Greek Architecture: Erechtheion

  1. General Remarks
    1. Constructed to replace the ancient temple of Athena
    2. Joint shrine of Athena and Poseidon
    3. Legends
    1. Contest between Athena and Poseidon for possession of the acropolis during the reign of Kekrops
    1. Poseidon produced a ‘sea’ called Erechtheis
    2. Athena delivered an olive tree
    3. Athena won
    4. Two deities were reconciled and thereafter were worshipped together
    1. Myth of Erechtonios
    1. Born to Hephaistos and Gaia (Earth)
    2. Placed by his foster other Athena in a chest and committed to Pandrosos, daughter of Kekrops
    3. Erechthonios, who had serpent attributes, grew up to expel Amphictyon and become king of Athens
    4. Set up xoanon to Athena
    5. Instituted Panathenaia
    6. Grandson, Erechtheus became identified with one another
    1. History
    1. North side of acropolis became a center of a group of cults based on the worship of Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus
    2. Tokens of worship survived in Roman times
    1. Dionysios of Halicarnassos located the olive tree in the Pandroseion
    2. Pausanias wrote of Poseidon’s well of the sea water within the Erechtheion
    3. Tomb of Kekrops (Kekropion) was near by
    4. Sacred snakes dwelt in the precinct
    1. Temple formed part of the Periclean building program
    1. Started during the Peace of Nikias (421-415 B.C.)
    2. Construction delayed by Peloponnesian War
    3. Completed between 409 and 408 B.C.
    4. Damaged by fire in 406 B.C.
    5. Rebuilt in 395 B.C.
    6. The architect, Philocles, supervised the work
    1. Converted into a Christian church in 6th century A.D.
    2. Curiosities
    1. Tokens of Poseidon and Athena
    2. Ancient xoanon and its lamp
    3. Wooden Hermes said to be an offering of Kekrops
    4. A folding chair made by Daedalus
    5. Some Persian spoils from Plataea
    1. Corset of Masistius (of gold links)
    2. Sword of Mardonius
    1. Unique features
    1. Elevation — foundations of its South and East walls stand nearly nine feet above those on the North and West — no attempt made to alter these different levels of terrain
    2. When seen from the East it has appearance of an Ionic prostyle temple with a hexastyle portico
    3. Behind the facade it is a plain rectangle with projecting porches on both flanks
    4. Frieze — made of Eleusian stone and the figures were carved separately and dowelled in This was more economical; the background would not have to be repainted. However the figures were too fragile and broke off easily. Inscriptions give a clue as to what the figures were and who was getting paid to carve each figure. There was probably one master planner and numerous artisans working under him. The artisans did piece work — 60 drachma per carving (1 dr. = 1 day’s wage)
    1. Dimensions — 22.22 x 11.62 meters in the cella
  1. Eastern Portico
    1. Six Ionic columns
    1. Twenty-two feet (6.5m.) high including bases and capital
    2. 2 _ feet in diameter at base
    3. Sculptured compound ribs on the upper spirals of the bases
    4. Sculptured compound ribs on the capitals above the echinus (the convex molding of circular plan with egg and dart placed under the cushion of the Ionic capital)
    5. Sculptured anthemia (a continuous pattern of alternating palmette and lotus, often arising from nests of acanthus leaves and connected scrolls) of the hypotrachelium
    1. Decorated the echinus
    2. Repeated on the abacus (the uppermost member of the capital molded in the Ionic order and curved out over the canted white of the special Ionic capital at the corner of the building)
    1. Double spiral ribs of the capitals
    1. Countersunk between the convolutions
    2. Had gilt bronze stem ending in a group of rosettes in the eyes of the volutes
