Travels in Greece
Columns of the Erechtheion, in Silhouette

The Eréchtheion

While the Parthenon is the best known of all Greek temples, the Erechtheion is perhaps the most unusual. It is built over the spot where mythology says Athena and Poseidon had a legendary contest to win the hearts of Athenians. Poseidon gave them a spring of fresh water on top of the Acropolis, and Athena gave them the olive tree, which became a staple food crop for the country. The temple is dedicated to these two, and to Erechtheus, a legendary king of Athens who started the Panathenaic festival.

Erechtheion - Cella The Erechtheion has three main spaces: A central chamber which contained the ceremonial olive-wood statue of Athena, a large ceremonial porch on the south wall of the Acropolis marking the spot where Poseidon's trident drew water from the rock, and the famous Porch of the Maidens (Caryatids) which protected the tomb of Athens founder, king Cecrops.

Finished in 406 BC after 15 years of construction, this was the last temple built by the Athenians atop the Acropolis. It's features are as varied as any building of ancient times, from the slender columns, to the strangely aggregated marble walls, to the row of high windows and the elegant doorway. This building facinated me more than the Parthenon because the unusual structure, the textures of the stone, and the play of light and shadow.

Erechtheion - Porch Many architectural aspects of the Erichtheion have been copied by builders through the ages. The two most copied are the ceremonial porch and the doorway leading from this area into the cella of the temple. The doorway's details -- its layered borders, its decorated lintel with elaborate patterns -- have been echoed in buildings throughout the western world. The porch is on the north face of the temple, making its columns cast angular shadows on the surrounding space. Its roof, almost entirely intact, appears to show a combination of ancient painted decoration and modern airborne pollutants. The covered areas which are not exposed to rain appear to fare the worst from pollution (this is largely true of the parthenon as well). On the day that I was there, with a bright blue sky and fast-moving clouds, there was a brisk wind blowing past the porch and the north face of the temple, giving it a bit of an otherworldly feel as the wind whipped by, tugging me backwards.

The pictures I took of the Caryatids are in the section on The Acropolis in Black and White.

Views of the City

It stands to reason that if the Acropolis is easily seen from most parts of Athens, it must also command a sweeping view of the city and the encircling mountains. This is certainly the case. During my afternoon on the Acropolis, the bright sun overhead gave a good view of all the surrounding areas. Probably the best view is of Mt. Lycabettus, which is considerably taller than the Acropolis. It stands to the northwest, and can also be viewed down some of the streets of the Plaka.

From the flagpole at the east end of the Acropolis (easily visible from my hotel window) there is an excellent view of the heart of the city, and if you look straight down, of the heart of the Plaka. Walking toward the flagpole I noticed here, as elsewhere, the incredible jumble (albeit a numbered, cataloged jumble) of 'pieces' of architecture. A cluster of column bases is a good representative example.

Flagpole at the eastern end of the Acropolis From the northwest corner there are good views of the Agora. To the south there are good views of the Odeon, the Stoa, and the Theater of Dionysus. This theater once held 15,000 seats, and was the place where the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were performed.

To the southeast there is another sea of non-descript concrete apartment buildings, reaching out toward the mountains in the distance. A little more to the east is an excellent 'return' view of the Temple of olympian Zeus, showing just how novel its flat space is, and showing more waves of hillsides and apartments spread around it. In the lower left of the picture is Hadrian's Arch.

©1997 Stephen L. Spanoudis; All Rights Reserved

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