This is the most important temple of the Acropolis of Athens for Greek mythology. The Erechtheion was a place of worship to Poseidon (god of the sea) and Athena (goddess protector of Athens). This place is primarily famous for its Caryatids (the marble women you can see in the picture). However, the Erechtheion holds many more secrets…
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You ought to make the most of your visit to the Erechtheion since it is a very important landmark within the Acropolis. Sadly, many tourists do not get to “understand” it well though. However, since you are here, this will NOT happen to you.
The temple of the Erechtheion was built in order to replace the ancient temple dedicated to Athena Polias (“Athena of the city”), whose ruins are located today between the Erechtheion and the Parthenon.
It was during the Peloponnesian War (5th century B.C.) that the Erechtheion was erected. It was a military conflict between Athens, Sparta, and their respective leagues during the classical period of ancient Greece.
We know the name “Erechtheion” thanks to the ancient traveler and historian Pausanias. This word derives from the name of a mythical king of Athens: Erechtheus. It is said that he was a man born from the earth (Gaea for the Greeks) and that he was half man and half snake. Moreover, this “person” would become the adopted son of the goddess Athena.
At that time, it was very “normal” for kings to share their past with the gods themselves. After all, what else would make them so important as to hold a sovereign power NOT granted by the citizens? Without wishing to get into mountainous terrain… Let’s get started!
The Erechtheion was damaged by fire, and it was repaired twice, in the 4th century and then in the 1st century A.D. Later and during Christianity, they converted the Greek temple into a Byzantine church since the gods of Olympus had become part of the mythology (considered fiction and referring to them was forbidden by the new religion).
However, the worst moment of the Erechtheion of the Acropolis of Athens would come along with the Ottoman occupation of Greece since the Turkish commander decided to transform this “sacred” place into his personal harem. This happened in the 15th century AD.
Moreover, and as if this were not enough when the Ottomans were fighting the Venetians (18th century), the latter thought it would be a good idea to use the building that once would have been the Erechtheion to store gunpowder.
As you may be imagining, this did not end well…
Indeed, the gunpowder exploded during a Venetian siege causing severe damage to the monument. Moreover, what the Ottomans and the Venetians did not manage to destroy, the English succeeded:
In the early 19th century, the Lord Elgin of the time – Thomas Bruce – took advantage of the fact that he was also the British ambassador in Constantinople to “take” a column and one of the very famous Caryatids. These relics would later be sold to the British Museum located in London, where they are still found today. In fact, you can visit half of classical Greece (plus Egypt, Mesopotamia … but that is another topic).
To illustrate the bad luck of this temple, it was finally bombed during the Greek War of Independence. When the Greeks, after nearly four centuries, managed to expel the Ottomans from their lands. However, fortunately, the Erechtheion was also the first temple of the Acropolis of Athens to be restored, and the truth is that they did quite well.
Having already brought up the subject of the Caryatids, I want to talk to you about the peculiar architecture of the Erechtheion and share with you a couple of interesting facts:
Architecture and features of the Erechtheion
Architect Mnesicles had to build the Erechtheion on sloped land. Besides, his tradition did not allow him to level the ground, so the result was a temple with two “sides,” having the southeastern part an ELEVATION OF 3 METERS with respect to the northwest one.
In short, you will find out why this is so important…
The material used for its construction is Pentelic marble, and this temple is of the Ionian order, companion of the Doric and Corinthian ones in classical architecture.
A very interesting point of the Erechtheion is that it has two different cellas (inner chamber of a temple) and each one was used to worship a different god.
Cella of Poseidon Erechtheion
In the lower part of the Erechtheion, there is the cella dedicated to the Greek sea god, whose facade is a beautiful portico with four Ionian columns. However, the curious thing about this is that it is the ONLY element dedicated to Poseidon that it is NOT facing the sea.
There is a reason behind that:
Before the city took its name, two gods of Olympus disputed over the throne of god or goddess protector of the city. The loser was Poseidon, who did not accept the defeat and attempted to INUNDATE the city of Athens, creating a giant wave from the top of the Acropolis of Athens.
But who was the other participant? Let’s see
Cella of Athena
As it could not be otherwise… Athena was the one who confronted the god of the sea and became the protective goddess of the city. Additionally, her first “task” came very soon; since she was also the one who, with her great shield, protected Athens by stopping the wave sent by Poseidon.
By the way: What is the name of the capital of Greece?
If you ever wondered where the name Athens comes from, I think you already know… This city was named after the goddess of wisdom, just wars, military strategy, protector of the city… ATHENA!
Last interesting fact: The goddess Athena won the dispute with Poseidon by giving the citizens the FIRST OLIVE TREE – Indeed – A gift that, in addition, to wood (primary building material), would also introduce to the world the fruit of the olive and all its derivatives.
Nowadays, there is an olive tree next to the Erechtheion, where Athena supposedly planted hers. Rumor has it that this sacred olive tree was planted by the goddess.
What do you think, would you like to know the truth? Leave a comment at the bottom of this page!
But let us not forget: the most beautiful and WORLD-FAMOUS element of the Erechtheion dedicated to Athena is, undoubtedly, the entrance of the Caryatids.
Six beautiful marble women hold upon their heads the weight of the entrance where, supposedly, would be the tomb of King Erechtheus. In addition, according to mythology, this mythical king died by a thunderbolt thrown by Zeus. It is said that the mark of this lightning bolt is still visible today.
Congratulations, traveler, on reading this far! You’re definitely getting ready to make the most of your visit to the Acropolis of Athens. Now you can jump to the next monument and continue with our virtual tour.