ACROPOLIS, ERECHTHEION

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English / USA Language: English / USA

The Erechtheion is a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Polias, the “patron deity of the city”, built over a previous temple in honor of the goddess. Legend has it that this was the site of the battle between Athena and Poseidon, the fearsome god of the sea, to establish who was to rule over Attica. The name may derive from Erechtheus, one of the names Poseidon was known by, meaning “he who shakes”, but the etymology is uncertain. 

You can easily see how different this building is from the Parthenon, although it was built just a few years later, between 421 and 406 BC. The construction was also overseen by Phidias, who sculpted the statues.

Whatever perspective you observe it from, it is not regular and symmetrical like the Parthenon. The peculiar shape is due to the fact that it brought together different faiths in a single building, each with its own independent space.

If you compare the columns with those of the Parthenon, you’ll notice they are more slender and elegant, because they belong to the Ionic order, which is more sophisticated than the Doric order: the columns have a base, the shaft is not tapered and the capitals have volutes at the ends. We might say that the Doric order has a more masculine style, while the Ionic order is more feminine.

The main difference, however, are the six female statues supporting the roof, the famous Loggia of the Caryatids, in which the renowned female figures replace the columns, rendering the structure particularly elegant. The Caryatids you see here are identical copies of the originals, which were moved to the Acropolis Museum 40 years ago to protect them from the air pollution that after 2400 years was ruining them.

The portico you see on the opposite side was used to protect a spring of salt water from which Poseidon is said to have had a horse appear as a gift to the Greeks. Visible to the left of the loggia is an olive tree: the one you see today was planted recently, but the original tree is said to have been presented by Athena to the Athenians so they could learn how to grow olives.

 

An interesting fact: Athena’s sacred snakes were raised next to the olive tree; they were fed on honey-cakes by the priestesses. This is also said to be the burial place of the legendary King Kekrops, half-man and half-snake.

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