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My Favourite Planet > English > Europe > Greece > Attica > Athens > galleries > Acropolis
to Athens photo galleries main page Athens galleries The Athens Acropolis 18 of 36
The south side of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

The south side of the Erechtheion, in front of which lie the ruins of the "Old Temple" of Athena Polias.
The Erechtheion
 
The Erechtheion (Ἐρέχθειον), on the north side of the Acropolis opposite the Parthenon, is a complex sacred building which was dedicated to a number of deities, particularly Athena Polias, the city's guardian, the sea god Poseidon and Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens. The Ionic temple was the last building of the Periclean programme on the Acropolis to be completed. Construction began during the Peace of Nicias (421-415 BC), the treaty signed by Athens, Sparta and their respective allies during the Second Peloponnese War (431-404 BC), and ended after 410 BC, perhaps around 406 BC.

It is thought that the foundations to the south of the Erechtheion are those of the Archaic temple referred to by archaeologists as the "Old Temple" of Athena Polias, which, along with other buildings and sanctuaries on the Acropolis, was destroyed by the Persians in 480-479 BC. To the north of the Old Temple were spaces or buildings sacred to other deities and legendary or mythological figures connected with the traditional early history of Athens.

Although the Parthenon was the grandest and most famous building on the rock, the Erechtheion and the area around it were probably more important to Athenians in religious and cultural terms. The cult statue of Athena was kept in the building, and to its east stood the Great Altar, where rituals and sacrifices were performed during the Panathenaic Festival. Worshippers could see the olive tree planted by Athena and the spring created by Poseidon when the two Olympian gods competed for the patronage of the city, as well as the marks made by Poseidon's trident when he struck the ground in frustation at losing the contest. Here the faithful could see physical evidence of the dramatic ancient tales concerning Kekrops, Erichthonios, Herse, Aglauros, Pandrosos, Gaia and Athena (see below) which were set on this side of the Acropolis.

Why it was decided to bring so many cult elements under one roof and create a multi-functional building is not known. The reasons for the Erechtheion's unusual design and the name of its original architect also remain a mystery. Essentially it is a long rectangular building divided into two internal areas at the west and east. Two porches project from the north and south sides at the west end (see plan below). The south porch, the best-known feature of the building, is known as the "Caryatid Porch" or the "Hall of the Maidens".

The result is an odd T-shaped building, which appears even more complex because the ground on which the west side and the north porch stand is around 3 metres lower than the level of the east side and the Caryatid Porch. The building's long south wall also gives modern visitors the impression that it has turned its back on the Parthenon and the rest of the Acropolis.

Today the Erechtheion can be approached from the path leading to the west side (see pages 19-22), or by the stairs down from the east side (see page 23). The southside and the Archaic foundation (see photo at the top of the page) are roped off and it is not possible to get close to the Caryatid Porch.
 
A Caryatid of the Erechtheion, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

One of the modern replicas
of the caryatids on the
Porch of the Caryatids.

See gallery page 24.
Caryatids of the Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Caryatids all in a row: the "Porch of the Caryatids" on the west end of the south side of the
Erechtheion. The six Caryatids or maidens (korai) are modern copies, five of the originals are
in the Acropolis Museum and  one is in the British Museum. See photos on gallery page 24.
Plan of the Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Early 20th century plan of the Erechtheion, after archaeologists Jahn Michaelis and Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

Dörpfeld believed that the foundations to the south of the Erechtheion belong to the
Archaic pre-Parthenon temple, known as the Hekatompedon (see gallery page 13).

Walther Judeich (1859-1942), Topographie von Athen (1st edition), page 247. Oskar Beck, Munich, 1905.
Plan of the foundations of the Old Temple of Athena Polias, Acropolis, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

A plan of the foundations of the Old Temple of Athena Polias, indicating
the interior plan. At the top left is the south side of the Erechtheion, with
the Caryatid Porch standing on part of the foundations of the old temple.

Source: Martin Luther D'Ooge, The Acropolis of Athens, fig. 11. Macmillan, New York, 1909.
Ceramic plaque depicting Athena, Gaia and Kekrops at My Favourite Planet

A ceramic "Melian" plaque with a relief depicting Athena, Gaia and Kekrops.

500-450 BC. From Athens. Said to have been found in a grave
beyond the Iissos river, on the road to Halimous (Ἁλιμοῦς). [1]

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. TC 6281. Acquired in Athens in 1872.

The fragmented relief shows the head and shoulders of the earth goddess Gaia appearing from the ground with raised arms as she hands the earth-born baby Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος) to Athena. To the right stands the mythical Athenian king Kekrops (Κέκροψ), with a coiled fish/serpent tail. The relief, as now exhibited, is without the parts added during modern restoration.

For further information about Erichthonios, see gallery page 5 and gallery page 8.

For further information about "Melian" reliefs, see Homer.
 
A marble stele inscribed with the building accounts of the Erechtheion at My Favourite Planet   Inscription with the building accounts of the Erechtheion at My Favourite Planet
Two marble steles inscribed with the building accounts of the Erechtheion for 408/407 BC.
The inscriptions refer to the commissioning of the building, the budgets for various parts
and the names and payments of sculptors, stonemasons and other artisans.

Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. EM 667δ and EM 667.
 
The Erechtheion Notes, references and links

1. The "Melian" plaque depicting Athena, Gaia and Kekrops

See:

Paul Jacobsthal, Die melischen Reliefs, page 96 onwards, plate 75. Heinrich Keller, Berlin, 1931.

Arthur Bernard Cook, Zeus: a study in ancient religion Volume III, Zeus god of the dark sky (earthquake, clouds, wind, dew, rain, meteorits), Part I, Text and notes, pages 181-182. Cambridge University Press, 1940. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
 
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Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis

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See also
The Cheshire Cat Blog
photo essays and articles
about Greece:

Athens (street life)

Athens (Aristotle's Lyceum)

Dion

Kastellorizo

Meteora

Pella

Polygyros

Thessaloniki
 
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