Erechtheum: Wikis


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Erechtheum, from the south.

The Erechtheum (Greek: Ἐρέχθειον Erechtheion) is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece.



The temple as seen today was built between 421 and 407 BC. Its architect may have been Mnesicles, and it derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. Some have suggested that it may have been built in honor of the legendary king Erechtheus, who is said to have been buried nearby. Erechtheus and Erichthonius were often syncretized. It is believed to have been a replacement for the Pesistratid temple of Athena Polias destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

The need to preserve multiple adjacent sacred precincts likely explains the complex design. The main structure consists of up to four compartments, the largest being the east cella, with an Ionic portico on its east end. Other current thinking[1] would have the entire interior at the lower level and the East porch used for access to the great altar of Athena Polias via a balcony and stair and also as a public viewing platform.

The Porch of the Caryatids.

The entire temple is on a slope, so the west and north sides are about 3 m (9 ft) lower than the south and east sides. It was built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon, with friezes of black limestone from Eleusis which bore sculptures executed in relief in white marble. It had elaborately carved doorways and windows, and its columns were ornately decorated (far more so than is visible today); they were painted, gilded and highlighted with gilt bronze and multi-colored inset glass beads. The building is known for early examples of egg-and-dart, and guilloche ornamental moldings.[2]


The Porch of the Caryatids

On the north side, there is another large porch with columns, and on the south, the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different from the rest and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine. The porch was built to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner over the metropolis, after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian war.

Religious functions

The Erectheum was associated with some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians: the Palladion, which was a xoanon (defined as a wooden effigy fallen from heaven - not man-made) of Athena Polias (Protectress of the City); the marks of Poseidon's trident and the salt water well (the "salt sea") that resulted from Poseidon's strike; the sacred olive tree that sprouted when Athena struck the rock with her spear in her successful rivalry with Poseidon for the city; the supposed burial places of the mythical kings Cecrops and Erechtheus; the sacred precincts of Cecrops' three daughters, Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus; and those of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes.

The temple itself was dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus. Within the foundations lived the sacred snake of the temple, which represented the spirit of Cecrops and whose well-being was thought essential for the safety of the city. The snake was fed honey-cakes by Canephorae, the priestesses of Athena Polias, by custom the women of the ancient family of Eteoboutadae, the supposed descendants of the hero Boutes. The snake's occasional refusal to eat the cakes was thought a disastrous omen[citation needed].

Late antiquity and the Middle Ages

The intact Erechtheum was extensively described by the Roman geographer Pausanias (1.26.5 - 27.3), writing a century after it had been restored in the 1st century AD. The internal layout has since been obscured by the temple's later use as a church and possibly as a Turkish harem.

Modern times

The temple of Athena Apteros in the Erectheum.
Albumen print, mid-19th century.
Erechtheum, from SW

One of the caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion, and was later sold to the British Museum (along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture taken from the Parthenon). Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Elgin attempted to remove a second Caryatid; when technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed, and its fragments were left behind. It was later reconstructed haphazardly with cement and iron rods.

Previous attempted restorations by Greece damaged the roof of the Caryatids' porch with concrete patches, along with major damage caused by pollution in Athens.[3] In 1979, the five original Caryatids were moved to the Acropolis Museum and replaced in situ by exact replicas. Scientists were working in 2005 to repair the damage using laser cleaning.[3]

Recent events

The Caryatids have been transferred from the old Acropolis Museum to the New Acropolis Museum. The first was carried over safely on December 9th, 2007, via an elaborate system of aerial cranes.[4][5] Within the new museum, the statue was reunited with its long-missing sandalled left foot, which was identified among rubble in the 1980s. The reassembled Caryatid, along with the four others remaining in Athens, are having their decayed patina thoroughly restored by laser, and are on display in the new museum.[6]

See also



  • Charles Weller (1913) Athens and Its Monuments, Macmillan.
  • G. P. Stevens and J. M. Paton (1927) The Erechtheum.
  • I. T. Hill (1953) The Ancient City of Athens.
  • Pausanias.
  • J. J. Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0-521-09662-6

External links

Coordinates: 37°58′20″N 23°43′35″E / 37.97222°N 23.72639°E / 37.97222; 23.72639

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ERECHTHEUM, a temple (commonly called after Erechtheus, to whom a portion of it was dedicated) on the acropolis at Athens, unique in plan, and in its execution the most refined example of the Ionic order. There is no clear evidence as to when the building was begun, some placing it among the temples projected by Pericles, others assigning it to the time after the peace of Nicias in 421 B.C. The work was interrupted by the stress of the Peloponnesian War, but in 409 B.C. a commission was appointed to make a report on the state of the building and to undertake its completion, which was carried out in the following year.