    1. Stylobate of three marble steps
    2. Pediment — lacked sculpture
    3. Back wall had
    1. Central doorway (2.70 m. wide)
    2. Two windows (2.70 x 0.75 meters) to the right and left of the entrance
  1. Interior — tangle of substructures which destroyed even the foundations of the classical building — wide range of opinions on design of interior
    1. Eastern Cella
    1. Length of 7.318 meters
    2. Higher level
    3. Separated by a cross-wall from the rest
    4. Not known whether Eastern or Western cella was the main cult chamber -- in one of them were located
    1. Three altars
    1. Poseidon-Erechtheus
    2. Hephaistos
    3. Boutes — hero and brother of Erechtheus
    1. Thrones of their priests
    2. Pausanias wrote that on the wall were portraits of the Boutad family from whom the priests of the cult were drawn
    1. Statue of Athena Polias — East or West Cella?
    1. In olive wood
    2. Presumably removed to safety at Salamis in 480 B.C.
    3. Housed in temporary building at Salamis after Plataea
    4. Appearance
    1. Standing and armed (Aristophanes, "Birds", 826-31)
    2. Held a round shield on which was the gorgon’s head (Euripides, ‘Electra", 1254-57)
    1. The sacred Peplops, renewed every four years at the Panathenaic Festival, was woven in gold to adorn her shrine
    2. In front of the statue burnt the golden lamp
    1. Made by Kallimachos
    2. Asbestos wick that needed oil only once a year
    3. A brazen palm tree served as chimney
    4. Lamp tended by elderly widows
    5. During the siege of Athens by Sulla in 86 B.C. Aristion allowed the lamp to go out (Plutarch, "Sulla"’, 13)
    1. Western Cella
    1. Three meters lower than the Eastern Cella
    2. Had a tripartite division
    3. On its Eastern side the Western Cella had two smaller apartments with entrances which led to an anteroom that is, the prostomiaion (the first rectangular section after the Northern stoa of the Erechteion, also called a prostasis), whose entrance was the gate of the Northern portico
    4. Anteroom was linked with the portico of the Korae through a small opening on its southern side
  1. North Porch — also called the "Prostasis toward the doorway"
    1. Dimensions — 5.40 x 8.17 meters
    2. Formed a lateral pronaos to the Erechtheion proper
    3. Had an elegant Ionic colonnade — six
    1. Four columns in front
    2. One at each side
    3. 7.635 meters in height
    4. Have entasis
    5. Have meiosis (slightly smaller diameter at the upper part of the column)
    1. Architrave
    2. Frieze in dark blue Eleusian marble
    3. Paneled ceiling
    4. Richly decorated North door
    5. Porch protected the marks left perhaps by a thunderbolt
    1. Seen through a gap in the tiles as three holes in the rocky bottom of a crypt
    2. Corresponding opening in the roof over this pit — purposely on analogy of leaving open to the sky places struck by lightening
    3. Next to the gap stood the Altar of the Thyechoos — priest offered sacrifices of honey cakes to Zeus
    1. Opening leads from crypt into basement of the temple where perhaps within the adyton surrounding the tomb of Erechtheus dwelt the serpent guardian of the house (comp. Hdt. VIII, 41 and Plutarch, "Themistocles" 10) for whom the honey cakes may have served as food
    1. Symbol of the chthonian (underworld) cult
    2. Originally this snake was Erechtheus
    3. Athena had an immediate connection with the snake, Erechtheus; and this was the reason why the snake was represented on the chryselephantine statue of the goddess in the Parthenon
    1. North Doorway — decorated with magnificent Ionic molding
    2. North Porch projects several feet beyond the West facade of the building
    3. Two steps led down to the Pandroseion
    4. North Porch is at a lower level than the Southern Portico
    5. Has a krepidoma with three steps

