Saturday, July 26, 2008
Artemiseion , Ephesus, Turkey
The Artemiseion, a huge Ionic temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, stood in the city of Ephesus on the Aegean coast of what was then Asia, near the modern town of Selcuk, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Izmir, Turkey. The splendid building was acclaimed as one of the seven wonders of the world, as attested by Antipater of Sidon: “When I saw the sacred house of Artemis 1/4 the [other wonders] were placed in the shade, for the Sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.” Among several attempts to identify the architectural and sculptural wonders of the ancient world, the seven best known are those listed by Antipater in the second century b.c. and confirmed soon after by one Philo of Byzantium.Artemis was the Greek moon goddess, daughter of Zeus and Leto. Whatever form she was given, it was always linked with wild nature. On the Greek mainland she was usually portrayed as a beautiful young virgin, a goddess in human form. In Ephesus and the other Ionic colonies of Asia, where ancient ideas of the Earth Mother and associated fertility cults persisted, she was linked with Cybele, the mother goddess of Anatolia, and her appearance was dramatically different, even grotesque. The original cult statue has long since disappeared, but copies survive. That is hardly surprising, because the trade in them flourished in Ephesus at least until the first century a.d. They portray a standing figure, her arms outstretched like those of the earlier décolleté figurines common in Minoan Crete. Artemis was fully dressed except for her many breasts, symbolizing her fertility (although some recent scholars have suggested that the bulbous forms are bulls’ scrotums). The lower part of her body was covered with a tight-fitting skirt, decorated with plant motifs and carved in relief with griffins and sphinxes. She wore a head scarf decorated in the same way and held in place with a four-tiered cylindrical crown. Ancient sources say that the original statue was made of black stone, enriched with gold, silver, and ebony.
The Artemis shrines at Ephesus had a checkered history. The earliest was established on marshy land near the river, probably around 800 b.c.; it was later rebuilt and twice enlarged. The sanctuary housed a sacred stone—perhaps a meteorite—believed to have fallen from Zeus. By 600 b.c. Ephesus had become a major port, and in the first half of the fifth century, its citizens commissioned the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes to build a larger temple in stone to replace the timber structure. In 550 b.c. it also was destroyed when the Lydian king, Croesus, invaded the region. Croesus, whose name has passed into legend for his fabulous wealth, contributed generously to a new temple, the immediate predecessor to the “wonder of the world.” It was four times the area of Chersiphron’s temple, and over 100 columns supported its roof. In 356 b.c. one Herostratos, a young man “who wanted his name to go down in history,” started a fire that burned the temple to the ground.
The Ephesian architects Demetrios and Paeonios (and possibly Deinocrates) were commissioned to design a more magnificent temple, built to the same plan and on the same site. The first main difference was that the new building stood on a 9-foot-high (2.7-meter) stepped rectangular platform measuring 260 by 430 feet (80 by 130 meters), rather than a lower crepidoma like the earlier stone building. Another departure from the normally austere and reserved Greek architectural tradition was the opulence of the temple, which went beyond even its great size. Its porch (pronaos) was very deep: eight bays across and four deep. The Ionic columns towered to 48 feet (17.7 meters); each had, in place of the usual Ionic base, a 14-foot-high (3.5-meter) lower section, carved with narrative decorations in deep relief. The other difference was in the quality of the detail. The wonder of the world was decorated with bronze statues by the most famous contemporary artists, including Scopas of Paros. Their detail can only be guessed at, as can the overall appearance of the great temple. Attempts have been made at graphical reconstruction, but they vary widely in their interpretation of the sparse archeological evidence. Antipater described the Artemiseion as “towering to the clouds,” and Pliny the Elder called it a “wonderful monument of Grecian magnificence, and one that merits our genuine admiration.” Pliny also asserted that it took 120 years to build, but it may have taken only half that time. It was unfinished in 334 b.c. when Alexander the Great arrived in Ephesus.
By the time the Artemiseion was vandalized by raiding Goths in a.d. 262—it was partly rebuilt—both the city of Ephesus and Artemis-worship, once flaunted as universal, were in decline. When the Roman emperor Constantine redeveloped elements of the city in the fourth century a.d., he declined to restore the temple. By then, with most Ephesians converted to Christianity, it had lost its reason for being. In a.d. 401 it was completely torn down on the instructions of John Chrysostom. The harbor of Ephesus silted up, and the sea retreated, leaving barely habitable swamplands. As has so often happened, the ruined temple was reduced to being a quarry, and its stone sculptures were broken up to make lime for plaster. The old city of Ephesus, once the administrative center of the Roman province of Asia, was eventually deserted.
The temple site was not excavated until the nineteenth century. In 1863 the English architect John Turtle Wood set out to find the legendary building, under the auspices of the British Museum. He persisted through six expeditions and in 1869 discovered the base under 20 feet (6 meters) of mud. He ordered an excavation that exposed the whole platform. Some remains are now in the British Museum, others in the Istanbul Archeological Museum. In 1904 and 1905 another British expedition, led by David Hogarth, found evidence of the five temples, each built on top of the former. Today the site is a marshy field, a solitary column the only reminder that in that place once stood one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.