The peculiar plan of the Erechtheum has given rise to much speculation. It may be due partly to the natural conformation of the rock and the differences of level, partly to the necessity of enclosing within a single building several objects of ancient sanctity, such as the mark of Poseidon's trident and the spring that arose from it, the sacred olive tree of Athena, and the tomb of Cecrops. But there are some features which cannot be so explained, and which have led Professor W. DSrpfeld and others to believe that the plan, as we now have it, is a modification or abridgment of the original design, due to the same conservative influences as led to the curtailment of the plan of the Propylaea.

The building as completed consisted of a temple of the ordinary type, opening by a door and two windows to the east front, before which stood a portico of six Ionic columns. This part was the temple of Athena Polias. Adjoining it on the west was the central chamber, on a lower level; this chamber was separated by a partition, originally of wood and later of marble, from the western compartment of the temple, which was of peculiar construction. The west end was formed by a wall, on which stood four columns between antae; but the main entrance to this western compartment was through a large and very ornate doorway on the north; and a large Ionic portico, consisting of four columns in the front, and one in the return on each side, was placed in front of this door. At the south end of the western compartment was a smaller door, with steps leading up to the higher level, within a projecting space enclosed by a low wall and covered with a projecting porch carried by six "maidens" or caryatides. The construction of the building at this southwestern corner shows that there was some sacred object that had to be bridged over by a huge block of marble; this we know from inscriptions to have been the Cecropeum or tomb of Cecrops. In the north portico a square hole in the floor, with a corresponding hole in the roof above it, must have given access to another sacred object, the mark of Poseidon's trident in the rock. The sacred olive tree probably stood just outside the temple to the west in the Pandroseion. The Ionic order, as used in this temple, is of the most ornate Attic type. The bases of the columns are either reeded or decorated with a plait-pattern; the capital has the broad channel between the volutes subdivided by a carefully-profiled incision; and the top of the shafts is ornamented by a broad band of palmette or honeysuckle pattern. A similar band of ornament runs round the top of the walls outside, and at their base is a reeded torus. The frieze consisted of white marble figures in relief, affixed to a background of black Eleusinian stone.

The contents of the Erechtheum are described by Pausanias. It contained the ancient image of Athena Polias, and three altars, one to Poseidon and Erechtheus, one to Butes and one to Hephaestus; there were portraits of the family of the Butadae on the walls. Within it was also the gold lamp of Callimachus, which burnt for a year without refilling, and had a chimney in the form of a palm-tree.

The Erechtheum was damaged by a fire, soon after its completion, in 406 B.C., but was repaired early in the following century. The west end appears to have been damaged in Roman times and to have been replaced by the attached columns with The Paadroaeion ' 'Erechtheum -e Ma?ple windows between them which appear in old drawings and are still partially extant. It was used as a church in Christian times, and under Turkish rule as the harem of the governor of Athens. Lord Elgin carried off to London, about 1801-1803, one of the columns of the east portico and one of the caryatides; these were replaced later by terra-cotta casts. During the siege of the Acropolis in 1827, the roof of the north portico was thrown down and the building was otherwise much damaged. It was partially rebuilt between 1838 and 1846; the west front was blown down in a storm in 1852. Since 1900 the project of rebuilding the Erechtheum as far as possible with the original blocks has again been undertaken.

See Stuart, Antiquities of Athens; Inwood, The Erechtheum; H. Forster in Papers of American School at Athens, i. (1882-1883); J. H. Middleton, Plans and Drawings of Athenian Buildings (1900), pls. xiv.-xxii.; E. A. Gardner, Ancient Athens, chap. viii.; W. Dorpfeld, "Der ursprungliche Plan des Erechtheion" in Mitteil. Athen., 1904, p. tot, taf. 6; G. P. Stevens, "The East Wall of the Erechtheum," in American Journ. Arch., 1906, pls. vi.-ix. (E. GR.)

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