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Erechtheion, Athenian Acropolis


<Location> Athens, Attica, Greece

It was mainly a temple of Athena (Polias), but Zeus (or Hephaistos), Poseidon, King Erechteus and his borther Boutes were also venerated here; its unusual plan was necessitated by the need to accomodate there various deities and heroes. The name "Erechtheion" derives evidently from Erechtheus (or Erechthonios), legendary king of Athens, but, as the name first appears in the literature of Roman period (Pausanias and Pseudo-Plutarch), it is quite possible it was called otherwise in earlier period. In an inscribed public document of 409/8 BCE calls it the "temple having the old statue (of Athena)"; it is presumably due to the fact that the old cult statue of Athena was moved here, as the old temple of Athena was burnt by fire in 406 BCE. In another document of Athenian financial officer and in the writing of Strabo, it is the Temple of (Athena) Polias and The Old Temple.

Erechtheus (also known as Erechthonios) was son of Hephaistos and Gaia (=Earth) but raised by Athena. He became king of Athens (historically it must have been in the Bronze Age), and must have lived in the palace situated in the Acropolis. He was associated with the sea god Poseidon, and sometimes identified with Kekrops, another king of Athens. The legend goes that his lower part of the body was that of serpernt.

The construction started in 421 BCE, then interrupted by the Sicilian Expedition in 415 BCE, and completed by 406/5 BCE. The architect might have been Mnesikles who constructed the Propylaia. When completed it was damaged by fire, and restored not earlier than 395 BCE.

The temple is basically Ionic, and made of white Pentelic marble, except for the frieze made of Eleusinian limestone.

As one can easily see, the temple has an irregular plan. The central temple was divided in two (as was the Parthenon), and in the Eastern part the goddess Athena was venerated, and the Western part was dedicated to the cult of Elechthonios (identified with Poseidon). The northern porch was the entrance to the latter.

On the south side, there is a porch supported by 6 statues in form of maidens called Caryatid. These female figures might represent the Arephoroi, or the weaver of Athena's vestments. The statues were substituted by the replicas, and the original ones are housed in the Acropolis Archaeological Museum. Below the porch was the grave of Kekrops, a legendary king of Athens.

In the period of Augustus (first century BCE), part of the temple was damaged by fire, but was restored soon after with some additions.

In the sixth or seventh century, it was converted to church. Under the Ottomans, it was used as a harem for the Turkish commander who resided in the acropolis. Because of these reuses, the interior was so modified that it is difficult to understand how it was used originally.

After the independence, several restorations took place. The work executed between 1903 and 1909 was virtually a rebuilding of the exterior.

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