Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Erechtheion, Athens (B.C. 420–393)

The Erecththeion (or Erechtheum) is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. It is notable for a design that is at once elegant and unusual.
Myth and Mystery
According to Greek mythology, the god Hephaestus once tried to rape Athena, the virgin goddess and patron of the city. Unsuccessful, he impregnated the earth instead, resulting in the birth of the demi-god Erichtonios. Raised by Athena, Erichtonios became an early king of Athens and is regarded as the ancestor of all Athenians.


The temple as seen today was built between 421 BC and 407 BC, but it is believed to be a replacement for an older temple, since it is on the site of some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians:

•the Palladion, which was a xoanon (wooden effigy) of Athena Polias (Protectress of the City) that fell from heaven according to myth

•the tomb of Cecrops

•the tomb of Erechtheus

•the marks of Poseidon's trident and the salt water well (the "salt sea") that resulted from Poseidon's strike, and

•the precincts of Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus (the three daughters of Cecrops) and of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes.

Within the foundations lived the sacred snake of the temple, which represented the spirit of Cecrops and whose well-being was thought essential for the safety of the city. The snake was fed honey-cakes by the priestesses of Athena Polias, who were by custom the women of the ancient family of the Eteoboutadae. The snake's occasional refusal to eat the cakes was thought a disastrous omen.

Late antiquity and the Middle Ages

The intact Erechtheum was extensively described by the Roman geographer Pausanias (1.26.5 - 27.3), writing a century after it had been restored in the 1st century AD. The internal layout has since been obscured by the temple's later use as a church and possibly as a Turkish harem.

Modern times
Erechtheum, from SWOne of the caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion, and was later sold to the British Museum (along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture taken from the Parthenon). Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Elgin attempted to remove a second Caryatid; when technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed, and its fragments were left behind. It was later reconstructed haphazardly with cement and iron rods.

Previous attempted restorations by Greece damaged the roof of the Caryatids' porch with concrete patches, along with major damage caused by pollution in Athens. In 1979, the five original Caryatids were moved to the Acropolis Museum and replaced in situ by exact replicas. Scientists were working in 2005 to repair the damage using laser cleaning.

The Porch of the Caryatids

On the north side, there is another large porch with columns, and on the south, the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different from the rest and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine. The porch was built to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner over the metropolis, after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian war.

Religious functions

The Erectheum was associated with some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians: the Palladion, which was a xoanon (defined as a wooden effigy fallen from heaven - not man-made) of Athena Polias (Protectress of the City); the marks of Poseidon's trident and the salt water well (the "salt sea") that resulted from Poseidon's strike; the sacred olive tree that sprouted when Athena struck the rock with her spear in her successful rivalry with Poseidon for the city; the supposed burial places of the mythical kings Cecrops and Erechtheus; the sacred precincts of Cecrops' three daughters, Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus; and those of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes.

The temple itself was dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus. Within the foundations lived the sacred snake of the temple, which represented the spirit of Cecrops and whose well-being was thought essential for the safety of the city. The snake was fed honey-cakes by Canephorae, the priestesses of Athena Polias, by custom the women of the ancient family of Eteoboutadae, the supposed descendants of the hero Boutes. The snake's occasional refusal to eat the cakes was thought a disastrous omen[citation needed].

What to See

The need to preserve multiple adjacent sacred precincts likely explains the complex design. The main structure consists of four compartments, the largest being the east cella, with an Ionic portico on its east end.

On the north side, there is another large porch with columns, and on the south, the famous Caryatid Porch, or "porch of the maidens," with six draped female figures (Caryatids) as supporting columns. One of the Caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion and was later sold to the British Museum (along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture plundered from the Parthenon).

Local legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Nowadays the five original Caryatids are displayed in helium-filled glass cases in the Acropolis Museum and are replaced in situ by exact replicas.

The entire temple is on a slope, so the west and north sides are about 3 m (9 ft) lower than the south and east sides. The intact Erechtheion was extensively described by Pausanias (1.26.5 - 27.3), but the internal layout has since been obscured by the temple's later use as a church and as a Turkish harem

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Parthenon, Athens (B.C.454–438)
Slightly east of the center of the Acropolis a Doric peripteral temple was discovered under the remains of the Parthenon. This temple was built ca. 488 - 480 B.C.E. with 102.9 ft. x 252 ft. (31.39 m x 76.82 m). With 6 x 16 columns, double cella (inner sanctum) with a long cella at the east end and a smaller cella at the west end, with opisthodomos (the rear room) and pronaos (the antechamber), both with prostyle. The east cella has 2 rows of interior columns with 10 columns in each row. The west cella has 4 interior columns arranged in a square in the center.

This Temple was never completed and must not have past the lower column drums and cella courses. The construction must have been pulled down shortly after the Persians invasion of 480/79 B.C.E., to make way for a new marble Sanctuary dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Many components from this Temple were subsequently re-utilized.

