The temple was considered a marvelous symbol of the greatest civil engineering feats. Of all the 7 ancient wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis was described as the most ornate and enriched.
But, what happened to such wonder? How was this great temple built? And, what destroyed it? Are there any ruins of the temple?
Sure, mystery surrounds the largest temple of ancient times.
But, I’m here to tell you all of its story from nitty-gritty construction details to its destruction.
Article at a Glance
- Quick Facts on the Temple of Artemis
- Construction of the Temple
- Construction by Chersiphron and his son Metagenes
- Construction by Theodorus of Samos
- Did Arson Destroy The Temple?
- Design of the Temple of Artemis
- Are There Any Ruins Excavated?
- What Does The Temple Look Like Now?
Let’s cover each of these sections in detail:
Quick Facts on the Temple of Artemis
- Structure: the Temple of Artemis
- Location: Ephesus (35 miles south of present-day Izmir, Turkey)
- Built: around 550 BCE
- Designers: Chersiphron and his son Metagenes
- Arson: Herostratus burnt it down in 356 BC
- Size: 377-foot long
- Construction Material: mostly marble
- Destroyed: 262 AD by the Goths
Construction of the Temple
Ephesus was once a great port city, as well as a site sacred to the Anatolian Mother Goddess, Cybele. Ephesus was a place of great religious importance. It was considered a religious center in the ancient world.
The Greek goddess, Artemis, sometimes called Diana, was different from the one worshiped in Ephesus. The Greek one used to be worshiped as the goddess of the hunt. The Ephesus one was considered a goddess of fertility. Due to devotion to Artemis, the people of Ephesus had built shrines to her. The first shrine devoted to Artemis was probably built around 800 BC on a site near the river at Ephesus.
The earliest temple contained a stone as the center of worshipping object. The stone was probably a meteorite fallen from Jupiter. The earliest was built and destroyed a couple of times.
Finally, around 600 BC, a Cretan architect named Chersiphron and his son Metagenes were tasked with building a new, larger temple. The wealthy king of Lydia, Croesus, financed the early construction. To protect the Temple from future earthquakes, the marshy ground was selected.
The architects designed the Temple with high stone columns. They rolled the columns to the site where they would be set up.
Antipater of Sidon who documented a list of the 7 wonders described that it was estimated that the construction project would take 120 years to complete.
The construction wasn’t completed when the Temple was first destroyed. Multiple theories emerged on how it was destroyed. One theory suggests that by 500 BC, after conquering Ephesus, King Croesus of Lydia was locked in battles with other Greek cities of Asia Minor. During the fight, the Temple was destroyed.
Construction by Theodorus of Samos
Archaeological excavations suggest that a massive flood hit the Temple site. In either case, after conquering Ephesus, Croesus contributed to the rebuilding of the Temple generously. The newly rebuilt Temple was larger than the ones built before it. Now the architect was thought to be Theodorus of Samos. His temple was about 300 feet in length and 150 feet wide.
Theodorus’s temple was said to occupy an area four times the size of the previous temple.
More than one hundred stone columns were positioned to support the massive roof. Some columns had their bases carved with figures in relief.
The people of Ephesus took pride in the recreation of the Temple. It wasn’t until 356 BC when the trail of destruction followed again.
Did Arson Destroy The Temple?
For 200 years, the Temple of Artemis was held in high regard. Pilgrims would cross long distances just to glimpse at it. Many visitors would also generously contribute to the Temple to earn Artemis’s favor. Local vendors would set up stores to sell Artemis’s idols near the Temple. The City of Ephesus grew wealthy from the tourism industry built on the Temple.
Then, a man named Herostratus wanted to be famous and wanted his name to be written in history. So, he hatched a plot to achieve. And, the best way he thought of achieving it was to burn the Temple to the ground.
On July 21, 356 BC, Alexander the Great was born. Herostratus set the temple on fire on the same night. The fire destroyed the Temple completely. And, Herostratus sure earned his place in history. Strabo, a historian, recorded it.
But, he paid a heavy cost for his fame. He suffered a painful death. The people of Ephesus tortured him to death. Moreover, they decreed that anybody who uttered his name would also be put to death.
According to the story, the goddess Artemis didn’t intervene. Because she was busy assisting with Alexander’s safe birth. She was so preoccupied that she couldn’t save her own temple from the fiery destruction.
Design of the Temple of Artemis
The Temple was designed in the rectangular fashion. The largest model of the Temple measured 377 feet in length and 180 feet wide. Each marble column had its engraved cap. Gold and silver decorated the structure. The Temple was surely a place reflecting extravagance and luster over functionality.
Engineering such an extravagant Marvel has put the Temple’s place in the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
The Temple was built, destroyed, but rebuilt. Archaeological investigation has revealed that the original Temple was rebuilt twice in the same location on the foundation. Construction of the Temple is said to have taken over 120 years. But, the exact timeframe is hard to confirm.
Every component of the Temple was constructed using marble. Mostly the construction using marble occurred exactly like the way one would build blocks. The supporting columns were put up first, then marble beams were positioned to fill up the gap and give support to the roofing structure.
Excavations to Find the Ruins
In 1863, a British architect named John Turtle Wood was appointed by the British Museum to locate the Temple of Artemis. Wood soon found himself in a mire of obstacles. The region was rife with miscreants. He couldn’t find reliable workers either. Years after years, he led a laborious project to search for the temple.
The Temple seemed so elusive to Wood. Ordeals after ordeals followed. The British Museum threatened to cut off his fund if he couldn’t find something significant. He broke his collarbone after being thrown from a horse. He was stabbed and survived an assassination attempt.
But, Mr. Wood wasn’t someone who would let go. Finally, in 1869, his crew hit the base of the long-lost temple. At the bottom of a 20-foot deep pit lay the great Temple. Wood and his crew excavated the foundation, recovering a structure measuring 500 feet long and 300 feet wide.
The remains of the structure can be viewed at the British Museum today.
What Does The Temple Look Like Now?
The site of the temple is now only a marshy field. It’s located near the town of Selcuk in modern-day Turkey. A single column has been preserved and erected to remind people that there was once stood one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
According to many historical accounts, of all the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis was the most ornate and beautiful structure. Flood, arson, war and even earthquakes constantly destroyed each model of the Temple. But, the period it stood bore the symbol of ancient engineering.