Erechteion Athens

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apartment, excursions and art historical guide

Peloponnese, Greece

The Erechteion in Athens


The Ionian Erechtheion is a nice counterbalance to the Parthenon. The building has two floors and has a rather strange floor plan. Probably this has to do with the Mycenaean palace that had been built here in the late Helladic period (1550-1100 BC).

Like Athena and Poseidon Erechtheus also asked for a room on the Acropolis. In 430 BC the construction of the Erechtheion began, but most of it was built between 409 and 406 BC.

Erechtheus was the son of Hephaestus and Gaia. He was king of Attica in the archaic period. He married Praxithea, who bore him three sons and three daughters. When the city of Athens was threatened he sacrificed his own daughter to the god of the underworld (on the advice of the oracle of Delphi). This act gave the Athenians finally their victory. After his death he was worshipped with Athena and Poseidon on the Athenian Acropolis. They gave him the Erechteion, which was also his grave.


For the rectangular naos in the east was an Ionic façade placed with six columns. At a lower level was also a porch with six Ionic columns. The facht that the building was built on several levels was unusual, but also the portal on the side was very unusual. This portal had six female figures, called caryatids, who stood on a wall and served as columns carrying the roof of the portal. And the entrance of the Erechtheion was - very unusual - on the east.

The columns in the Ionic order on the north side are exceptional. Under the capital and around the columnar neck is a collar with carved floral motifs. The richness and complexity of the ornaments are special. The slender pillars give a feeling of lightness.


The Caryatids from the south portal keep their standing leg hidden under the vertical folds of their clothing and the free leg is placed forward. The images on the left use the right leg as the standing leg, the images on the right side use the left leg. These are serious figures, dressed in a peplos (tunic) with deep folds. The limbs are mostly covered, but at the knees, thighs and breasts are visible as the clothing seems transparent. This makes the Erechtheion tone of the most elegant buildings dating from the 5th century BC.

We now know from preserved accounts, that it was a very costly building (for that time).

plan of the Erechteion in Athens, 430 BC

The Erechteion in Athens anno 2015

photo © willem van leeuwen

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