The Project

 In the time of Pericles all Athens was willing to contribute to the building and ornamentation of a great new Temple, in addition to a number of other monuments. Plutarch commented: The monuments were imposing in their unrivaled grandeur, beauty and grace; the artists vied with one another in the technical perfection of their work, but the most admirable thing was the speed of execution. Pericles entrusted the overall management of the project to the sculptor Phidias, who presided over everything especially the decor, for which he employed Athens' greatest artists. The architects Ictinos and Callicrates were commissioned to draw up and execute the plans. Construction began in 447 B.C.E. and was completed nine years later, the last of the sculptures being set place in 432 B.C.E. Pericles and his architects decided from the start to build the new sanctuary on the foundations of the Pre-Parthenon; slightly south and east of the center of the Acropolis. Apart from the limestone foundations and the ceilings and wooden doors, the Temple was built entirely of marble, even its roof tiles. The stone came from the quarries of the Pentelic Mountains. Parian marble being reserved for the sculptures
The Plan

The Parthenon rests on a plinth three steps high. The upper level of the plinth measures about 225 x 85 feet (30.88 m x 69.50 m). It is a Temple surrounded by a single row of columns. This peristyle consists of eight Doric columns on the west and east sides and seventeen along the north and south sides. The shafts consist of twelve fluted drums and are about 33 feet high (10.43 m), including the capitals, with diameters tapering from 6 feet 3 inches (1.92 m) at the base to 4 feet 9 inches (1.49 m) at the top. There is a perceptible bulge two fifths up each column; the Greeks knew the principle of the outward curvature of a column (entasis), which compensates for the optical effect that makes columns seem thinner in the middle when viewed from below. The corner columns are thicker, reducing the space between them and their neighbors: because they receive more sunlight, they would otherwise have appeared thinner than the rest. Finally, to give the impression of absolute perfection, the plinth gradually increased in height, by about 4 inches in the middle of the long sides and by about 3 inches at the center of the facades.
The Pediments

 The theme of the east pediment is Zeus' presentation of Athena to the Gods of Olympus. The west pediment portrays Athena's strife with Poseidon for the land of Attica.
The Frieze

In the frieze the sculptor innovated by crowning a Doric ensemble with an Ionic frieze. The subject matter is the procession of the Panathenaic Games, celebrated each year on the occasion of Athena's birthday.
The Metopes

Each metope featured a different scene, consisting of two figures in high relief. The metopes along the east side of the Temple represent the struggle between the Gods and the Giants; those of the west side, an Amazonomachy; those of the south side, the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs; and those on the north side, scenes from the Trojan War. The theme common to all is the triumph of the Greeks and of their Gods over their human or mythical adversaries.

 the Temple has a double cella (inner sanctum) with pronaos (the antechamber, with the only door into the cella) and opisthodomos (the rear room). The smaller west cella had 4 interior columns. Inside the east cella was a U-shaped colonnade of 9 columns and a pier on each long side, and 3 columns between the 2 piers on the short side. (Travlos reconstructs columns in place of the piers.) Toward the west end of the interior colonnade was a statue base for the cult statue of Athena Parthenos with a large shallow rectangle cut to create a reflecting pool in front of it. The Phidias' statue was made of gold and ivory with polychrome details. The sculptor handed his work to a painter, whose job was to add the final touch of perfection and endow the statue with religious meaning. Bronze doors are postulated for both eastern and western cellas.


Replacing an older temple destroyed by the Persians, the Parthenon was constructed at the initiative of Pericles, the leading Athenian politician of the 5th century BC. It was built under the general supervision of the sculptor Phidias, who also had charge of the sculptural decoration. The architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates. The purpose of the building was to house a 40-foot-high statue of Athena Parthenos sculpted by Pheidias.

Construction began in 447 BC and the building was substantially completed by 438 BC, but work on the decorations continued until at least 433 BC. Some of the financial accounts for the Parthenon survive, and show that the largest single expense was transporting the stone from Mount Pentelicus, about 16km from Athens.

In 454 BC, the Delian League's treasury was moved from the Panhellenic sanctuary at Delos to the Acropolis. The Parthenon served as the most important temple of ancient Greek religion for nearly a thousand years.

The temple was still intact in the 4th century AD, but by that time Athens was no more than a provincial city of the Roman Empire with a glorious past. Sometime in the 5th century the great statue of Athena was looted by one of the Emperors, and taken to Constantinople, where it was later destroyed, possibly during the sack of the city during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Shortly after this the Parthenon was converted to a Christian church dedicated to the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). The conversion of the temple to a church involved removing the internal columns and some of the walls of the cella, and the creation of an apse at the eastern end. This inevitably led to the removal and dispersal of some of the sculptures. Those that depicted pagan gods were probably removed deliberately, and may have been destroyed.

