sights / Religious

Erechtheion information

Athens , Greece
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Although the Parthenon was the most impressive monument of the Acropolis, it was more a showpiece than a working sanctuary. That role fell to the Erechtheion, built on the part of the Acropolis held most sacred. It was here that Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree. Named after Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens, the temple housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erechtheus. Six larger-than-life maiden columns, the Caryatids , support its southern portico.

The Caryatids got their name because they were modelled on women from Karyai – modern-day Karyes, in Lakonia. Those you see are plaster casts. The originals (except for one removed by Lord Elgin, now in the British Museum) are in the Acropolis Museum.

The Erechtheion was part of Pericles’ plan, but the project was postponed after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian Wars. Work did not start until 421 BC, eight years after his death, and was completed around 406 BC.

Architecturally it is the most unusual monument of the Acropolis, a supreme example of Ionic architecture ingeniously built on several levels to counteract the uneven bedrock. The main temple is divided into two cellae – one dedicated to Athena, the other to Poseidon – representing a reconciliation of the two deities after their contest. In Athena’s cella stood an olive-wood statue of Athena Polias holding a shield adorned with a gorgon’s head. It was this statue on which the sacred peplos (shawl) was placed at the culmination of the Great Panathenaic Festival .

The northern porch consists of six Ionic columns; on the floor are the fissures supposedly left by either the thunderbolt sent by Zeus to kill Erechtheus, or by Poseidon's trident in his contest with Athena. To the south of here was the Cecropion – King Cecrops’ burial place.

Except for a small temple of Rome and Augustus, which is no longer in existence, the Erechtheion was the last public building erected on the Acropolis in antiquity.