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Santuario de Artemisa

Santuario de Artemisa / © Foto: Haupt and Binder, Universes in Universe

El Santuario de Artemisa

The largest sanctuary complex of Gerasa today extends from the eastern fence of the archaeological site to the temple of Artemis on the far west, which makes about 320 meters. Originally, a via sacra ran from the residential quarters in the eastern part of the city across a bridge (no longer exists) over the Chrysorhoas (Wadi Jerash), through the elongated eastern and the imposing western Propylaea at the Cardo, ascending the wide staircase to the Temenos courtyard with the temple. Through the staggering of the harmonized buildings, the processional way to the sanctuary of the city goddess of Gerasa was grandiosely staged.

1 - Eastern Propylaea / Propylaea Church. 2 - Trapezoidal square. 3 - West Propylaeum. 4 - Stairs and Altar Terrace. 5 - Temenos courtyard. 6 - Main altar. 7 - Temple of Artemis.

Sanctuary of Artemis / © Map: Haupt and Binder, Universes in Universe

Several inscriptions (the oldest from the late 1st century AD) indicate that an Artemis cult site existed in Gerasa before the construction of the great sanctuary, but there is no evidence of its location. Most likely, it was not the site where the temple that has survived to the present day was built around the middle of the 2nd century, because a necropolis had previously been located there. An earlier cult of Artemis is attested by the minting of coins, which began in Gerasa in 67/68 AD and according to which Artemis seems to have been the most important deity of the city (Lichtenberger, S. 200). The Artemis of Gerasa is probably the Greek interpretation of a Semitic goddess - more about:

Artemis - Astarte, Atargatis

As the patron goddess of Gerasa, Artemis merges with the Greek goddess of fate Tyche (often depicted with a mural crown on her head), who was explicitly worshipped elsewhere as the protector of a city. There is ample evidence that Artemis at Gerasa was the interpretatio Graeca (Greek translation) of an older Semitic goddess, apparently the Phoenician Astarte or Syrian Atargatis. Like Astarte, Artemis is interpreted as a moon goddess and is depicted on coins in Gerasa with the crescent moon. "Thus, the martial fertility goddess Astarte could be found again in the Artemis of Gerasa via her lunar aspect. Artemis, like Astarte, combined a martial aspect and the aspect of fertility."

"Further evidence of an influence of the Atargatis cult on the Gerasenian Artemis are the many Late Hellenistic and Imperial lion sculptures and the griffin sculpture found in Gerasa, showing companion animals of the goddess. They may have been placed in the sanctuary of Artemis. Furthermore, an imperial-period bust of a goddess carved from a pillar or altar, growing from a leafy chalice with an ear of grain, wearing a chiton and flanked by two lions, and an oil lamp type, preserved in three specimens, on which Atargatis is enthroned between two animals and holding undeterminable objects, can be cited."

As for Atargatis, there was also a water festival for Artemis in Gerasa and the water reservoir under the podium of the temple probably served cultic purposes (see further below).

(Quotes and informationen from A. Lichtenberger: Kulte und Kultur der Dekapolis, pp. 202 - 208. Translation from German: Universes in Universe)

From when on the Artemis sanctuary was built is not documented. A dedicatory inscription on the western Propylaea on the Cardo gives the year 150 AD for the completion of this section. In view of the enormous expenditure for such preliminary work alone, such as the bridge over the wadi, retaining walls, excavations, barrel-vaulted substructures for terraces, the hauling of large quantities of stones, etc., the plans and the start of construction must be estimated much earlier. Artemis coins on the occasion of Emperor Hadrian's visit to Gerasa in 129/30 AD may have been minted in reference to such a construction project (Lichtenberger, p. 200). It far surpassed the previously dominant sanctuary of Zeus and was of fundamental importance for the urban development of the city. "With the erection of this new complex, which served cultic concerns, but also trade and commerce, grandeur and the claim of public self-expression found new expression." (Parapetti, p. 26. Transl. from German: Universes in Universe

Propylaea Church

The via sacra led from the residential quarters east of the Chrysorhoas first across the (no longer existing) bridge over the wadi, up a flight of steps to the gate of the eastern Propylaea with three passages. Then it continued through a 38 x 11 m area lined with closely spaced columns to a plaza on the Cardo whose trapezoidal opening provided a visual link across the busy main street to the western Propylaea. The semicircular exedra on either side of this plaza contained fountains for ritual ablutions.

Propylaea Church / © Map: Haupt and Binder, Universes in Universe

© Image based on a drawing in Kraeling

In Byzantine times, probably after the collapse of the bridge over the wadi, a Christian basilica was built on the ruins and with spolia of the previous buildings. Its apse was placed in front of the main gate of the eastern Propylaea, the colonnades were covered and the paths outside the columns were transformed into narrow side aisles. The trapezoidal square was transformed into a forecourt with porticoes, which was shielded from the main street, the former Cardo, by a wall with three doors.

The apse of the church, built in front of and between the main eastern gate of the Propylaea. Barrel vaults, through which a path was once laid, support the eastern area of the structure on the slope of Wadi Jerash.

View over the nave of the Propylaea Church to the west. At the top center, in the far background, are the columns of the Temple of Artemis. The building in the upper right is a small Ottoman garrison, built in 1910 to protect and monitor visitors to the archaeological site.

West Propylaeum of the Sanctuary of Artemis

The monumental gateway is highlighted by four particularly tall columns (about 16 m high, diameter about 1.40 m) on the west side of the Cardo. These supported an entablature and a triangular pediment with a semicircular arched opening in the center. Parts of it are preserved and deposited on the opposite side of the Cardo. In the remains of the tympanum, fragments of an inscription were found, which indicates that the building was erected by the city through the consul designates Lucius Attidius Cornelianus (was governor of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea in 150 - 151 AD) and consecrated in 150 AD.

