The most significant factor which brought such fame to the city of Ephesus was without doubt the mother goddess Artemis and her temple. Artemis was a goddess of Anatolian origin and, until the time when she appeared on the stage of history, she was called Kybele, Kybele or Hepa.
In fact, statuettes of goddesses have been found in Anatolia belonging to far earlier times, the most ancient having been founded at Catalhoyuk and dated 7000 years BC. All of them, whether it be the statuettes of Catalhoyuk or those of Hacilar dated 6000 BC, bear striking resemblance and symbolize fertility, with their wide hips and large breasts.
Their names, however, remain unknown. Another mystery is how the worship of Artemis was born in Ephesus.
At the beginning of the second millennium BC, it seems that a sacred stone existed at Ephesus. This was probably a meteorite. Then the Amazons made their appearance in history.
According to the story, the Amazons, using the wood of a palm-tree, fashioned the first statuette of the mother goddess. Again at an unspecified date, this mother-goddess is supposed to have taken on human form.
Artemis was considered the most powerful of all the goddesses, for she possessed the characteristics and, above all, the powers of many of the other goddesses. She spread abundance an fertility, she came to the aid of women in childbirth, protected nature. She was the goddess of hunting and of the moon. She ruled over fate and over the Zodiac signs of human, brought rain and made the earth fertile.
With all these attributes, the fame of Artemis grew from day to day and spread even as far as Marseille, through the sailors who often frequented the port of Ephesus.
At Ephesus, the worship of Artemis was always considered superior to that of other gods and this is why, apart from the Temple of Artemis, only a few other temples were erected, devoted to Egyptian gods who promised resurrection.
During the Roman era, temples were also built in the name of the deified emperors.
For the Ephesians, the power of Artemis and of her people was inexhaustible. On this point, the story was handed down from generation to generation that it was Artemis who one night had personally put the architrave, weighing several tons, in place over the columns which were over 20 metres in height.
Nevertheless, several events roused suspicion among the Ephesians concerning the strength of Artemis. During the Lybian attack, they had drawn a rope between the temple and the city, in the belief that this would prevent Kroisos from getting through, but in vain.
In the year 356 BC, on the night of the birth of Alexander, the temple was destroyed by a lunatic called Herostratus. Later it was said that on that night, Artemis had gone to assist at the birth of Alexander.
At its apogee, the temple was run without outside intervention and preserved its autonomy. The man in charge of its administration was the High Priest Megabysos, castrated according to the cult of Cybele. He had been chosen from among the natives of Asia Minor and had virgins at his service. The Kouretes were another order of priests who served Artemis.
They were semi-gods, supposed to have intimate relations with Zeus. During the childbirth of Leto, Artemis mother, at which they were supposed to have assisted, they apparently prevented Hera from hearing the cries of the new born baby by the noise they made.
Each year, the Kouretes went with ceremony to Ortygia, the birthplace of Artemis (7 km to the south of Ephesus, on what is now the road to Kusadasi), to celebrate her birthday. In these kinds of ceremonies and festivities, no other order of priests figures known as the acrobatae. They would kead the procession with fantastic displays.
In fact, at the temple, the collaboration between the priests and the priestesses was rather interesting. There were priestesses whose duty was to prepare the clothes of the goddess (the Kosmiterae), there were also those who would display the clothes and jewellery of Artemis during the sacred ceremonies (Kosmoforoi) and those responsible for the precious objects belonging to the goddess (the Khristoforoi).
Apart from these, the "Zigostates" measured and weighed all objects taken from or brought to the temple. The "Himnodoi" took the place of latter-day choirs.
The "Hierokiris" gave sermons, while the "Spondopoios" were the priests or priestesses of the goddess, who sprayed holy water on the ground.
There were also "Grammateis" who would write the answers given by the goddess to questions asked by her followers.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the temple was that it held the function of a bank. The Megabysos was in charge of the budget of the temple. He gave credit and received the gifts made to the goddess.
This temple was one of the seven wonders of the world, alongside the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Pharos at Alexandria, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pyramids of Egypt.
Of the Artemision, all that remains is one column, which can be seen to the left of the road leading from Selcuk to Kusadasi. The column was reconstituted by superimposing pieces found in the vicinity.
