The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Ephesus was the largest city in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. It was a Greek port and known as a city of magic.

The Temple of Artemis was originally built in 550 B.C. by King Croesus of Lydia [source: Princeton]. In terms of appearances, it resembled the classical Greek temple: a stoic rectangular structure with mighty columns. The temple measured 350 by 180 feet (106.68 by 54.86 meters). From the outside, its most striking feature was its more than 100 marble columns. Built in the Ionic architectural style, the columns were decorated with sculptural reliefs at their bases and rosettes in their capitals. Two rows of columns stretched across the front of the temple, standing about 21 feet (6.4 meters) apart and extending from the front to the back of the temple at 17 feet (5.18 meters) apart. Lion head-shaped gutters added another dimension of style, as well as looming statues of Amazons that framed a door in the temple's pediment, or base. The door in the pediment -- along with two windows -- was intended for Artemis' use.

Inside the temple was perhaps the most fascinating sight of all: the statue of Artemis. It was built from gold, silver, ebony and other stones.

The Artemis of the Temple of Ephesus looked nothing like the goddess of the hunt. Her likeness was based on the Anatolian Earth goddess Cybele. She wore a dress carved with images of animals and a shawl made of bees [source: PBS]. The most interesting aspect of the statue was the rows of bulbs that hung from her body. Scholars debate what, exactly, these were: breasts or testicles. The theory that they're breasts corresponds to her representation of fertility, but the likelihood that they're sacrificial bull testicles is even greater. Worshippers would have sacrificed bulls on the goddess's behalf, and some accounts state that the cult of Cybele, after whom the statue was modeled, was lead by priests who castrated themselves to emulate her [source: Ward].

Artemis was not only the patron goddess of the temple but also a beacon of comfort for her city. Escaped slaves slept in her shadow and pilgrims traveled long distances to see Artemis. The statue was so popular that the local economy was largely supported by the temple's tourists and the souvenir replicas they bought.

On July 21, 356 B.C., a pyromaniac named Herostratus burned the temple to the ground, hoping to achieve infamy. According to legend, Artemis couldn't save her burning temple because she was present at the birth of Alexander the Great [source: Hillman]. The temple was later rebuilt, but we're not sure of the exact date this was accomplished. Alexander had offered to fund its reconstruction but wanted his name inscribed on the temple -- that offer was delicately rebuffed. When it was reconstructed, it was built on an even grander scale with a taller pediment and of solid marble.

In 262 A.D., marauding Goths raided the temple, and in the fifth century A.D., its remaining marble was used to rebuild the city. After a series of earthquakes, its ruins settled into the marshlands of the Cayster River [source: History Channel]. The archaeologist John Turtle Wood discovered the temple's remains in 1860. Today, one marble column resides in the British Museum.

Next, we'll learn about another formidable statue: the Statue of Zeus.