The north side contained a chamber built to enclose Poseidon’s fountain. According to legend, the rock ledge in this section bore the marks made by Poseidon’s trident during his contest with Athena.

  1. Pandroseion (Temenos of Pandrosos)
    1. Outer court
    2. Precinct of uncertain boundaries
    3. Contained small temple
    4. Location of Sacred Olive Tree of Athena — Herodotus wrote about how it sprouted again after being burned down by the Persians
  1. Kekropion — the presumed Tomb of Kekrops — spanned by a single huge block, c. 15 feet long and 5 feet deep
  1. West Facade — consisted of
    1. High basement
    2. Engaged columns joined by a low solid wall with a parapet which sat on the high basement
    3. The upper part of the inter-columnination was closed with wooden grilles except above the Kekropion where it was left open, presumably for some cult purpose
    4. Floor is approximately three meters lower than that of the Eastern side
  1. Southern Porch (Porch of the Caraytids — Porch of the Maidens)
    1. Built to balance the North Porch -- Solid marble wall rises six feet above the peristyle of the Old Temple on which it is founded
    2. Six statues of korai (maidens) surmount the wall
    1. Slightly larger than life size
    2. Popularly known as caryatids — Vitruvius wrote that the sculptors took as models the girls of Keryai in Laconia whence the name Caryatids
    3. Figures stand four in front and two behind
    4. Maidens were reminiscent of the Canephori (Arrephoroi) — young women who carried baskets on their heads in the solemn procession of the Panathenaic festival
    5. Idea of using statues in lieu of columns seems to have been borrowed from the Treasuries of the Knidians and Siphnians at Delphi
    6. Caryatids seem to place their weight on one leg
    1. All do not lean on the same leg — three lean on left; three on the right
    2. Makes for more harmonious impression
    3. Gives them appearance of elasticity and power
    4. Makes the building more structurally sound
    1. Long Ionic tunics are draped like column flutings about their outer legs on which their weight is thrown
    2. Through careful and deliberate placement of the hair, the architects strengthened their necks which was necessary for the burden these maidens had to carry
    3. Provided sense of strength and firmness
    1. Porch was entered through the East wall of the podium by narrow steps — seem unlikely to have served the needs of the public
    2. Coffered ceiling
    3. A portal gave access by an awkward descending L-shaped stair to the West Cella
    4. Has a three-stepped Krepidoma, which is a continuation of that of the Eastern and Western Flanks

The south side contained a chamber built to house Athena’s gift to Athens, the sacred olive tree. During the Persian Wars, the tree was burned; but miraculously, it immediately put forth a new shoot.

  1. Structural Unity provided by:
    1. Balancing pediments
    1. No pedimental sculpture
    2. Corners carried marble decorative vases
    3. Cyma or Sima (a wave molding of double curvature)
    1. Crowned by flower-shaped rampart antefixes
    2. Surmounted by lions’ heads
    1. Emphatic nature of the frieze
    1. Unique in designs
    2. 0.62 m. in height
    3. Extended around entire building except where the roof of the North Portico interrupted it
    4. Consisted of coarse-grained Pentelic marble figures
    1. Cut in high relief
    2. Attached by bronze clamps to a ground of dark Eleusian limestone — more economical — background would not have to be repainted
  1. Color
    1. Column capitals enriched with gilt bronze ornaments and inlaid with colored glass ‘gems’
    2. Paneled ceiling of the porticos were painted blue and had gilt bronze stars
  1. Anthemia decorated the architrave of the antae of the cella of North Portico and formed one continuous belt on the upper part of the long flanks, exactly below the architrave

 

  1. Reasons for the general plan and architectural oddities of the exterior form and interior plan of the various chambers
    1. To cope with the topography
    1. Rock had steep slopes
    2. Great variations in the elevations of the various levels
    3. Not leveled by filling because architect wanted to preserve the sacred proofs and tokens
    4. Olive tree which was Athena’s gift to the city restricted the building
    1. Need to preserve under the same roof the sacred signs
    1. Traces of the trident
    2. Erechtheus’s Sea
    3. Sacred olive tree
    4. Nest of the guardian home snake
    5. Grave of Kekrops
    6. Grave of Erechtheus
  1. Summary

Some consider the Erechtheion as the best example of the Ionic building in Greece. "It stands on the acropolis north of the Parthenon on a sloping site; this factor, and because it housed three deities, account for its unusual plan. There are three facades, east, north and south, all at different levels. The eastern part was dedicated to Athena, guardian of the city; the ground slopes downwards towards the west where there is a basement room, with access on the west facade, while above this small doorway are four Ionic columns with bronze latticed windows between. The north porch is a large Ionic entrance and stands at the lowest level of the temple. Behind this portico is a magnificent carved doorway. The whole porch contains the highest quality of Greek decorative caving as can be seen in the capitals, bases and doorway details. The south porch, on higher ground, has the six caryatid figures, each seven feet nine inches high, standing on a marble plinth and supporting a marble entablature and roof. The three western figures take their weight on the right leg, the eastern on the left. The Erechtheion is built of Pentelic marble and was designed by Mnesicles. The decoration throughout is varied and shows exquisite detail and craftmanship; this is particularly apparent in the anthemion and guilloche ornament. The pediments are plain but the frieze of dark grey Eleusian marble was originally decorated its full length by white marble scuptured figures and animals attached by metal clamps. Gilt and colour were used also. The interior was destroyed when the building was converted into a church and later into a Turkish harem."