The Prythaneion was the religious and municipal heart of ancient Ephesus. Built-in the 3rd century BC, this city hall housed senior officials, received foreign dignitaries, held the state archives, but most importantly, held the sacred flame in the Hearth of Hestia; the symbolic heart of Ephesus.
The sacred flame was a fire kept eternally lit in dedication to Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth and fire (the Romans later worshipped Vesta). Six priestesses, elected yearly from prominent families, would be in charge of keeping the flame alive with olive oil; they were also in charge of all religious ceremonies in the city, including sacrifices to the gods. Every year the priestesses would re-enact the birth of Artemis, walking down Curetes Street banging weapons; the noise distracting the jealous Hera from the birth of Artemis and Apollo (their father Zeus had cheated on Hera with the twins’ mother Leto). They would then lead a procession down the sacred path to the Temple of Artemis.
The Prythaneion, which stood behind the Basilica and next to the Odeion, contained several offices as well as a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by a colonnade; it was here that the sacred flame was kept. Today, only two of these columns have been reconstructed; many were repurposed in the 4th century AD for the construction of the Scholastica Baths. Though little is left from the original structure, the pit where the sacred flame was kept is still visible, marked with red colouring on the ground amidst the ruins.