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What Was 'The Temple of Artemis'? – Part 3 of the ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ Series

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

There were seven wonders of the ancient world. Seven wondrous buildings that blew the socks off (Okay, probably not socks back then. Let's say sandals were getting blown off instead) anyone who saw them. In our ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ series, here on the Imagining History Blog, we’ll be checking out each of these marvels of human engineering and ingenuity. There’ll be a new article in the series every fortnight, so be sure to check back here regularly for your next history fun time fix.

We’ve already had a look at the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes. Next, we’ll be taking a gander at the Temple of Artemis.

A model showing what the Temple of Artemis may have looked like - Courtesy of Zee Prime

So, what was the Temple of Artemis then?

Put simply, it was an enormous marble temple dedicated to the Ancient Greek goddess, Artemis.

A statue of Artemis, the Greek goddess of animals and hunting

Sounds simple enough. Where was this temple?

It was in Ephesus, a Greek colony on the coast of Asia Minor. The people of Ephesus loved Artemis so much that they developed their own version of the goddess, depicting her in artwork that looked quite different to the traditional Greek art of the time.

What was so special about the Temple of Artemis?

Well for starters the Temple of Artemis was absolutely enormous. It was 110 metres long and 55 metres wide – that’s nearly the same size as a football pitch in the UK. It was also 18 metres tall. For context, that’s taller than a Brachiosaurus. Wait, that’s probably not a helpful comparison. How often do you see a Brachiosaurus meandering around these days? Okay, it’s about the same height as a 6 story building.

The Parthenon in Athens was also made out of marble, but was half the size of the Temple of Artemis

Whoa, that’s super big. And the whole thing was made from marble?

Yes, it was one of the first ever structures to be made entirely from marble. The Parthenon in Athens, Greece was also made from marble, but it was much smaller. Additionally, construction on the Temple of Artemis began around 550 BC, 100 years before the Parthenon. Though it took around 120 years to build the entire temple.

A statue of Artemis would have stood in the temple. The statue would have looked a bit like this one, sculpted in the Ephesus art style - Courtesy of Gargarapalvin

What did the temple look like?

Mind-blowingly, the temple had more than 120 enormous columns! The temple was well known for its stunning artwork, including carvings of Greek myths around the bases of the columns and on the decorative friezes (a Greek frieze is the area of the building above the columns, just below the roofline covered in decorations and artwork). To top it all off, there was a great statue of the goddess Artemis herself inside the temple, sculpted in the Ephesian art style.

So who is Artemis then? She must be pretty important to get such a big temple.

Artemis was the Ancient Greek goddess of animals and hunting. She was a great huntress but also protected animals and nature. She is often shown in Greek artwork carrying a bow and arrow with a deer trotting alongside her. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and the sister of Apollo. She represented bravery, strength, wisdom and womanhood. Artemis was a very popular goddess among the Ancient Greeks, but the people of Ephesus were particularly fond of her.

The ruins of the Temple of Artemis today - courtesy of FDV

Can I go visit the Temple of Artemis today?

You could, but there's not much left of it. The temple was famously burnt down by a local bloke called Herostratus. He went down in history as a notorious arsonist (a criminal who sets fire to things on purpose). Although the temple was soon rebuilt after the fire, it only stood for a few more centuries before it was destroyed again by invaders, called the Goths. You can still see the ruins of the foundations of the temple in Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey) or spot some of the columns on display at the British Museum.


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