The foundation of the Temple of Artemis is thought to have originated in the 8th century BC. Built in Ephesus, a now defunct city which was located on the western coast of Turkey, the temple itself went through several iterations of destruction, and rebuilding over its 1200 year history.

The early versions of the temple were dedicated to a godess known as Artemis, but apparently this was not the same goddess of the hunt as worshipped by the Greeks, but a local fertility deity and was often pictured as draped with eggs, or as possessing multiple breasts covering her torso from her waist to her shoulders. One, or possibly more of these earliest temples contained a 'sacred stone', apparently a meteorite, that is described as having "fallen from Jupiter."

The version of the temple that won its place in the 'Seven Wonders of the Ancient World' is known as 'Temple D' by archeologists, so is presumably the fourth attempt in the buildings history. It was started in 550 BC, and was sponsored by the Lydian king Croesus whose army, when invading the region, was responsible for destroying the previous shrine. He employed the architect Chersiphron and his son, Metagenes to design the replacement structure. Their version of the temple was almost entirely made from marble, and consisted of either 106 or 127 ornate columns (the numbers depend on your sources) arranged in a double rows on a raised base approximately 80 metres by 130 metres, which was surrounded by marble steps. These 20 metre tall pillars enclosed a small room, known as a 'cella' which contained a likeness of the goddess carved in marble and decorated with ivory and gold.

This iteration of the temple lasted for a mere 200 years, as on the night of 21 July 356 BC, disaster struck when a man named Herostratus burned the temple to ground in an attempt to immortalize his name. The citizens of Ephesus were so appalled at this act they issued a decree that anyone who spoke of him would be put to death.

The Ephesians did as they always did, and rebuilt the temple. According to Pliny this tooks them almost 120 years. The architect is thought to be a man named Theodorus. Theodorus's temple was 100 metres feet in length and 50 metres wide with bronze statues of Amazons sculpted by Pheidias, Polycleitus, Kresilas, and Phradmon who were among the most skilled artists of their time. One of the friezes that was was designed by Scopas of Paros, one of the most famous sculptors of his day. One interesting fact about this version of the temple, when it was being built was spotted in 333BC by Alexander the Great who was born on exactly the same day as Herostratus had destroyed its predecessor. Alexander offered to pay for the completion of the temple on the proviso he could be credited for it and that they would enscribe his name on it, but the Ephesians refused, claiming that 'It is not fitting that one god should build a temple for another god'

The temple was again destroyed by the Goths in 262AD, and was never rebuilt on the same scale, as the cult of Artemis had been slowly dissolved and its adherents had been converted to Christianity. The buildings final chapter came in 401AD when it was torn down by St John Chrysostom. Some of the remains of the sculptured portions of various versions of the temple were found by archeologist John Turtle Wood in 1869 and are on display in the British Museum.

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'"I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon," wrote Philon of Byzantium, "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."'

While on holiday in Turkey a couple of years ago, we decided to visit Ephesus. As part of that trip, we were taken to see the Temple of Artemis. All that remains of it now is a single marble column. Compared to the rest of Ephesus, it would perhaps have been quite unimpressive had you not known it's history. We could see "the rest" of the temple, we were told by our guide, at the British Museum in London.

Today it is illegal to try to take so much as a roman coin out of Turkey, but under the Ottoman Empire which existed until 1923, the ruling government was only too happy to sell off ancient artifacts to the highest bidder. Both Turkey and Greece are now trying to have parts of the British Museum's collection returned.

While I suspect that the guide may have been slightly exaggerating (I haven't been to the British Museum yet to find out) I don't doubt that they will ever see some of their most important historical treasures returned, as they were bought "legally" at the time. I do understand their frustration though- The chances of an average Turkish citizen being able to travel to England and view these items are extremely slim, and in my opinion they should be returned.

The other side of the argument, however, is that someone would probably have bought these artifacts if the British museum hadn't, and they might not be on public display today. Worse, they could have been forgotten altogether or even destroyed. The temple was apparently already completely buried in a swamp when John Turtle Wood started searching for it in 1863.

I do plan to see for myself how much of the Temple really is held in the British Museum. It's ironic that I'd never had any desire before to make the short (~130 mile) trip to London until I'd been all the way to Turkey.

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