In 1456 Athens fell to the Ottomans, and the Parthenon was converted again, into a mosque. Contrary to subsequent mythology, the Ottomans were generally respectful of ancient monuments in their territories, and did not wilfully destroy the antiquities of Athens, though they had no actual program to protect them. In times of war they were willing to demolish them to provide materials for walls and fortifications. A minaret was added to the Parthenon, but otherwise it was not damaged further. European visitors in the 17th century testified that the building was largely intact.

In 1687 the Parthenon suffered its greatest blow when the Venetians attacked Athens, and the Ottomans fortified the Acropolis and used the Parthenon as a powder magazine. On September 26 a Venetian shell exploded the magazine and the building was partly destroyed. The internal structures were demolished, whatever was left of the roof collapsed, and some of the pillars, particularly on the southern side, were decapitated. The sculptures suffered heavily. Many fell to the ground and their pieces were later made souvenirs. After this the building fell into disuse.

By the late 18th century many more Europeans were visiting Athens, and the picturesque ruins of the Parthenon were much drawn and painted, helping to arouse sympathy in Britain and France for Greek independence. In 1801 the British ambassador at Constantinople, the Earl of Elgin, obtained a permit from the Sultan to make casts and drawings of the antiquities on the Acropolis, to demolish recent buildings if this was necessary to view the antiquities, and to remove sculptures from them. He took this as permission to collect all the sculptures he could find. Some he prised from the building itself, others he collected from the ground, still others he bought from local people.

Today these sculptures are in the British Museum, where they are known as the Elgin Marbles. Other sculptures from the Parthenon are in the Louvre in Paris and in Copenhagen. Most of the remainder are in the Acropolis Museum which stands a few meters southeast of the Parthenon. A few can still be seen on the building itself. The Greek government has been campaigning for many years, so far unsuccessfully, for the British Museum sculptures (which it calls the Parthenon Marbles) to be returned to Greece.
When independent Greece gained control of Athens in 1832, the minaret was removed from the Parthenon and all the medieval and modern buildings on the Acropolis removed. The area became a historical precinct controlled by the Greek government. Today, the Parthenon attracts millions of tourists every year, who troop up the path at the western end of the Acropolis, through the restored Propylaea, and up the Panathenaic Way to the Parthenon, which is surrounded by a low fence to prevent damage.

The Cult

It was only later that this great edifice housed a cult at all: it was built originally as a proud statement of civic strength rather than a place of worship.
T h e P a r t h e n o n a t A t h e n s

1: Statue of Athena Promachus

2: Chalkotheke

3: Old Temple

4: Parthenon

5: Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus

The Metopes

The metopes of the Parthenon all represented various instances of the struggle between the forces of order and justice, on the one hand, and criminal chaos on the other. On the west side, the mythical battle against the Amazons (Amazonomachy); on the south, the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs (Centauromachy); on the east, the battle between the gods and the giants (Gigantomachy); on the north, the Greeks versus the Trojans. Of the panels the best preserved are those showing the Centauromachy. Here are South Metope 31 and 30 (compare the discussion in Pollitt, Art & Experience, 82-83):
Frieze of Zeus and Hera that once decorated the east pediment of the
Parthenon; it is now in the British Museum, London 

Wonderful 3d animation of the Parthenon

In the sixth century the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church, dedicated to the " Divine Wisdom," and an apse was formed at its eastern end. In A.D. 1204, under the Frankish Dukes of Athens, it became a Latin church, in A.D. 1456 it was converted into a mosque, and in A.D. 1687, during the capture of Athens by the Venetians, it was much damaged by a shell which fell into a portion of the building used as a powder magazine. In A.D. 1688 Athens was restored to the Turks, and the building suffered considerable injury at their hands ; but in A.D. 1801, through the instrumentality of Lord Elgin, many of the sculptures were removed to the British Museum. In A.D.1831 Greece became an independent kingdom, and still the Parthenon remains her greatest historic monument and her most precious heritage.
  • The Parthenon, Athens (B.C. 454–438)
  • The Erechtheion, Athens (B.C. 420–393)
  • The Tower of the Winds, Athens (B.C. 100-35)
  • The Theatre, Epidauros
  • The Doric Order
  • The Ionic Order
  • The Corinthian Order
  • The Thermae of Caracalla, Rome (A.D. 212–235)
  • Roman Architecture - Theatres
  • Roman Architecture - Circuses
  • The Circus Maximus, Rome
  • Roman Architecture - Amphitheatres
  • The Colosseum, Rome
  • Greek Architecture – Influences
  • Greek Architecture - Architectural Character
  • Greek Architecture - The Hellenic Period
  • Greek Architecture - Comparative Analysis
  • Roman Architecture – Influences
  • Roman Architecture - Architectural Character
  • Roman Architecture - Comparative Analysis
  • Early Christian Architecture – Influences
  • Early Christian Architecture - Architectural Character
  • Early Christian Architecture - Comparative Analysis 
  • Byzantine Architecture – Influences
  • Byzantine Architecture - Architectural Character
  • Byzantine Architecture - Comparative Analysis

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