The Temple of Artemis


Temple of Artemis
The Temple Today

      This is one of my favorite photos of the ruins of Ephesus, although I think that for many tourists who take a picture from this same spot, it’s a picture of disappointment. They come to Ephesus knowing that the Temple of Artemis was one of the Wonders of the World, and if they hadn’t known in advance, they soon find out. The poet Antipater, writing in the 1st century BCE, is widely quoted. After listing six of the Wonders of the World, he added, “But when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliance, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’”   

    Instead of something worthy of awe, tourists see a teetering column of stones in a swampy field. When I took my picture, a gaggle of geese advanced from the pond and threatened to bite me. A pack of mean-looking dogs slumbered in the sun. Upon hearing the geese, they raised their heads to look, but found nothing worth getting up for and went back to sleep. I imagined that these were the sacred animals of the goddess, enfeebled by time, but still vigilant, still guarding the shattered remains of her domain.    
The Temple Then
   What is not revealed in the photograph is the perseverance of the archeologist John Turtle Wood, who followed every clue to its whereabouts for six years before discovering this site in 1869. The story of his discovery can be found in his book, Discoveries at Ephesus. Not much remained. The site had been pillaged for hundreds of years, its stones carted away and used in the construction of other buildings, both near and far. Some appear in the Roman remains of Constantinople, and some appear in a pre-Ottoman mosque just two hundred meters up the hill.  

      The picture provides a visual index to a great swatch of time and architectural history. The first building going up the hill to the left is the great Isa Bey Mosque, built in the 14th century by Seljuk Turks in honor of the Bey of the Beylik of Aydin. A beylik was a self-governing principality ruled by a bey, or chieftain. The mosque is still active as a place of worship, although it is also a popular attraction for busloads of tourists. Next going up the hill and further to the right, is the Basilica of St. John, built by order of the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century to shelter the grave of John the Evangelist, who is reputed to have lived and preached in Ephesus for over fifty years. 
      At the very top of the hill, is a Byzantine castle, first occupied by Roman soldiers and later by janissaries of the Ottoman Sultan. To the right of the Basilica, above the trees, are the twin towers of the “Gate of Persecution,” the main entrance into a walled-in citadel that surrounds the castle. No one seems to know why the monumental gate is called the Gate of Persecution, although some tour guides, with little respect for chronology, persist in linking it with the persecution of Christians. The real explanation might actually be the result of such a fabrication. Finally, at the extreme top right of the picture, visible only if you know it is there, is the house in which my wife and I lived for eight years, happily steeped in all this  history.


  1. I love your idea about the geese and dogs and Artemis. Do you know how pieces of Artemis' temple were identified among all the Roman stones left in Constantinople?

    1. That columns in Aya Sofia came from the Temple of Artemis is widely claimed, e.g. is However, I have not found evidence for the claim.


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