Things to See in Athens – Erechtheion, Acropolis
The Erecththeion is an ancient Greek temple which can be found on the north side of the Acropolis. By contrast to the Parthenon, this temple is much smaller in size but its attraction is the beauty of the structure. Set against the bright blue skies of Athens, the sight of the Caryatids elegantly holding up the roof of the porch is stunning. It is one of my favourite buildings on the site.
The Erechtheion was built to accommodate the religious rituals that the old temple housed. The design is complex as the temple sits on a slope and it also had to take into consideration the need to preserve several adjacent sacred precincts, some of these being the tomb of Cecrops, the tomb of Erechtheus and the marks of Poseidon’s trident and the salt water well that resulted from Poseidon’s strike.
It was believed that within the foundations lived the sacred snake of the temple, which represented the spirit of Cecrops. Cecrops’ well-being was thought essential for the safety of the city. The snake was fed honey-cakes by the priestesses of Athena Polias, who were by custom the women of the ancient family of the Eteoboutadae. Occasionally, the snake would refuse to eat the cakes and this was believed to be a bad omen.
The main structure consists of four compartments, the largest of which is the east cella, with an Ionic portico on its eastern end. On the north side, there is a large porch with columns, whereas the more interesting eastern porch is the one with the famous Caryatids, its key feature. As mentioned above, the six draped female figures hold up the roof of the porch. The Caryatids that we see today are replicas casts. Five of them were replaced in 1979 to preserve them from further erosion due to the corrosive effect of pollutants. Four of the five were stored in the old Acropolis Museum with the fifth being restored. The sixth is in the U.K., having been acquired by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion. He later sold it to the British Museum along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture from the Parthenon. Local legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister.
Now that the new Acropolis Museum is ready, engineers have moved the Caryatids into its new home and the Museum is expected to be open to the public this year. It would be amazing to see the originals of these elegant statues.