The gabled façade on the Cardo and the richly decorated main portal with three passages, which stands elevated on some steps behind it, form a structural unit. The central gate is 9 m high and 5 m wide, the two side gates are each 4 x 3.8 m in size. From this Propylaea a stairway leads first to a very wide platform and then further up to the Temenos courtyard.

The West Propylaeum is the center of a long, massive structure that supports the slope and housed multi-story shops.

From the Propylaea Church opposite, there is a good view of the four columns on the Cardo and the gate of the West Propylaeum, whose upper pediment is missing. At the very top in the background one can see the columns of the temple of Artemis, but this view will probably have been blocked in antiquity by the Propylaea structure at the Temenos court.

Stairs and Altar Terrace

The staircase just behind the West Propylaea, like the gate, is 19 meters wide and was rebuilt in the 1930s according to the ancient model. First you reach a landing with the foundations of an altar. This wide platform is about 14 m above the level of the Cardo, probably had the same width as the temenos colonnades at the very top and was also flanked by porticoes. On the sides there were small votive altars donated by wealthy citizens of the city.

From the landing 105 m wide steps led up to the sacred precinct (Temenos).

Temenos Courtyard

The Temenos, the sacred precinct around the Temple of Artemis and the main Altar, is an area 161 m long and 121 m wide on the uppermost terrace, 25 m higher than the Cardo and surrounded on all four sides by porticoes. The porticoes on the north and south were deepened by alternating exedras and rooms.

At the top of the staircase was a colonnade with 22 columns and corner towers on both sides. The ornate portico in the center had an arched pediment.

On this eastern side, the terrace is supported by substructures with barrel vaults that level the sloping rocky hill below and are accessible from the side streets. The northern and southern areas of the temenos plateau were also extended by such vaulted structures.

Main altar in front of the Artemis Temple

The main Altar of the Sanctuary of Artemis with a square base of 12 x 12 m is located a little in front of the temple, north of its central axis. It was fenced and accessible from the side facing the temple (from the west). At the Altar in the Temenos courtyard the public rituals for the cult of Artemis were celebrated and festivals in honor of the goddess were held. The temple itself could be entered only by the priests.

Temple of Artemis

The classical Peripteros, that is a Cella (the main inner room) with an outer portico, stands on a podium a little more than 4 m high and about 23 x 40 m in size. On the front side it has 6 columns (hexastylos) and 2 inner ones behind them in the Pronaos. Eleven of the 13 m high Corinthian columns of the structure have been preserved. Of the originally planned 32 columns probably only 12 were ever erected anyway (sign at the site), the temple was apparently not completed (Parapetti, p. 29).

The wings of the podium projecting on both sides used to frame a wide staircase leading to the portico. The narrow staircase that is used to go up nowadays is a modern substitute.

Since the fragile capitals with acanthus leaves are so well preserved, it is assumed that they never supported a roof, which would have fallen down during the numerous earthquakes and destroyed the outstanding decorations. It is another reason to believe that the temple building was never completely finished. (Parapetti, p. 29)

The strong outer walls of the cella of the temple of Artemis seen from the southwest. The doorway at the top left is an exit to the roof.

The Cella, the main inner room of the Temple of Artemis, which could be entered only by priests, measures 24 x 13.5 meters. Marble slabs were attached to the smooth interior walls, interrupted by ornamental windows, above a high wall base.

The Adyton, the enclosed, most sacred back room of the Cella, is dominated by a large central niche with a flat arched pediment and a round arch above it. In it certainly stood a several meters high, colorfully painted cult image of the goddess Artemis, of which nothing has been preserved, so that it is not known what it actually looked like.

To the right and left of these, rectangular niches are built into the back wall at mid-height, and at the very bottom were side rooms or entrances to stairways, also with arches above.

On both sides of the large central niche of the Adyton (photo above) and also on the inside of the portal of the Cella (photo below) stairs led up to the temple roof, where religious rituals took place, which is evidence of the oriental-influenced cult of Artemis in Gerasa. Barrel vaults under the podium of the temple are also seen in this context, to which the priests could only descend via the stairs in the Cella. It is assumed that this was a water reservoir for cultic purposes. (Lichtenberger, p. 207) See also: Artemis - Astarte, Atargatis.

Up to now no clear clues for the consecration date of the temple were found, like the year 150 AD at the West-Propylaea at the Cardo. It was certainly built at that time, but certainly not after 160 AD, because already in 162/163 the temple of Zeus Olympios was completed and consecrated, whose much larger peripteros is considered a reaction to the Sanctuary of Artemis and an expression of the competition between the followers of both cult centers. (Wenning, 1994

Byzantine and early Islamic period

After the end of the Artemis cult in Gerasa, the colonnades of the Temenos courtyard were used as a quarry for Christian buildings. Decorative parts of the temple itself were removed and reused or burned to lime. The building itself was still used for some time. Remains of a mosaic floor in the cella indicate that this was an important public place. In early Islamic times, the building served residential purposes. No evidence was found for the claim that the Temple of Artemis was briefly a base for crusaders. At the main altar in front of the temple there were workshops and kilns for the production of utility ceramics on a large scale. The devastating earthquake in the middle of the 8th century also destroyed all this. (Parapetti, pp. 34-35)

(© Text by Universes in Universe from information in different sources, including Lichtenberger, Parapetti, Seigne)


Santuario de Artemisa
Ciudad arqueológica de Jerash
Sitios incluidos, ubicación en el mapa:

Iglesia de los Propileos

Propileo occidental

Escalinatas y terraza con altar

Patio Temenos

Templo de Artemisa

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