Is it simply a temple? How could it take its place among other unique structures such as the Pyramid, the Hanging Gardens, and the Colossus of Rhodes? For the people who actually visited it, the answer was simple. It was not just a temple... It was the most beautiful structure on earth... It was built in honor of the Greek goddess of hunting and wild nature. That was the Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus.
The temple served as both a marketplace and a religious institution. For years, the sanctuary was visited by merchants, tourists, artisans, and kings who paid homage to the goddess by sharing their profits with her. Recent archeological excavations at the site revealed gifts from pilgrims including statuettes of Artemis made of gold and ivory... earrings, bracelets, and necklaces... artifacts from as far as Persia and India.
On the night of 21 July 356 BC, a man named Herostratus burned the temple to ground in an attempt to immortalize his name. He did indeed. Strangely enough, Alexander the Great was born the same night. The Roman historian Plutarch later wrote that the goddess was "too busy taking care of the birth of Alexander to send help to her threatened temple". Over the next two decades, the temple was restored and is labeled "temple E" by archeologists. And when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor, he helped rebuild the destroyed temple.
When St Paul visited Ephesus to preach Christianity in the first century AD, he was confronted by the Artemis' cult who had no plans to abandon their goddess. And when the temple was again destroyed by the Goths in AD 262, the Ephesians vowed to rebuild. By the fourth century AD, most Ephesians had converted to Christianity and the temple lost its religious glamor. The final chapter came when in AD 401 the Temple of Artemis was torn down by St John Chrysostom. Ephesus was later deserted, and only in the late nineteenth century has the site been excavated. The digging revealed the temple's foundation and the road to the now swampy site. Attempts were recently made to rebuilt the temple, but only a few columns have been re-erected.
The temple housed many works of art, including four ancient bronze statues of Amazons sculpted by the finest artists at the time. When St Paul visited the city, the temple was adorned with golden pillars and silver statuettes, and was decorated with paintings. There is no evidence that a statue of the goddess herself was placed at the center of the sanctuary, but there is no reason not to believe so.
The early detailed descriptions of the temple helped archeologists reconstruct the building. Many reconstructions such as that by H.F. von Erlach depicted the fašade with a four-column porch which never existed. More accurate reconstructions may give us an idea about the general layout of the temple. However, its true beauty lies in the architectural and artistic details which will forever remain unknown.
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