May 3, 2011

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Part Four

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade.
~ Philon of Byzantium

The first shrine to the Goddess Artemis was probably built around 800 B.C. on a marshy strip near the river at Ephesus. The shrine was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the next few hundred years. By 600 B.C., the city of Ephesus had become a major port of trade and an architect named Chersiphron was engaged to build a new large temple.

This temple didn't last long. In 550 B.C. King Croesus of Lydia conquered Ephesus. During the fighting, the temple was destroyed. Croesus proved himself a gracious winner, though, by contributing generously to the building of a new temple.

The new temple was the pride of Ephesus until 356 B.C. when it was burned to the ground by a man named Herostratus, who did this so that his name would go down in history. Shortly after this infamous deed, a new temple was commissioned.

The architect was Scopas of Paros, one of the most famous sculptors of his day. Ephesus was one of the greatest cities in Asia Minor at this point and no expense was spared in the construction. The temple was built in the same marshy place as before. To prepare the ground, Piny recorded that "layers of trodden charcoal were placed beneath, with fleeces covered with wool upon the top of them."

The building is thought to be the first completely constructed with marble and one of its most unusual features were 36 columns whose lower portions were carved with figures in high-relief.

The temple also housed many works of art including four bronze statues of Amazon women. Piny recorded the length of this new temple at 425 feet and the width at 225 feet. Some 127 columns, 60 feet in height, supported the roof. In comparison the Parthenon, the remains of which stand on the acropolis in Athens today, was only 230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns. According to Piny, construction took 120 years, though some experts suspect it may have only taken half that time.

This Temple of Artemis was destroyed in A.D. 262 during a raid by the Goths. By this time both the religion of Artemis and the city of Ephesus were in decline. The bay where trading ships docked disappeared as silt from the river filled it. Many of the inhabitants of the city moved away to the surrounding hills; those that remained used the ruins of the temple as a source of building materials.

In 1863 the British Museum sent John Turtle Wood, an architect, to search for the temple. He searched for six years. Each year the British Museum threatened to cut off his funding unless he found something significant, and each year he convinced them to fund him for just one more season.

Finally in 1869, at the bottom of a muddy twenty-foot deep test pit, his crew struck the base of the great temple. Wood then excavated the whole foundation removing 132,000 cubic yards of the swamp to leave a hole some 300 feet wide and 500 feet long. The remains of some of the sculptured portions were found and shipped to the British Museum.

In 1904 another British Museum expedition under the leadership of D.G. Hograth continued the excavation. Hograth found evidence of five temples on the site, each constructed on top of the other.

Today the site of the temple is a marshy field. A single column is erect to remind visitors that once there stood in that place one of the wonders of the ancient world.

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