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Greek Temples in Athens – Erecththeion
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  9/12/11
By: Yona Williams

Located on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, you will find the Erecththeion (also known as the Erechtheum) – an ancient temple known for its unique and elaborate design. In this article, you will learn more about the history and significance of this structure from the past.

Greek mythology has a tale about the god of blacksmiths Hephaestus (the son of Zeus and Hera), who was looked down upon by his mother for his lameness and hideous appearance. Hephaestus once attempted to rape Athena – the virgin goddess and patron of the city. Instead of assaulting the goddess, he impregnated the earth, which produced the demi-god named Erichtonios. Athena raised the child, who became an early king of the city. Erichtonios is seen as an ancestor of all Athenians.

The Erecththeion temple that still stands is dated back to between 421 BC and 407 BC, but is thought to have been a replacement for an older temple because of the ancient company it shares. Some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians are on the same site, such as the wooden effigy of Athena Polias (Protectress of the City). Called the Palladion, myths say that this relic fell from the heavens. Other features include:

•    The tomb of Cecrops and of Erechtheus
•    The marks of Poseidon's trident and the salt water well associated with Poseidon's strike
•    The grounds of Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus (the three daughters of Cecrops), as well as of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes

The temple is believed to have been inhabited by a sacred snake that represented the spirit of Cecrops. The Athenians thought the snake required great care to ensure the safety of the city. The priestesses of Athena Polias fed the snake honey cakes. These priestesses were the women who belonged to the ancient family of the Eteoboutadae. If the snake refused to eat the cakes, the people saw this as an omen that something disastrous was going to happen.

A Visit to the Temple

Paying a visit to the temple means you are treated to a piece of ancient architecture from the Athenians. The temple was built with a complicated design, which was thought to create a variety of sacred spaces. The main structure is comprised of four compartments. The largest is called the east cella, which has an Ionic portico located on its east end.

When exploring the north side, you will find a large porch with columns. The south end is home to the well-known Caryatid Porch – also referred to as "porch of the maidens." The supporting columns display the bodies of six draped female figures that represent the Caryatids, which is the name given to sculpted female figures that serve as an architectural support. Usually the top of a pillar is represented by the head of the female. One of the Caryatids was actually removed so that it could decorate the Scottish mansion of Lord Elgin. It was later sold to the British Museum.

There is a local legend that the remaining five Caryatids can be heard wailing for their lost sister in the middle of the night. The five original statues were placed in helium-filled glass cases stored in the Acropolis Museum.


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