The Altar of Artemis (or "Lydian Altar") is the oldest preserved
building in the sanctuary of Artemis, and was the focus of its ritual and ceremony. It has two main building phases, one of
which is older than the temple.
The earlier structure is a stepped foundation made of coarse tufa. It now looks like a stepped pyramid, but the coarse stone and rough workmanship suggest that the preserved courses were underground
foundations, and the building above, may have been much more finely made, but been entirely destroyed. This is perhaps the oldest structure in the sanctuary, dating to the period when Sardis was ruled by the Achaemenid Persians, perhaps about 500-400 BC. There is no evidence for a temple in this period, the Lydians perhaps worshipped in different manner from the Greeks and Romans.
In a later period, this building was incorporated in a new, larger structure. This new building probably formed a platform for a smaller altar, on which animal sacrifices, libations, and other offerings were made. A set of marble stairs across the front led to this higher level. These blocks were mostly robbed out in antiquity, but a few survive at the sides of the building. The walls were originally finely stuccoed, traces of stucco are preserved, and some are protected by
- slabs of stone bearing inscriptions, reliefs, or both - were set against the left side of the altar, on either side of the stairs, and in two rows leading up to the temple and altar. When excavated, a few of these stelai were still found in situ, and some bore inscriptions in Lydian. The stelai reflect the great interest of later Sardians in their own ancient history..
A peculiar feature of the altar is that it was so close to the temple that it was eventually connected to the altar by walls, now mostly missing. This led to a reversal of the usual arrangement of temple and altar. In standard Greek practice the altar faced away from the temple; here the stairs up to the altar faced towards the temple, and
fact, might have formed the main entrance to the temple in its final phase.
The altar was restored in 2010-2012. The travertine stair blocks are modern replacements of the original marble stairs, to protect the original foundations. The walls were rebuilt to the state in which they were found in 1910 and capped with slate.