Erechtheion is an ancient Greek temple on the northern side of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece, dedicated to the struggle of Athena and Poseidon for the right of power in the capital. It has an asymmetric plan, which is unique for the local architecture, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and mystical temples in Attica.
The construction of the elegant building, known as the Erechtheion Temple, on the northern side of the Acropolis Sacred rock began after the death of Pericles — about 421 BC. The process of construction was quite difficult and ended just before the decline of the once powerful and influential Athens in 406 BC.
One of the legends says that Athena had been fighting with Poseidon for a very long time for the right to rule the city and protect it. At the place where the supreme sea god strongly struck the earth with his trident, and Pallas Athena showed the citizens an olive tree, people built the Temple of Erechtheion. That is why the area around the building was considered to be the most sacred in the entire capital. But this version does not explain the origin of the name of the structure.
There is another myth that is more plausible in this context. It says that back at the time of the Roman Empire, the temple was built in honour of Erechtheus and Erichthonius. But it is not clear either one of them was the initiator and the founder of the building, or the other one performed so many feats that the Greeks honoured his courage with the construction.
There is a third version of the Erechtheion name’ origin, which makes sense most of all. Once Hephaestus and Gaia had a son. They called him Erichthonius. But there was no point in the gods' plans for raising children. So the kid was given to the three daughters of Cecrops in a closed precious box, and they were ordered never to look inside. The girls could not resist, so they looked into the box.
They saw a cute baby inside that was radiating divine light, and two snakes that were guarding the child's sleep. After that, the girls went mad and threw themselves off the cliff. When Erichthonius grew up, he became a strong and wise man and began to rule Athens. The citizens loved the ruler so much that after his death they arranged a small shrine in the temple that was built during the life of the gods’ son.
But even if this story is a fiction, it is true that the design of the Erechtheion is special and unique. The temple is made of pentelic marble, the frieze is made of Eleusinian grey stone with white relief figures and the base is of Piraeus stone. The entrance to the eastern part was protected by an Ionic portico with six columns. The cult statue of Athena made of olive wood was installed inside it — Arrephoroi draped the wood with sacred ashes. The entrance to the western part of the temple was covered with propylone with four Ionic columns along the facade and two ones on the sides. It was believed that its stone covering preserved the traces of the trident that Poseidon had left.
Moreover, the king of the seas strictly forbade covering the place. That was why the architect, who was working on the plan of the temple, built the structure in such a way that a small area remained in the open air. But this is a small thing compared to the main difficulty of erecting the building. The problem was that the area, where the temple was planned to be built, was very rocky and uneven. That is why the building is asymmetric, and there is a height difference of about 3 m between its western and northern sides.
The Athenian Erechtheion near the Acropolis had deftly carved doorways and windows, and its columns were richly decorated. Paintings, gold plating, bronze and multicolored glass beads were found on them. The temple is known for early examples of eggs, darts, and guilloche ornaments.
Another door on the southern facade of the western temple leads to the portico of Caryatids. It is a small porch with six female statues instead of columns that support the roof. Erechtheion's Caryatids are a true treasure of Greek art. Even modern masters believe that Caryatids are made so beautifully and subtly that it seems that the girls who are more than 2 m tall will now move and step off the stone.
On the statues, you can see in detail the braided hair, which is thrown behind the back, Doric veils flowing over the bodies, and legs bent to the central axis of the portico. Caryatids have no arms. But scientists have found that the girls were holding their dresses with one hand, and the sacrificial jars with another one.
Today, 5 of the 6 original Caryatids are kept in the Acropolis museum. One statue, which is in the British museum now, was stolen by Lord Elgin in 1801. As for the Caryatids that today are set near the Erechtheion — they are high-quality copies that are almost indistinguishable from the originals.
Erechtheion is located at the territory of the Acropolis of Athens. So, you can reach the “Akropoli” station by metro and follow the pointers to get to the temple for a couple of minutes. In good weather, we recommend walking here from the centre of the capital. The distance from the central square of the city is no more than 1 km.