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Ephesus Prytaneion

Ephesus Prytaneion

After the Temple of Artemis, the prytaneion, to the northwest of the state agora, was the most important structure in the city. The holy fire of Hestia burned continuously in it . The Ephesians held political discussions here, entertained official guest, and held banquest; the prytaneion had the punction of a city hall. The prytaneion, with its square courtyard to the south, and the Doric columns of its facede, looked like a temple. Immediately in front of the building is another, rectangular courtyard. The cult room of Hestia Boulaia is in the northeast part of the complex. A two-room annex occupies the area west of this room. In each of the four corners of the cult room stood two columns formed in the shape of a heart, topped with decorated capitals. The eastern part of the prytaneion was planned as a unit with the altar to Hestia.

The holy fire, which never died out, burned on the altar. Because of the later buildings and additions, the altar was very difficult to discern in the initial excavations(1955) . During these excavations, however, the two famous statues of Artemis were found unexpectedly; these can be seen in the Ephesus Museum today.

These statues demonstrate that the prytaneion was not only a public building, but also one of the most important sanctuaries. The columns on the façede of the prytaneion have Doric capitals. On these unfluted columns, the names of the kourates are listed. Until the time of Augustus, these kouretes were the monks of the Temple of Artemis. When the temple began to lose its prominence, the monks were reassigned to the prytaneion. Another group concerned with the prytaneion were the prytaneis. These were respectable citizens of Ephesus, both male and female, who were responsible for the holy fire.

The prytaneis stood in the service of the goddess of the hearth, Hestia and were responsible for all cult activities. This structure was first renovated the third century BCE ,during the reign of Lysimachos; at this time, the Ephesians rebuilt the greater part of the structure and the columns of the facade in marble. Ahundred years later, the building was extended by an entry court to the south, which had three façades and two entrances. In the first half of the third century CE, the heart shaped double columns with their decorated capitals were erected in the cult room of Hestia.

After an earthquake in the fourth century, the statues of Artemis were buried in the location in which they were found, so that the adherents of the new religion would not destroy them. The first excavitions of the Austrian Archaeological Institute here took place in 1960. They restored the columns of the façede and in part, re-erected them. The Ephesus Museum resumed excavations here in 1990; thus, the building, its annexes and the other structures in the area are more clearly visible today.