top of page


The Temple of Artemis in Sardes.

After visiting the brief remains of Sardes, the ancient capital of Lydia, inside Asia Minor, we arrived to the place where the ruins of the mythical temple of Artemis rest, lit by a slightly warm sun of early December. The site is fenced and you have to pay a small entrance to enter. The Paktolos river flows quietly close the fence. In the background, imposing itself on the western horizon, the powerful mass of Tmolos Mount rises: the place where Greek mythology located the birth of the god Dionysus.

General view of theTemple of Artemis, Sardes.

Photo 1.- General view of the excavated area corresponding to the Temple of Artemis.

The great temple of Artemis was built on the site where a sanctuary dedicated to this godess was raised at least from the fifth century BC. In fact, during the excavations some remains of this sanctuary have been found in moderate state of preservation, reason why they have been partially covered. The temple was built to the beginning of the third century BC, in hellenistic times, but it was only half-finished. The building stood unfinished during many years and we can assume that the earthquake of AD 17 seriously damaged its long-lived walls.

Photo 2.- Ruins of the plinth of the Artemis Temple.

Staircase of the temple of Artemis, Sardes.

Photo 3.- Staircase of the temple.

Wall of the cella Artemis Temple in Sardes

Photo 4.- Wall of the cella.

In the biennium 123/4, Hadrian visits the microasian regions of Phrygia and Lydia. he likely included Sardes, the traditional capital of Lydia, on his route, although it is true that there is no document, neither literary nor archaeological, that explicitly states it. Research suggests that it is at this time when the imperial initiative decides to give a vigorous boost to the construction of the colossal temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis which rose, unfinished, to a mile and a half from the center of the city. The result was a magnificent temple of mixed Greek and Roman style, very celebrated in Antiquity since it occupied the fourth place in the list of the largest sacred buildings of the Empire. In addition to its original dedication to Artemis (the ancestral anatolic mother goddess), the new temple was also dedicated to the cult of the imperial figure, probably responding to the granting of the second neocorate to Sardes, that is the privilege granted by the emperor and the senate of Rome to erect a temple in which to officially honor the emperor. This neocorate was one of the most esteemed distinctions in the whole of the Roman East, for whose obtaining the major cities competed among themselves regardless of expenses.

Roman walls of marble ashlar, Sardes, Turkey

Photo 5.- Roman walls of marble ashlar in the foreground and Hellenistic ones, in the background, built with granite ashlar.

Hellenistic columns of the Artemis Temple, Sardes

Photo 6.- Fluted drums corresponding to the Hellenistic columns of the Artemis Temple.

In photo 1 we can see an overview of the excavated area. It conserves in good condition the plinth of the temple, constructed with magnificent white marble ashlars united with metal staples (photo 2). The stairway of the temple (photo 3) was constructed of equal material and also the walls of the Roman cella (only a pair of layers has been conserved and not in all its perimeter - photo 4), what allows to differentiate them clearly from the walls of the Hellenistic cella: constructed in a good quality but less showy granite ashlar. See photo 5 to compare the Hellenistic walls (in the background) with Romans ones (foreground).

Hellenistic columns, Sardes, Turkey

Photo 7.- Hellenistic columns, in the foreground, flanked by unfluted Roman columns.

Colonnade of the Artemis Temple, Sardes.

Photo 8 (down).- Colonnade of the eastern front of the Artemis Temple.

The temple, of pseudo-diptera layout, had eight columns in its front and twenty in each long side. The columns of the Hellenistic temple had a slightly smaller diameter than those of the Roman one, were shorter and were fluted (photo 6). On the occasion of the extension of the Hadrian-Antoninus Pius times they were removed from their original place and reused in the Roman colonnade, for which they had to be placed on pedestals in order to match their height with that of the Roman columns. In photo 7 you can see two of these Hellenistic columns, flanked by five Roman columns.

Bases of the Roman columns Artemis Temple, Sardes
Bases of the Roman columns Artemis Temple, Sardes
Bases of the Roman columns Artemis Temple, Sardes

Photos 9, 10 and 11.- Bases of the Roman columns of the Artemis Temple, in Sardes. The one in photo 11 shows a greek inscription at its upper end.

The Roman temple was never completely finished either. Abandoned in the fourth century AD, its cella was reused as a cistern intended to store the water to be used by a small rural nucleus that settled there on the occasion of the desacralization of the temple (pipes have been found that confirm this one). Likewise began a period of amortization of its materials, having been detected in the excavations remains of furnaces in which the magnificent marble blocks were surely calcined in order to produce high quality lime mortar. This process continued throughout the Late Antiquity, Middle Ages and probably the Modern Age, being the reason that the temple of Artemis has arrived practically dismantled to the present day and with most of its columns missing or mutilated (only two of them remain intact). In photo 8 we can see the remains of the colonnade of the eastern front of the temple.

ionic capitals of the Artemis Temple, Sardes
ionic capitals of the Artemis Temple, Sardes

Photos 12 and 13.- High quality ionic capitals of the Artemis Temple.

It is worth noting the great beauty of the bases of the columns, excellently adorned with vegetal and geometric motifs. Photos 9, 10 and 11 will serve to illustrate these magnificent support elements. For their part, the capitals of the columns were carved in a rigorous Ionic order adorned with brief but very elegant floral motifs. The exemplars of photos 12 and 13 are a perfect proof of what is said here.

The interior of the church, Sardes

Photo 14.- View of the interior of the church from the 4th century AD, with its apse.

In the second half of the fourth century AD a small church was built on the SE corner of the temple, provided with a single nave with an apse at its end (photo 14). Its mission was to give spiritual service to the small settlement that had been formed adjacent to the temple (probably inhabited by people dedicated to the reuse of their materials) and also attempt to "counter" his pagan influence. This was a practice quite common in late antiquity so it should not be surprise us. This church was expanded with a second apse sometime in the sixth century. In photo 15 we can see, in the foreground, this second apse. In the middle distance we contemplate the main body of the church with the original apse, the only two surviving columns a little further back and, finally, the Tmolos Mount at the background of the photograph.

The church at Sardes in Turkey

Photo 15.- The church of the fourth century, with its two apses. Behind it we can see the only two columns of the temple that have arrived intact to us. To the background, in the distance, Mount Tmolos stands out: the place where the god Dyonisos was born according to greek mythology.



bottom of page