Built, destroyed, rebuilt and again destroyed. Such was the story of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Each time it was destroyed, it was rebuilt better and bigger than the previous one. This colossal temple had a forest of enormously tall columns that supported a gigantic roof. It was the first temple completely constructed with marbles. This temple was a wonder not just for its size or the marbles but also for the techniques involved in structuring the marvellous blocks; whether it was lifting it up in the air or lowering it down with utmost care. The architecture and engineering behind the construction of this temple would amaze anyone, considering the time in which it was built. Let’s find out more about it.
For whom was the Temple of Artemis built?
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was built for the Ephesus goddess Artemis, also known as Diana. She was considered as the goddess of fertility and thus her statue in the temple had a number of breasts draped around her body from the waist to the shoulder.
When did the first construction and destruction of the Temple of Artemis happened?
The temple was built for the first time in 600 B.C. in the land of Ephesus which was located in today’s city of Selçuk in the west coast of Turkey. Ephesus was one of the largest Greek ports in the Asia Minor. It was also the third largest populated city of the Roman Asia Minor. Thus, there were lots of travellers from around the world that would visit Ephesus. Though, much is not known about who built the temple for the first time, it had been a shelter for many travellers. There was also a stone inside the temple which was actually a meteorite from the Jupiter. But it was not long when its first destruction hit it and drained out all its remains.
In 550 B.C., King Croesus of Lydia, which was in the western Asia Minor, landed in the city of Ephesus and declared war. He conquered Ephesus and the temple was destroyed at the time of the war. There was also a heavy flood that occurred which washed away the remains of the temple leaving no traces but made the location swamp. The place was considered to be sacred and the king decided to rebuild the temple at the same place.
Who rebuilt the temple of Artemis?
After the victory, King Croesus called his men and ordered to start preparations for rebuilding the temple all over again, at the same place. He wanted to make it grand and remarkable. Since Cretan architect Chersiphron was known for his famous work in architecture, King Croesus approached him and gave him the responsibility for construction of the temple. Chersiphron had to build a remarkable and enormous temple for the goddess of fertility. He started the construction in 550 B.C. getting inspired by the Greek architecture which had column jungle in every structure.
What were the features of the temple?
The temple had a huge rectangular platform that would descend to the ground with 13 wooden steps. Upon the platform, stood 127 columns which were 18 m high supporting the huge wooden roof. The whole of the temple had a dimension of 92 m length and 46 m width. This huge structure was entirely made of enormous marble blocks except the steps and the roof. There were circular blocks for the columns and also rectangular blocks for other parts of the temple. Every column had relief figures (carved sculptures which looked like projecting out of the background plane) at the bottom. This art itself was very difficult because it involved high skilled technique of chiselling out that would take a lot of time. Even the transportation of the blocks and taking them up and down was a huge obstacle for the architect during the completion of the construction. It took nearly 50 years for it to be completed and despite that Chersiphron could not complete it in his lifetime. After his death, the remaining part of the construction was carried out and finished by his son Metagenes; the Temple of Artemis once again stood up; this time it was more enormous and filled with unimaginable sculptures for that time.
How was the temple of Artemis constructed?
The construction of this marvellous structure had consumed a lot of energies but also explored ideas that made this work of genius happen. At the time of construction, Chersiphron and King Croesus had taken more interest in the sculptures on the columns but what turned out to be more challenging was handling of the marble blocks. There were circular and rectangular blocks weighing nearly 40 tons which had to be taken all the way, for 11 km, to the construction site. Dragging it all the way could have taken lots of manpower, labour and time. Then, Chersiphron came up with an idea where he made wooden framed rollers that would fit around the circular block that would be pulled by oxen. For the rectangular blocks that were 9 m long, he encased the edges in timberworks turning them into shapes of wheels so that they could be pulled. Once the blocks were delivered to the location, there was a bigger challenge waiting for him and that was to put the block in exact positions that would fit with precision. A slight dislocation would make the entire structure to fall just like a house of cards. Thus, it required utmost concentration and smart use of techniques. Apart from piling up the blocks, one of the major problems which Chersiphron faced was that of the placement of lintels. He used the technique of ‘Shaduf’ which the ancient Greeks used for lifting water. Shaduf was actually an irrigation tool which involved a frame where a pole is tied and at one end a bucket is placed while on the other end there is a weight to pull the bucket up. Here, since his purpose involved lifting of huge blocks, he constructed shaduf on large scale. A huge replica of shaduf was made with enormous stones so that the block of marbles could be lifted.
How were the huge blocks of marbles placed to the top?
Once the lintels were lifted, there again Chersiphron faced a problem on the placing which had to be done precisely and a risk of not even the slightest error could be affordable. Chersiphron was in deep trouble trying to figure out a solution to this. Eventually an idea occurred to him, which was in reality an Egyptian technique. When Egyptians had to put the 60-ton sarcophagus (stone-carved coffin) down some shaft where it had to be buried, they made two shafts and filled one with sand. The sarcophagus was placed on top of the sand and the sand was removed slowly through the other shaft, thus lowering the coffin slowly without causing any harm. Inspired from this technique, Charsiphron took a number of sacks of sand and placed them under the lintels which were lifted. Then the sacks were cut open one by one, slowly, so that the lintels could lower itself until the exact place where it needed to be fit in.
With all of these techniques, the impossible tasks of moving the blocks, lifting and placing them in proper positions were perfected. Then the structure was completed in nearly 50 years which could have taken more, if it were not for Charsiphron’s ideas.
Why was the temple of Artemis destroyed again?
After the construction was completed by Charsiphron’s son Metagenes, it lasted for nearly 200 years. It was in 356 B.C. when a man who was obsessed with an idea to be remembered in the history came into the picture. Since the Temple of Artemis was something which was famous all around the world at that time, he decided to make it a target and a means to achieving fame. He made a plan and druing the night of 21 July, this man named Herostratus burned the temple built by Creosus down to ashes. It was also the same night when Alexander was born, who was to come to Ephesus soon. For setting fire and burning the temple down, Herostratus was tortured to death by the locals.
What were the changes incorporated in its last build-up?
It was then rebuilt in the same location by a Greek architect Scopas of Paros. This time, to protect from earthquake and other calamities, the architect laid layers of trodden charcoal underneath the ground covered with wools. The new temple also had the same number of columns and had relief figures sculpted at the bottom. Certain changes were in the size of the temple. This time the temple had a dimension of 130 m in length and 69 m in width. There were also four bronze statues of Amazon women because it was believed that Amazon women had come to the temple and taken refuge. The construction again took years to complete. While it was under construction, Alexander arrived in Ephesus in 333 B.C. and he suggested financing the construction with only one condition that he wanted his name to be sculpted in the temple. But the locals did not want the name of Alexander to be carved on the temple of their goddess but they were afraid to directly deny the same to him, because of his power. Thus, they told him that it would not be appropriate for a god to build a temple for another god and avoided him from financing the construction of the temple which was later rebuilt in 323 B.C.
How did the temple lose its enormous structure?
The temple was completed and the city started to prosper. The city had become a destination for both business and pilgrimage. For the next three centuries, the temple stood enormously and had been talked about around the world. By 57 A.D. Christianity arrived in Ephesus and stated to spread all across. Christianity grew over the next 200 years; churches were built around the Temple of Artemis. Then in an unfortunate incident, the Goths came out on a riot and destroyed the Temple of Artemis in 268 A.D. Since then few of the rulers tried to rebuilt but never completed. The rulers themselves were converted to Christians and at the same time the cost involved was too high for the locals. Thus, the temple remained as ruined stones.