The Temple of Artemis, or Artemision in Greek, recalled in both Greek and Byzantine anthologies for its magnificence, was once one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After decades of vandalism, religious conflict and decay it is finally to be rebuilt.
Erected at the expense of the Lydian king, Karun, at Ephesus (modern-day Turkey) in the seventh century B.C., the Temple of Artemis was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, or Artemis of Ephesus, the daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of forests, hills, virginity and fertility.
Artemis of Ephesus is often thought to be a cult of Cybele, the fertility goddess worshipped in Anatolia. Historians say that Cybele came to be known as Artemis over time.
According to Christian literature, the Virgin Mary succeeded Artemis in receiving the devotions of the people of Ephesus.
Bank of the time
Numerous myths have existed surrounding the Temple of Artemis, the construction of which lasted a hundred years, and its plan belonged to prominent architects of the time. One of the myths tells of how the temple was burned down. According to the myth, an insane man named Herostratos set the temple on fire in 356 B.C. When people asked why Artemis could not protect the temple against a madman, certain wise men replied to them that Artemis had gone to help in the birth of Alexander the Great.
The Temple of Artemis was not only a religious structure; it was also the largest and richest bank of the time. According to Turkish writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (the fisherman of Halicarnassus), it was not a madman that set fire to the temple, but the guardians of the temple, who got away with all the money kept inside. After the great fire, the temple was rebuilt.
Alexander the Great offered financial support for the reconstruction but the people of Ephesus rejected his offer, saying one god could not give votive offerings to another god or goddess.
The Temple of Artemis became less popular as Christianity became more widespread throughout Anatolia. The Temple of Artemis was pillaged, as Artemis was seen not only as the predecessor to, but also as a rival of the Virgin Mary.
In the fifth century, Johannes Chrysostomos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, outlawed the cult of Artemis. The roof, the altar and the columns of the temple were removed and disposed of. Narratives suggest many of the columns were taken to Constantinople and used in the construction of numerous buildings.
The first archaeological excavation of the site where the relics of the temple were located took place in 1869. It was during this excavation that the exact location of the temple was discovered on the western side of Ayasoluk Hill. Between 1965 and 1994, the area set the stage for a series of excavations led by Dr. Anton Bammer of the archaeology institute at the University of Vienna, Austria. During this period, experts searched for the techniques on how to rebuild Artemis.
New temple not an imitation
Dr. Atılay İleri, the founder of the Selçuk Artemis Culture, Arts and Education Foundation, met with Bammer 10 years ago to realize the reconstruction of the once magnificent Temple of Artemis.
With support from Austrian scientists, İleri had Swiss architects prepare a plan for the reconstruction of the temple. İleri, who has dreamed of reconstructing the temple for 10 years, said: “When completed, the temple will not be a copy or an imitation of the original Artemis but the Artemis itself. And its sisters of the past will set their eyes on it with pride and emulation.”
The original Temple of Artemis had 120 columns. Thirty-six of them were placed on cubic circles. If completed, the new temple of Artemis will be the third Temple of Artemis constructed in history. Its size will be the same as the original. A total of 25,000 cubic meters of solid marble, the original construction material of Artemis, will be used in the construction of the third temple. Sixty of the 120 columns of the new temple will have base plates.
To find the best sculptures to adorn the restored temple, a lottery will be held to form a selection committee chosen from representatives of 196 U.N. member countries. Each selected representative will then select two sculptors from the nation they represent. The selected sculptors will then take part in workshops run by the Artemis Culture, Arts and Education Foundation.
The sculptors will first begin work on the cubic bases for the columns, with sculptures to be inspired by either of two sayings attributed to Heracleitos of Ephesus: “War is the father of everything” and “Everything flows and nothing abides.”
An international jury will then choose two sculptures from all the pieces produced by artists to be featured in the temple. One of the winning sculptures will be displayed on one of the cubic circles and the other will be displayed in the temple's yard.
İleri said the project would rock the world of art. “When the temple is completed, the workshops will start serving as a school of sculpture. Selçuk will be the center of world sculpture,” he said.
Expected cost $150 million
The Artemis Culture, Arts, and Education Foundation was opened in Selçuk in September 2007. The foundation's mission is to reconstruct the Artemis Temple. The project is expected to cost $150 million. The foundation will complete the project with no financial assistance from the state.
İleri said the Culture and Tourism Ministry welcomes the project. The foundation applied to the ministry for the allocation of land via the Selçuk Municipality. The new temple will be constructed on an area called Kurutepe, 1,500 meters away from the temple's original location. Construction will begin when official permission is provided for land allocation.