Ancient Greece During its "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis The Erechtheum


Ancient Greece During its "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis

The Erechtheum

Erechtheum (Erechtheion) by Mnesicles
c430 BCE 
Athens, Acropolis, 

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Context:  "The most exceptional Ionic building on the Acropolis is the enigmatic Erechtheum, to the north of the Parthenon. Built about 420 B.C., the temple was regarded with special veneration. Its site was particularly sacred, for it included the tomb of Cecrops, the legendary founder of Athens, the rock that preserved the mark of Poseidon's trident, and the spring that arose from it. In a walled area just to the west of the temple stood the sacred olive tree of Athena. The building's complexity of plans and levels can be partly understood from this complicated archaeology, as well as from its having housed not only a shrine to Athena Polias, but also altars to Poseidon, god of the sea; Hephaestus, god of fire; Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens, who had battled unsuccessfully with the sea god; and Butes, brother of Erechtheus and priest to Athena and Poseidon. Moreover, spoils from the Persians were kept in the temple, as well as the famous golden lamp of Callimachus, which burnt for a year without refilling and had a chimney in the form of a palm tree."
—Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p94.

Form: This asymmetrical even confusing structure, the Erechtheum, is primarily Ionic in style.   The building is a bit schizophrenic in its form because it has porches on all sides but some of them tend to mix the ionic style with engaged columns and even human figures.  It is also not a complete rectangle and it varies in size.  The building also used to sport a natural spring and a living olive tree. 

A major feature of the Erechtheum is its Porch of the Maidens.  The caryatid figures (columns in the shape of women that supports the porch) look almost like a chorus line.  The over all symmetry is enhanced by the fact that the two figures on the left are a mirror image of the right.  (Note the order of the extended leg is reversed.)  The figures stand in contrapposto stance in which their is a gentle shift of weight at the hips that gives the bodies an "S" shaped curve..

Iconography: The function of the structure is not quite clear.  We know that based on what was housed there that the building may have served as another temple and most certainly a kind of reliquary.

The columns on the Porch of the Maidens is almost certainly meant to be iconic.  The columns on the porch are the embodiment of the concept of the column as an organic architectural component.  The woman, in their guise as physical supports for the structure, might be symbols as the pillars of the community on whose shoulders the city rests. The weight they bear is evidenced in their contrapposto stance.  The contrapposto is almost the human equivalent to the entasis of the Doric order of the Parthenon.

 Pronunciation: "kar-E-'a-t&d, 'kar-E-&-"tid
 Function: noun
 Inflected Form(s): plural -ids or cary·at·i·des /"kar-E-'a-t&-"dEz/

Etymology: Latin caryatides, plural, from Greek karyatides priestesses of Artemis at Caryae, caryatids, from Karyai Caryae in Laconia

 : a draped female figure supporting an entablature 


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