The single cause of the destruction of this sumptuous edifice was the rivalry which existed between the various religions and beliefs.
The first Christians of Ephesus, having suffered violent persecution, bore a severe grudge against the protecters of Ephesus and her temple.
Once they had gained the upper hand, they annihilated the temple.
Part of its architectural material was re used in the building of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Other pieces were carved up at quarries. Shortly thereafter, the alluvia brought by the Cayster river covered up the rest of the temple and wiped out all traces of it.
Research made by the English engineer Wood in 1863 bore no results. But in 1868, he discovered an inscription in a theatre. On deciphering it, he understood that the sacred items used during performances at the theatre had been brought into the city via the Magnesian Gate along the Sacred Way, after having been taken from the temple.
First he found the Magnesian Gate, then he located the famous temple by following the sacred way which led to it. Over the following years, excavations were intensified and several small pieces found were carried off to England.
In 1895, the Austrian Institute of Archaelogy took over the excavations under the directions of D.G. Hogarth, until 1905.
Nowadays, work on the Artemision is in the hands of Dr. Bammer.
According to Strabo, the Artemision, a precious example of Ionian architecture, was destroyed and rebuilt seven times. The latest excavations confirm this statement. Whereas of old it was situated on the edge of the sea, the temple is now 5 km inland.
The first temple, to which we refer to as the archaic temple, was destroyed in the seventh century BC by the Kimmerians. During excavation, geometrically shaped vessels were found, along with ornamental objects made of gold and ivory dating from his era.
In the year 570 BC, the inhabitants of Ephesus decided to erect a temple more majestic than that of Hera at Samos. They gave the job of building it to the architect Chersiphron of Knossos, his son Metagenes and the architect Theodoros, who had proved his talent in the construction of the temple of Hera at Samos on land which, like that of Ephesus, was swamp-ridden.
The foundations of the temple were placed over a layer of coal which was covered in leather. In the end, a beautiful construction of 55.1 m x 115.14m appeared. It was the largest temple built of marble. A double row of 19m high columns surrounded the walls. The "columnae caeletae", that is, the 36 front columns were, decorated with friezes donated by Kroisos.
It is said that a certain Herostratus, in order to immortalize his name, burned the temple in 356 BC, the night of the birth of Alexander.
However,, the famous writer C.S. Karaagac (called the fisherman of Halikarnassos) interprets this event in a different manner.
"It has been claimed that a madman, named Herostratus, burned the temple in order that his name should figure in an important historical event. In fact, it would be impossible for a single man to do this.
There were guards inside and outside the temple. Only the door, the stairs and ceiling were made of wood. In order to set the temple on fire, Herostratos would have had to arrive with a torch and a ladder without being noticed.
That would have been impossible. Then the smoke would certainly have been seen by the guards or the people living in the vicinity.
What seems more logical is that the priests, having stolen the jewels of the temple, might have set fire to it and accused a madman unable to defend himself.
The Ephesians restored the temple according to the original architect's plan. Not thirty years had passed before Alexander entered Ephesus, having conquered the Persians. He had of course heard of the fame of Artemis of Ephesus.
The temple was not yet completed. Alexander promised the Ephesians that he would cover all the remaining construction costs as long as his name was carved on the facade.
In spite of being short of money and not in a good position to refuse Alexander's offer, they found a subterfuge. They claimed that it would not be right for one god to have a temple built to the glory of another.
Thus they had honoured Alexander by attributing to him the title of god. They finished the work on the temple by themselves. It was 155 metres in length and 55 metres wide.
The Ephesians summoned all the famous engineers, architects and painters of their day, so that their temple should be unique.
Among them Polykleitos, Phidias, Cresilas, Cydon and Pharadmon each sculpted a statue of an Amazon each for the temple.
The Ephesians couldn't choose the best statue, so they left the choice to the artists. They held a vote and Polykleitos gained the majority. A copy of it made during the Roman era still exists.
Scopas worked on the relief of one of the columns and another sculptor, Praxiteles, executed the altar.
This magnificent temple was destroyed by the Goths in 265 CE. Although it was subsequently restored, but was annihilated by the Christians.
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